James Bay started to play guitar aged 12 after after his wine merchant father gave him a tatty old axe that had been gathering dust in a cupboard for 15 years. "I'd seen it two or three times in my life and I decided I wanted to get it out. I opened the cupboard and it had five rusty strings on it but I sat down with it and the sensation of holding it was the best thing in the world," he recalled. "It just felt really f---ing cool."
His attempts to play with an instructional CD were quickly spurned in favor of learning how to play by ear, with Derek and the Dominos' "Layla
" one of the first songs he learned to strum along. Bay plundered his parents' record collection for Greenwich Village folk, Motown and Van Morrison tunes to practice. Within a few years he's got heavily into songwriting. "I was 12 when I started playing, it was a guitar of my Dad's, he wasn't musical at all, my parent's had a great record collection and I guessed I soaked it up a little when I was a kid," he told Her
. "As soon as I started playing the guitar, I started listening to guitar music, when I was 15 I got pretty deep into song writing."
Bay later studied guitar at Brighton's British and Irish Modern Music Institute. He told The Sun: "The time I spent just living in Brighton away from home for the first time and in such a musical place – that's what got me about what I needed to achieve to get further with my music."
Building up a solid live reputation in the capital, prestigious support slots started flooding in, including a life-changing opening set for The Rolling Stones at their Hyde Park show in the summer of 2013.
By winning the Brit Awards "Critic's Choice" statue in 2015, Bay became the recipient of a solid predictor for worldwide crossover success. Previous winners include Adele, Florence + The Machine, Ellie Goulding and Sam Smith.
Bay hit the stage at Late Night with Seth Meyers in late December 2015 for his first-ever stateside television performance.
The bassist in Bay's band, Tom, has been his best friend since primary school. They grew up playing together.
Bay told HMV.com
that he makes notes all the time for song writing ideas. "It all gets stored up," he said. "Occasionally I'll go back through and listen to it, but mostly it's if they stay in my mind that they end up being turned into songs. I write first thing in the morning and last thing at night, that's when I work best, that said I never write songs in one sitting, I always go back and work on songs."
Bay also paints and draws. Asked by The Guardian if he gets to do much of that on his travels, he replied: "I don't get time to set up a canvas and easel as much as I'd like to on the road, but I'm sketching little pictures in there all the time, as well as lyrics as often as I can. I like drawing people in the airport or on the bus or in venues. I like catching people in the moment. It's a similar inspiration for me in terms of songwriting."
James Bay did his his first London show in a Chiswick, London pub called The George IV, Two other future stars were on the same bill, Sam Smith and George Ezra. They each did three songs.
James Bay played his first gig at a social club in Hitchin as part of a band named The Jet Kings. They played their own material. He recalled to Q magazine: "I remember feeling nervous getting onstage and half an hour's set went like that (snaps fingers). And that night I got home and I vividly remember the feeling of lying in bed at probably half past midnight thinking if somebody called up and said, 'Would you play another gig right now?' I'd say yes. I was just flying."
James Bay's unique selling point is the wide-brimmed hat, which appears to be permanently entrenched on top of his head and even has its own Twitter account. "I suppose I've always known about the importance of image," the singer told Billboard magazine regarding his accessory. "I always loved Michael Jackson's single silvery glove, Bruce Springsteen's iconic blue-collar pose. I've got a lot of work to do before I'm even close to a third of Springsteen, but why on earth can't I aim for that? I don't want to be a Camden indie act forever."
By the time of James Bay's second album, he'd ditched the hats. Asked by NME what he'd done with them, the bare-headed singer replied:
"I only had three. One of them was really old, so I sort of sacked that off a long time ago, so I had two. They're in a cupboard, it's not that exciting. Sorry."
Asked by The Guardian what his most unappealing habit is, Bay replied: "A vocal warm-up that involves sticking a tube into a glass of water and walking around blowing bubbles – people have to avoid the cascading water and/or spit."