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Corinne’s Comeback

Now that we’re drowning in a sea of British female musical talent, it’s easy to forget that not so long ago there was precious little to get excited about from a Y chromosome perspective. So dire was the situation that for many years the Brit Award for Best British Female was jokingly referred to as ‘the Annie Lennox award’.

And the less said about Dido the better.

Joss Stone and KT Tunstall paved some of the way for the current crop of stars but it was the double whammy of Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse in 2006 which really got the ball rolling. Just three years later five of the 12 Mercury Music Prize nominees (including the eventual winner) were women.

Good stuff.

One name tends to be overlooked in this analysis though and that’s Corinne Bailey Rae. Not as in-your-face and tabloid-friendly as Lily or Amy, or as artily strange and exotic as Bat For Lashes or Florence Welch, Bailey Rae’s 2006 debut was derided in some quarters for being bland and unchallenging  – a sort of UK version of Norah Jones. Americans aren’t as consumed by snobbery as we are though, and she picked up four Grammy nominations and a personal invitation to appear on Oprah.

She looked set for an unprecedented level of transatlantic success (remember, this was before Winehouse and Leona Lewis broke big across the pond) and then… nothing. Or rather quite a lot actually. Her husband Jason died from an accidental drug overdose and Corinne promptly disappeared from view. Not that she’d ever been especially comfortable in the limelight anyway.

Last night I was lucky enough to attend her first proper gig (“in front of strangers”, as she put it) in more than two years. It was an intimate affair in a beautiful little venue called The Tabernacle in West London. After a slightly ropey opening (maybe it was just me but the drums sounded off), Corinne and her band soon found their feet and, on occasion, really flew. It was mainly new material (her second album is out early next year), which is always a tough gig for both performer and audience, but she was among friends and visibly grew in confidence as the hour progressed.

Inevitably, some of the songs were about her late husband and it felt almost intrusive to witness her perform them. The lyrics of something like I’d Do It All Again (the title says it all) are so personal that I fleetingly wondered whether she might break down mid-performance. No chance. There seemed to be a new steeliness about her, no doubt born out of her tragic experience, which was evident not just in her stage presence but in the new material itself.

Corinne Bailey Rae was already the equal of her most talented peers. Now she might just be ready to move ahead of the pack again.

I can’t think of anyone who deserves it more.

Corinne Bailey Rae 2009_The Sea


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