Elles Bailey + Morganway @ KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton, 14th March, 2023


Reviewed by Paul Quinton

Following her success at the UK Americana Awards earlier this year, where she won UK Artist of the Year and UK Live Act of the year, and just as a Deluxe version of her most recent album, Shining In The Half Light was about to be released, Elles Bailey set out on her first proper headlining tour in support of the album. Originally, this particular gig was supposed to be in the smaller room at KK’s, The Lounge, but demand for tickets was such that eventually the show was moved into the bigger room.

Support on this leg of the tour was provided by MORGANWAY , who are one of those bands that seem to set out to defy classification. Somewhere in there is some blues, a touch of soul, definitely folk, even the occasional sprinkling of Country. Normally a 6-piece, for various reasons they played as a 4-piece for this gig, without the usual keyboards and drums, just the vocals of SJ Mortimer, Nicole Terry on violin, and the Morgan brothers, Callum and Kieran, on guitar. Elles herself came out to introduce the band, a headliner doing that for the support isn’t something you often see. The violin gives them a distinctive sound, but the guitars and the excellent vocal harmonies more than hold their own. As far as their songs go, for a lot of people, their cover of Alanis Morisette’s ‘You Oughta Know’ will stick in the mind, with SJ’s vocals adding to the angst of the original with a sense of drama that took it into the realm of gothic murder ballad, but as long as they can write songs as good as their own ’Hurricane’, big things can happen for Morganway.

The Stones’ ‘It’s Only Rock’N’Roll’ provided the introduction for ELLES and her band, before they entered to open their set with ‘The Game’. A lot of the set was devoted to Shining in The Half Light, both the original album and the bonus tracks of the Deluxe edition, although one particular highlight of the early part of the show was ‘Perfect Storm’ from her debut. The title track of the latest record saw her playing piano midstage, at some point during which she caught a finger on something and started bleeding over the piano, which caused a degree of bemusement in the bad, especially when keyboard maestro Jonny Henderson was required to play it later in the set. An early highlight was ‘Hole In My Pocket’, which ended with the band kicking over the traces for a quick burst of rock’n’roll, which delighted the crowd.

As well as highlighting her newest album, and adding songs from her previous records, there were also some covers. John Martyn’s ‘Over The Hill’ took her into country rock, almost Southern Rock territory, followed by her version of Creedence’s ‘As Long As I Can See The Light’, which becomes a veritable phone light ballad in her hands, even with Jonny Henderson at the blood spattered piano. However, the emotional highlight was the first song in the encore, a very personal version of the Mary Guthier song ‘Mercy Now’

Each time I’ve seen her live, one thing that stands out is her very warm and open personality, especially in her intros to various songs, ‘Cheats and Liars’, which is about our supposed betters, also has her noting wryly that she’s had her own share, and for ‘Colours Start to Run’, she remembered having had a turbulent 2019, she began to wish that the world would stop spinning so she could take stock. Shortly afterwards, of course, a certain virus began to roam the world. ‘Be careful what you wish for’, she warned us, but later became wistful as she reflected on becoming a mother, then the mood changed again when a particular audience member’s laugh turned into a particularly loud snort, and she went into the crowd to high five him. She also seemed to have created a new catchphrase, ‘Tuesday is the new Saturday!’ she joked in thanking everyone who’d turned out on a chilly Tuesday in Wolves.

Moving the show onto the much bigger stage of the main room at KK’s seemed to suit her very well, she must have covered every inch of it during the course of the set, including sitting on the edge of the photo pit to deliver a slower song then during ‘Help Somebody’ took a brief tour through the crowd. The bigger room was also blessed with one of the best overall sounds I can remember in any venue, loud enough, but also crystal clear, allowing you to fully appreciate the work of each band member. Elles Bailey is described as a ‘rising star’ so often, it’s almost become a cliché, but on tonight’s evidence, the word ‘rising’ may soon become superfluous. The venues, and audiences, will soon be even bigger.