I first saw Rae Morris in September 2012, as part of Damon Albarn’s Manchester Africa Express gig. An exciting collaboration of African musicians and various musicians from the UK gathered together to fill a lively and noisy stage in the HMV Ritz. Damon Albarn was visible in the wings orchestrating the whole thing, frantically leaping about and at some points literally throwing percussionists onto the stage. But amidst the chaos, about halfway through the night the stage went relatively empty and a shy looking girl with an impressive head of curly hair sat down at the piano and began to sing. Damon Albarn became still to watch her, as did the offstage audience who were immediately hushed when she opened her mouth. I can honestly say that it’s one of the only times my jaw has actually dropped – her voice was pure and sweet but at the same time powerfully strong, and she filled the room despite the fact that she had so many other musicians to contend with.
After the gig, having not caught her name, I did some extensive googling until I found her – a few YouTube videos and her Blueprint demos. I had the joy (and pride) of having discovered an artist for myself, and when she played in my hometown of Hebden Bridge in February 2013, I had the pleasure not only of seeing her for a second time, but also of showing her off to friends (who also fell in love). It was a sit down gig, with the audience spread out and grouped at tables. However, rather than chatting and listening casually with a drink in hand, the audience was again held in thrall to Rae Morris, this time solo and seated with two electric pianos in front of her.
I was again surprised and delighted by her vocal range, her softness of tone and the subtle textures to her voice. She seamlessly moves with the piano in the way which only someone who is completely in sync with their instrument can – the keys almost an extension of her body. When she spoke between songs she was incredibly modest. She seemed genuinely delighted to be there and offstage she was warm and friendly – when she had finished playing she joined her parents at the merch table and was thankfully not too scared by my garbled praise of her performance when I went over to buy her EP.
2013 saw the release of Rae Morris’ second EP From Above and a trip to LA to record her forthcoming album, produced by Ariel Rechtshaid, which will be out by the end of this year. Since the release of Skin (the first single) in January this year, she has played four UK gigs, featured on Bombay Bicycle Club’s single Luna from their latest chart topping album So Long, See You Tomorrow, and is currently supporting them on their March tour. Her next single, Do You Even Know, will be released on the 6th May, to coincide with another solo UK tour this April and May. I was lucky enough to attend her London gig at the Lexington on the 27th February, where she played with a band to a standing audience.
At first, I was slightly unsure what to think about the added instruments, as the simplicity and clarity of just her voice melting into the piano was what gave her previous performances such a magical quality. However, I was proved wrong when they began to play both new songs and old favourites which had been updated for the album. The extra keys and bass just served to emphasise what was already there, and some of the newer tracks (Do You Even Know included) were more lively and noticeably but subtly influenced by Bombay Bicycle Club. Before playing Don’t Go (her first ever track to be released), she announced ‘I’m going to play this one just me and you’; it was as hauntingly beautiful as ever, and brought a lump to my throat. For You made the transition from demo to album track in the most perfect way possible, taking on a fuller sound and remaining possibly my favourite. From what I have heard of it so far, Rae Morris’ debut album is going to be something quite spectacular.
Rae Morris will be playing in London at Wilton’s Music Hall on the 1st May, and you can watch the video for Do You Even Know here: