In July, English singer-songwriter James Bay performed on the biggest stage of his career yet: New York's Hammerstein Ballroom. Along with his band, the 24-year-old "Hold Back the River" singer played to 3,500 people in the sold-out room, kicking off his headlining tour in support of his May debut, Chaos and the Calm. Our photographer spent the day with Bay and his band — drummer Gerry Morgan, bassist Thom Peel and keyboardist Jack Duxbury. Together, the quartet geeked out, performed and celebrated an early highlight of the singer's career.
"If it's the start [of a tour], you're hoping you set things off on the right foot and open with a bang. We had been in New York for three or four days at this point and had played the Jimmy Fallon show, which was a great icebreaker for this trip to America and to New York, to get something that high profile like that out of the way. It went well, so I started to feel pretty good!
"The little doodle and signature on the snare skin is from many people's favorite drummer, ?uestlove. He was kind enough to sign it for Gerry, who's a huge fan of his."
"That day, I went to hang out with the people behind D'angelico Guitars, this old New York company that recently resurrected themselves. They gave me this prototype, their first solid-body, electric guitar. [Gerry] and I were just diggin' the guitar. We're all very musical in that sense; we just obsess over instruments.
"[And] it's funny, I was wearing that Bowie shirt for soundcheck — this is very childlike of me — but the afternoon before, we were down on Rivington. There was one of those stores with just band T-shirts and was looking for something a bit tacky. I'm a huge fan of the Young Americans-era of David Bowie when he was based in New York and started making records there. That shirt was depicting Bowie from that similar era. It was a little New York moment for me with that shirt on."
"It's kind of lame, but me, Jack and Thom were most likely obsessive over the latest in travel pillow technology. Our lives around the dressing room consist of traveling and making sure our heavy heads are not falling off on airplanes while we sleep."
"[Skateboarding] is one of my only other lifetime loves. I guess no dressing room is too small! The floor in Hammerstein Ballroom is like polished concrete, and for a skateboarder, that's a total dream. I was just warming up, pushing myself off the two walls in the dressing room, going back and forth. I took it down to the ballroom before they opened the doors and just raced around the floor. There was a lot of room to do some laps."
"Jack and I just stood there to check out the stage. It was before the show, and it really took us until we went on stage to finally come to terms with the space because it's the biggest space I've ever played in and the most people I've ever played to. Jack and I just stood there in awe.
"Jack's been in my band just over a year, but I've known him a little bit longer than that. We've become really close — like old friends — really quickly. When you're putting together a band, and you're a solo guy like me, you go the people who can not only play the music — and Jack really can play — but who you also get along with the best. Like the other two guys in the band, Thom and Gerry, he's just the right guy and the right musician. It's like I've known him forever."
"When I first had the opportunity to get my name out there and play in front of people was when I just had my guitar and me. I didn't have the resources to get a tour manager or a house engineer — the things you need when you want to put a band together. It started out just me, but I've always wanted to get a band involved. I've always involved other instruments in my music when I could. When I was growing up and learning how to play the guitar, I'd play along to records by the Kings of Leon, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Stevie Ray and Double Trouble or Derek and the Dominoes. I was always playing along with other musicians in my room, in my mind, from the record player.
"I got the band together 18 months ago, before we went out on tour with Kodaline. We've only grown since then. We started touring properly in March, and between March and now, the show is 10 times better than it was before. It's amazing the speed in which you can learn and grow and get better."
"This is a picture of me trying to fill the enormous and acoustically beautiful Hammerstein just with sound. It's such a great space, and everything is just running through my mind at that point. A lot of focus. My touring muscle is a lot stronger now, and I don't hesitate or get anxious much more. In that moment, I was overthinking the whole night ahead. At this point in time, I'm much better at just staying focused and enjoying. I'm reveling and being proud that that's my night in that room. I don't mean to sound like a douchebag with a massive ego, but I've played as hard as I could and the best I could for many years, and it amounted to this. And then this will amount to the next thing. One day I hope to cross that street in New York and play at Madison Square Garden."
"This is Gerry with his gorgeous 1965 Slingerland drum kit. He's very proud of it. Gerry's a real performer and artist. That picture is a really proud moment, for Gerry, for me, for all of us. It's like, 'Look at where we're going. Look at where we've come.' There, he's doing the thing he loves the best and the thing he is so great at."
"The worst thing that could go wrong at a show is if I lost my voice. You can always replug your guitar in. If people were really there for a show and all the electricity died, then we'd sit in the dark and I'd still play for them. . . .The worst would be losing my voice. It hasn't happened yet, but this is an intense year of show after show after show after show. There's a lot of strain on my voice, but it's a muscle. It's getting stronger."
"It's kind of cool how we're listed. That's the band. That's me, Jack, Gerry and Thom. Those are all the sounds and inputs that are necessary for the show. Those are the middlemen between the guitars, the amps and big speakers that throw sound out across the room."
"[My fans] are such music lovers. I always enjoy seeing the shows where I can watch the crowd hang on every word of the performance, and I feel like I have that incredible relationship with my fans and each crowd. The reason why any show would be a great show is 50% to do with the performer and 50% comes down to the crowd and what they bring to the night because we are constantly feeding off each other. That's what a show is: it's a relationship, a conversation and a back-and-forth between two sides who are passionate about the same thing."
"That is me playing 'Craving,' the second song in the set. That's one of my favorite songs. There's a moment at the start of it where it's just guitar and nothing else for a moment. I love dynamics and the ups and downs of live music. I love that moment on the stage there in the set because it's just the guitar sound all on its own, which is such a small and sparse thing. But it's made to sound so big because it's followed by thundering drums and the rest of the band.
"The crowd lately — now that they know the record and all the singles — they lose their mind at that moment. It's the greatest. That is the effect that I wanted the moment to have."
"There's being on a high and there's being on cloud nine. Then there's being above that, and I was somewhere above that, up in the atmosphere. So many of the most honest, classic feelings in this job are like the ones captured here. I look at this picture and I feel like, 'Wow, when I was 14, 13, all the dreams I had looked exactly like that photo.' It's great that that's coming to life now."