Liam Bailey: Staying in the ring

By Jimmy Hughes-Brown

30 May 2024

Nottingham-born Liam Bailey has enjoyed chart-topping success with Chase and Status reaching no.5 with the hit Blind Faith. Despite releasing five EPs and four albums, he’s remained surprisingly under the radar.

Bailey released two EPs on Amy Winehouses Lioness Records label, and scored a hit with Shy FX on Soon Come. Previously signed to Polydor Records, Bailey has now emerged from the shadows with his 2024 album, Zero Grace, released in February, solidifying his status as a bona fide song and dance man.

He’s just returned from The Big Weekend. “It’s been mad but blessed,” he said. “Challenges come with rewards. The gig with Chase and Status was  mad. It always is with those guys. I still love singing ‘Blind Faith.’ You can’t deny the euphoria of hearing people sing your lyrics back to you. I feel lucky.”

Just a week before, he was in Maida Vale Studios playing live in session on BBC 6, next to Paul Weller, who will be supporting him on tour later this year. Weller said on live radio that Bailey is “one of our greatest writers and artists”

“And no one knows about me!” says Bailey. “It’s crazy, but you know what, it’s meant to be. I’m just grateful.”

“What the fuck went on that day I do not know. Paul Weller turns up to do backing vocals and then he’s jumping on the piano.” 

Liam Bailey and band with Paul Weller at Maida Vale

Bailey moved to London to do open mics in the mid-2000s, leaving his indie rock band Boss Goat, who recorded at Yellow Arch Studios in Sheffield the same time the Arctic Monkeys were doing the same. “We recorded a great track in that session, but our band was never going to make it. It was an uncomfortable eye-opener.”

“I came to London to do open mic nights. I remember coming down because I didn’t play guitar in Nottingham—I was in a band. So I came down to do that, and it’s the best thing I did.”

Bailey wished he had realized sooner that “it’s not that deep,” finding it a struggle to find a place in the music industry.

“Getting signed and trying to be a musician and learning to navigate that world was a lot. I’m from a working-class area. I’ve got no filter, so it took me a while to adapt in professional situations,” he says. “It takes diligence to learn the etiquette, to not want to knock someone out who’s chatting shit off their head on coke at the Brit Awards.”

“I let insecurities and underconfidence get to me. I didn’t have many people around me who could give constructive advice. You get this feeling that if you keep saying no to everything, you’re difficult. But then you say yes to everything, and you end up being difficult anyway.”

In 2020, Liam released two EPs on Lioness Records, one of the songs being a cover of Etta JamesI’d Rather Go Blind, which he also covered on BBC 6. “Amy got to it and loved it, and it went down so well.”

“I don’t want to say it’s become my tune,” he says of I’d Rather Go Blind “There are people out there who can body me on that song differently. You can’t even chat to me again.”

Since then, Bailey has been at several labels before landing at Leon Michels’ Big Crown Records. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

While at Polydor, trying to release his song When Will They Learn, he had to release it by calling it The Dynamite Set ft. Liam Bailey. “I told Polydor I was going on strike because they were acting like a bunch of kn**heads, not recording my song.”

After getting out of his deal with Polydor and paying up, he ended up at Blind Buddha alongside Hiatus Coyote, but it didn’t work out. “What can you do?” he says. “You either quit or stick at it. I’m too daft to do anything else. If I told you how many jobs I’ve had before I got a record deal… I’ve stayed in the ring. It’s been f*cking arduous. It’s not pretty, but when you do get a win…”

Zero Grace could be one of his biggest wins yet. Released on Big Crown Records, Bailey worked with Leon Michels, whom he met in 2005. “Me and Leon, through working together over the years, have slowly got to Zero Grace.”

Album cover, Zero Grace

They released Ekundayo in 2018 and wished they’d done it sooner. “I trust him like nothing. Liam has stuck by me, warts and all, and I’m very lucky. I’m just so proud of what we’ve done with the album”

A lot of Zero Grace was recorded live and onto tape. “You can hear the energy of the lads in there. I know that I’m attacking it like I’ve got no time to lose. I can’t remember writing half the lyrics.”

When writing his songs, “I mostly touch freestyle and listen back. It’s always the subconscious that’s not lying. Your brain chats shit; your gut is the one. It sounded fucking red hot.” Says Bailey.

The album looks at childhood struggle, love, and racial justice. It can make you reflective at points and want to get up and dance at others. It moves seamlessly across genres, including reggae and soul, resulting in a special album.

“Mercy Tree,” a song about reparations, has been called “a powerhouse of reggae rebel music.

“That one I had to be careful with,” Bailey says. “I had to point out the history. Point out we weren’t welcome. The Windrush boat was a privately chartered boat, not a government chartered boat. Then I wanted to point out that we sowed seeds of culture. When I say ‘we,’ I mean us. Look what happened in the ’70s: Reggae and the Two Tone movement came together with skinheads.”

“We’re all in this together. Maybe, hopefully, I got this across and the bigger conversation. Where’s all of our money? What the fuck are they doing? Where is it, bro? Just give us what we want. It doesn’t matter what colour you are. It’s important to get it right. We should be happy with a piece or two. Everybody wants to be like we, but the money never comes through.”

Bailey is happy with the album but says, “Before we know it, people will forget about it because that’s the nature of what music is now. The real ones won’t. I’m just gonna keep it moving.”

A humble statement for someone who is about to go on tour with Paul Weller, who recently introduced him to Noel Gallagher. “I was trying not to lick his face because he’s the reason I play acoustic guitar. He said, ‘I’ve had the album on repeat.’ I don’t care if I get that Grammy now I’ll stay skint and keep that in the wnk bnk.”

Now, Bailey is riding the wave. He will be performing his first solo slot at Glastonbury this year at the Glade Mainstage and with Izco at the Dome area. He also has an upcoming EP working with French producer Blundetto.

“I was laughing for ten minutes about just the concept of French reggae, then I heard his rhythms and I shut my mouth!” says Bailey. “I just want to keep it moving. People might not like the next album. I hope they do because I think it’s amazing. I want to keep on my toes, not stay doing the same thing. Move on and move back. I think I’ve proved I’m versatile and can be allowed to be.”

Outside of music, Bailey says he wants to go on Graham Norton and show him what Britain really is. “I’m from Nottingham. I want to say to him, ‘Wagwan mi duck,’ and show him it’s not just ‘mandem,’ ‘you get me,’ and it’s not just ‘ohh, hello.’ It’s a mix, you know? I’m more British than the korma, the korma!”

“We’ve always been a mix-up mix-up thing. So we should celebrate the main thing that we celebrate and advertise to the world.”

Listen to Zero Grace here on Spotify

Find Bailey on Instagram

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