Elsie-May Baker, the lead singer of party band Ruby Rouge, talks to us about her experience working on cruise ships and forming two local bands. Photographs by Max Young
Elsie-May Baker, the lead singer of the party band Ruby Rouge, was destined to be a performer. "My mum worked on cruise ships as a dancer in the '70s and even lived with the Italian Mafia whilst rehearsing, and my great Auntie Annette, who recently passed away, was the principal ballerina at the Royal Ballet in Sadler's Wells. As a child, I took every dance class imaginable – Ballet, Modern, Tap, Jazz, Greek etc."
Elsie trained at Lane Theatre Arts for a year before embarking on an eight-year stint for Carnival Cruise Lines, the largest cruise company in the world. She spent the first three years as a dancer, travelling the world from her bunk bed cabin, drinking margaritas on the beach in Mexico. Initially, the shows had 14 dancers and 2 singers, but Carnival soon changed their requirements, halving the number of cast members and requesting all cast members to sing and dance. "You were a triple threat or out." There were two options – a Singer/Dancer or a Dancer/Singer (the former being the predominant art). "With dancing being my strong point, I auditioned to be a Dancer/Singer and absolutely loved it!"
After a couple of contracts and a newfound love for singing, Elsie decided to take on the challenge of auditioning for lead vocalist. This role paid more, and they were granted a double occupancy cabin- no more bunk beds or sharing a postage-stamp-size bathroom.
"I had no experience singing other than a few lessons in college which I'd skive or hide in the back, so never really got a chance to learn my voice. After two years of practicing in storage cupboards on the ship, I earned myself the lead vocalist position and that double-bed cabin!" As a lead vocalist, Elsie soon learned that the higher the pay cheque, the greater the responsibility. With 10 shows a week, Elsie's priorities shifted, and her vocal health and voice stamina became top priority – no more margaritas on the beach.
Over the course of 8 years, Elsie has visited places worldwide, including most of the Caribbean, Hawaii, much of Europe, Australia and the French Polynesian Islands. One of her favourite memories is chartering a sailboat for her mum's 60th birthday around Maui during whale mating season with pods of 12-15 humpback whales as far as the eye could see. Another high point for Elsie was becoming the first female lifeboat Coxswain after noticing that Carnival had only ever appointed Coxswain to male crew.
"If I couldn't find work in Jersey, I needed to create the work."
Returning to Jersey
After 8 years at sea, Elsie wanted to return to shore but continue her new singing career and landed a job in Majorca in a singing trio. Sadly, Covid had other ideas, and the contract got cancelled. Returning to Jersey, Elsie started her own family and spent time brainstorming ways to keep doing what she loved while living in the place she loved, Jersey."I have always adored our little island, but being a performer, I never thought I could live here without a complete career change. So, back to the drawing board - if I couldn't find work in Jersey, I needed to create the work. The only job I could think of that I adored (other than working on ships) was a summer that I covered as a singer in a local band that played at a lot of weddings. I loved being a part of a couple's big day. Weddings are incredibly happy events, so I couldn't think of a better industry to jump into feet first."
Having worked with many incredible live bands on the ships, Elsie knew exactly what style of music she wanted to play, the songs that got people up on the dance floor, what a band should look like and the energy they needed to keep their audience engaged. It was a no-brainer. The next hurdle was finding like-minded musicians who wanted to participate in the project.
"We are really close as a group, banter being our number one form of communication."
Ruby Rouge initially launched with musicians back in Jersey due to Covid. Once Covid had settled down, most of the original band members left Jersey (bar Elsie and drummer Marcus) to pursue their music careers worldwide. After putting out a call for new band members, Ruby Rouge was relaunched and now consists of Elsie (lead vocalist), Marcus (drummer), Mia (keys), Ben (guitarist) and James (bassist).
"We are really close as a group, banter being our number one form of communication. I'd say we're more like brothers and sisters who wind each other up but still show up and support one another. We've made it our goal to find our niche and be as different as possible to other local bands, putting our own spin on old dance tracks and incorporating immersive elements to get the whole audience involved."
Elsie and the Emeralds
Realising a gap in the market for a smaller, more affordable band for more intimate events, Elsie and the Emeralds was born.
The three-piece post-modern jazz trio is made up of Ruby Rouge members Elsie, Mia and Marcus. They cover a variety of popular songs and genres in their own jazzy style, catering for background music to a more upbeat and captivating performance and everything in between based on the audience and atmosphere. This band instantly took off with private dinner parties, cocktail hours, drinks receptions, christenings and birthday celebrations.
Elsie and the Emeralds provide the same professional standard as Ruby Rouge but on a smaller, more affordable scale as they don't require the same large set-up - making them the ideal choice for smaller gatherings.
You can catch Elsie and the Emeralds on the terrace at the Hotel Cristina during the summer months. To enquire about bookings for either Ruby Rouge or Elsie and the Emeralds, visit the website.
Ben and James
Ben (Guitar & Vocals)
Ben studied filmmaking at Metfilm school in London, acting & performance at the Academy of Creative Training in Brighton and studied Professional Musicianship notably playing the axe! Ben has performed in productions for the BBC, Comedy Central and Brighton Fringe Festival.
James (Bass & Vocals)
James has been hittin' up the low end for most of his life and has developed his own percussive style that he brings with him to each and every performance. James has a vast knowledge in contemporary bass guitar techniques, as well as musical theory and melodic harmony.
Mia, Marcus and Elsie
Mia has been tickling the keys since she was six years old and has studied the ABRSM grades. Mia has been teaching on island for local music schools and services for a number of years, as well as teaching privately under 'Mia Carney Piano'.
"Marcus the Magnet" studied at the institute of contemporary music performance in London and is one hell of a drummer! Taking inspiration from disco and funk drummers from yesteryear "The magnet" lays grooves that transcend every era and get peoples feet shuffling.