During her teens, Elles Bailey fronted an indie band. Born in the late 80s and raised on a mix of rock’n’roll, blues and country (plus a generous helping of Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys hits), the singer found herself on tour with noughties guitar-wave bands like Scouting For Girls. At one point they opened for pop megastars the Sugababes.
“They had a room for just their shoes,” she recalls. “This is a legit, actual thing. I think they had about fifty pairs on tour with them.”
Elles Bailey might look similarly glam in her press photos – the latest in a bluesy roots’n’roll career that’s seen her lauded by ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris and festooned with awards – but this isn’t really who she is. Makeup-free and hoarse voiced (post-gig) in a beanie hat, she’s chilled, chatty company. On tour she’s more likely to get excited about amazing sandwiches than drugs and hard liquor. Over lockdown she became a mother.
“At the age of eight, I thought being a rock star would be all limos and parties,” says Elles. “I’m exceedingly glad that it is actually nothing like that. I like my privacy. I’m glad that I found a really nice balance in my career. It doesn’t involve limos, but I can live with that.”
The daughter of a used car salesman and a teacher, Elles grew up in Bristol surrounded by music. Her mother sang while her father played guitar in a pub band, covering Rolling Stones and Chuck Berry classics. On the surface Elles was a confident child who threw herself into drama, musical theatre and sports.
But things changed for her career when she was hospitalised with viral and bacterial pneumonia, leaving her with the husky voice she’s retained ever since. “Yeah it sounded like I was smoking sixty a day, drinking whiskey…” she grins.
You could say her fate was set. When the aforementioned indie band came to an end, she went to university before deciding to make a go of it as a soloist. With her third album, last year’s Shining In The Half-Light, she embraced a mix of loose-limbed party tunes, heartbreak and catharsis. She agrees that she feels things very keenly. The pandemic. Having a child. The recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria. Fuel for the emotive storytelling in her music; something she shares with the likes of Beth Hart and Bonnie Raitt.
“It’s quite an exhausting trait to have because you just take on everything. I’m sure that often reflects in my music. “The careers of people like Imelda May are a huge inspiration to me,” she adds. “I’ve never really been interested in fame or anything like that. I just want to make good music that can help people – in the same way that people like Bonnie Raitt, and Beth Hart and Imelda May have these incredible careers that just continue. That’s my hope.”
Elles Bailey plays Nottingham Rescue Rooms on May 18 with Chantel McGregor, and Corporation in Sheffield on May 19, with festival dates lined up throughout the summer. For full dates and tickets, visit the Elles Bailey website.