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Liam Bailey on His Career Highlights, Collaborating With Leon Michaels and Taking Long London Walks

8 September 21 interview: Elizabeth O’Riordan
photos: Cristian Sanchez

Released towards the end of 2020, Liam Bailey’s genre-crossing album Ekundayo has been reworked by prominent New York producer Leon Michaels, founder of Big Crown Records. The result? Ekundayo Inversions, a dub/soul/reggae crossover that showcases Bailey’s silky-smooth voice like never before...

What have you been up to since we last spoke to you in 2018?
I’ve just been on this big quest to drop a sick album, so 2017 and 2018 I started motivating myself. I stopped drinking, I stopped going out, I started going swimming and that. I’ve just started getting to know myself, actually. I started doing these long walks which are good for your mental health. I was walking all the way from Croydon area to Westminster Abbey. 

How long did that take?
Might have been about four hours, five hours, but when you’ve got an audiobook on or a podcast it’s fine. Aside from that, I was doing bits and bobs with Juga-Naut, the Nottingham rapper. Mainly, though, I was going to New York to link with Leon Michels because I wanted to do the whole record with him. 

You mention your album, Ekundayo. What’s the story behind the name?
That was a name that I came across on Nottingham TV station back in 2002. There was a Nigerian woman on the show with a son whose name was Ekundayo and I thought that name was sick - she said it means sadness becomes joy. 

During the pandemic things got quite deep and I thought this is perfect, some of the subject matters on the album covers some sorrow and I feel the album turns it into joy. 

How did you find working with Leon?
Me and Leon are mates, we go back to 2007. My manager at the time was like, go and meet with this guy Leon Michels. We recorded When Will They Learn and Miss You then. We finally got it together to do an album and it made sense to put it out with Big Crown which is Leon’s new label. 

There’s no way we would have made a record as good as this ten years ago. It’s a bit mad that I’ve got Lee “Scratch” Perry on my record, that was a bit deep because that song is about family issues and ugly truths, but then with this grandfather of reggae. 

I started motivating myself. I stopped drinking, I stopped going out, I started going swimming and that. I’ve just started getting to know myself

Ekundayo Inversions is a reworking of your first album. How did that come into existence?
The album was done and ready to release and then the pandemic hit. We thought, why don’t we do some dub versions of these, and whilst it wasn’t reggae, we could still approach it with the same ethos. That’s why you have the instrumental vibes in Faded and I Love NY. It was the perfect project to do over the lockdown. 

Did lockdown make you go deeper into your project?
I think so, yeah - the lockdown got me to explore the music more as Leon was reimagining it. I read a review the other day that said it’s almost like these songs (on the Inversion album) stand alone, it’s like they never had the fully written songs.

Who was your first musical love?
Michael Jackson - although the first album I can remember holding was a classic Motown album with a shiny silver cover. But yeah, Michael Jackson. The feeling I used to get listening to Michael Jackson was crazy. I really believe that’s why I’m where I’m at today, because of that feeling that those records instilled in me: Michael Jackson, Motown, The Beatles, Bob Marley. Even the paedophilia rumours haven’t poisoned those memories, but it’s changed the way I listen to him now - I don’t really listen to him anymore. 

What’s an unexpected genre that you love?
There’s a band called Fugazi that’s a post-punk band. I also like Sonic Youth. I was a big indie kid at school, I got into Oasis in a big way when I was fourteen. 

Are there any standout performances in your career?
There was a recent one for Arte. I did a thing for them during the lockdown. The venue was this sick old theatre all lit out like a TV studio. 

Obviously, the Glastonbury performance with Chase & Status. It was crazy because it was what I’d been building up to my whole life, I used to sit cross legged and watch Freddie Mercury, Queen, Led Zeppelin performances. I wanted to smash it. I remember being really nervous. Then in 2013 we did it on the other stage, which was even bigger. The Rolling Stones were on while we were playing, and people started leaving then to come to us. 

The Glastonbury performance with Chase & Status was crazy because it was what I’d been building up to my whole life

That must have been surreal?
I didn’t know that at the time, I just remember being surprised by how full it looked. 

With the ten-year anniversary of Amy Winehouse’s passing, does it make you reminisce about your time at her record label?
Our relationship was always friendship with music, and I feel so lucky that I got to have a musical relationship in that way. But this time round I’ve remembered the darker things more and it hasn’t been as happy.

I did a tweet this year on the anniversary, and it went viral. I was saying that the week she died I was on a bender, and I came back to missed calls on my phone from Amy. Sky News wanted me to do a chat and I said I’m not doing it. They had a documentary and wanted an extra feature on Amy. Nowadays I see things differently with the media, I always wonder where the dark hand is.  

You post a lot on social media about the climate crisis, is that something you’re passionate about?
No, I’m not passionate but I do like to express myself and it does worry me. I feel like they’re not being real with us, I think we don’t know the half of it. We’re consuming more and the planet’s dying. So, I guess I just like to rant about it on Instagram. 

We have to be collective now, collectivism is the only way to go. 

Anything else you’d like to say to LeftLion readers?
Yeah, I want everyone to check out local musicians that are currently doing bits in Nottingham and to check out my recent project. Also, Harleighblu has a project I want everyone to listen to.  

liambailey.music

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