Bailey Rae’s healing heart speaks

Corinne Bailey Rae. Photo: PA Photo/Handout
Corinne Bailey Rae. Photo: PA Photo/Handout

Corinne Bailey Rae has just recorded her appearance on Later... With Jools Holland when we meet, and has a spring in her step after talking to the other musicians on the show.

“Bloc Party said they loved my music, and Elton John told me how he always bought four copies of my albums; one for each of his houses,” she reveals of her the episode, which aired mid-May.

The Leeds singer-songwriter recalls how appearing on the show back in 2006 was the first time she’d been on TV, and quickly transformed her fortunes.

“I was playing a four-week residency in London, and the first two shows were really quiet. Then I was on Jools Holland and the final two were rammed, no one could get in and there were queues outside.

“Going on the show again feels like coming full circle,” adds the 37-year-old.

This latest appearance was to promote her new album, The Heart Speaks In Whispers, her third overall, and first since 2010’s The Sea.

She says she was worried about bringing out another record after such a long break - but then again, she’d probably have worried however long it had been.

“I think you have to remind fans of who you are, no matter the length of gap,” she says. “But I do feel really lucky that the people who follow my music have kept in touch. Just walking around the street, I get to meet people who have enjoyed my songs, and they’ll come up and say nice things. I love talking to those people. I feel like there’s still a good connection there.”

She’s not been totally absent, either. During the interim, she sang with jazz great Herbie Hancock, and performed with Lianne La Havas and at various Fashion Week shows. Plus, as a former nominee (back in 2010), she was a judge on the 2015 Mercury Prize panel.

“The main thing is that I feel like I’m still playing live. We toured The Sea for 18 months after it came out. But when I got back to Leeds, I really wanted to build a studio, and have a place where I could write and call my own,” she adds.

Of course, there’s also a lot more to it. Midway through recording The Sea (the follow-up to her million-selling debut), in 2008, her husband, saxophonist Jason Rae, died from an accidental methadone and alcohol overdose.

After some time, she managed to finish it and started an 18-month tour around the world. It sounds gruelling, performing songs written in the aftermath of Rae’s death - and so the six years between albums doesn’t seem a surprise.

The Heart Speaks In Whispers is a collection of material written since 2011, and charts Bailey Rae’s creative and personal rebirth.

She says springtime is a huge source of inspiration; the record’s full of allusions to growth and new shoots.

“I’ve become obsessed with nature and the way it fights back,” she says. “The song Green Aphrodisiac is specifically about that, and the Winter Rose that’s underneath the snow, rising up just when you think there’s going to be no new life and things will be bare forever.

“That’s how it’s been for me, being able to feel this new life, I’ve been in a new studio, experiencing new places, with new songs, feeling a new sense of joy and new trust in my own abilities.”

She has also remarried - Bailey Rae wed long-time friend and collaborator Steve Brown in 2013.

Musically, she’s moved firmly into nu-soul territory, nodding to the likes of Erykah Badu. There are also tips of the hat to more classic soul, including Isaac Hayes, but Bailey Rae’s secret is to stop short of homage, wisely avoiding retro pastiche.

“There’s been so much that’s new to me making this record, it’s all about transformation, dreams and hope.”

She always knew she’d make another record, but wasn’t always sure what form it was going to take or who would release it - as it is, her label, Virgin, stood by her through the break - but the most important thing, she says, was waiting until everything felt right.

“I guess the work I make will exist forever, and it could’ve come out last year, or if I’d really pushed the year before, but I’m not sure it would’ve been right.

“I just wanted to know that I was going to be happy with it, that’s really important. Especially with being out for [so long]. There’s so much change in the industry - I just need to ignore that and focus on my music.”

There has indeed been a lot of change since her 2006 self-titled debut. Back then, buying actual albums was still a thing; by the time of her second album, it was all about downloads, and now streaming plays a huge part in how we consume music.

“You can’t legislate for those changes. Maybe next time, the hottest platform will be something that didn’t even exist when I was making my previous record, or what if all the people at my record label move on, or what if this and what if that? The most important thing is to think whether I am happy with something.

“Going to bed at night thinking I’m glad about all the time I spent on a record is the only thing I care about,” says Bailey Rae.

“If someone doesn’t like my music, I can say, ‘It’s not for you but I am happy with it’, and that’s a very powerful feeling to have.”

Corinne Bailey Rae’s new album, The Heart Speaks In Whispers, is out now. She is performing all over the UK throughout June and July.