My brother said: “You'll know you're there when someone approaches you offering curry”. It's almost a package deal: curry and live music on Brick Lane. But it wasn't the curry that did it for me – singer-songwriter James Blunt is an awesome new talent and a really nice guy too.
We were there to interview James and to confirm he is every bit as good live as his debut album Back To Bedlam. On his sell-out band residency at 93 Feet East (running on three consecutive Wednesdays), James modestly told us he has a 'big family', but it's not true. The venue was packed, both with the public school types he grew up with at Harrow School, and the usual die-hard fans who scorn anyone who dare utter a word during the set (including me passing comment at James's incredible voice!)
Despite his enthusiasm for the support act, Luane Parle was little more than a Shania Twain tribute band; just not my cup of tea. But it wasn't long until James, with his drummer going mental in the background, let rip with new song Dancing Days before introducing himself and offering his services for Bar Mitvahs and threesomes. The set then started properly with brilliant album opener and current single High.
Sadly the dodgy acoustics combined with much chat at the back (no, it wasn't me this time) let James down during No Bravery, a song written during and about his time serving in Kosovo. (We asked to see the bullet-ridden guitar but it suffered an unfortunate motorbike accident in front of the EMI bosses.) However, there was no stopping the crowd joining in with So Long Jimmy and I got all excited with second new song I Really Want You – I can barely wait for his new album. Saving the best until last, James finished up with You're Beautiful, a truly pretty song about an ex-girlfriend, followed by Wisemen, my personal favourite. Then, all too soon, it was home time.
He's been compared to Damien Rice, Van Morrison, and Counting Crows; that's some list, but James Blunt deserves the association. His rather unconventional route into the music industry is reflected in some top-class lyrics which, combined with acoustic brilliance and an amazing voice, leave me begging for more. Watch out for Wisemen to be released on 7 March, but if, like me, you can't wait, go out and get the album – it won't leave your stereo in a hurry.
To hear the interview, download the 17 January NSUAOSATOC show from www.icradio.com.
The road to music wasn't exactly straight forward for talented singer-songwriter James Blunt.
Before he became a rising star supporting the likes of Elton John and Katie Melua, James led a more 'respectable' life as an Army Capitan stationed in Kosovo and a protector of The Queen.
But even though he wasn't encouraged to enjoy music in his younger days it was always in his soul. While in the army he would write songs, a form of expression that helped him make sense of the senseless world around him.
Shortly after leaving the army he got himself a manager, secured a record deal with Linda Perry and found himself in the Hollywood Hills recording his debut album Back to Bedlam with producer Tom Rothrock. How is that for a career change?
The album is a beautiful culmination of all these experiences mashed together – his songs are both uplifting and powerfully tragic all with a personal touch and heartbreaking melodies. I reckon 2005 is going to be a great year for James Blunt, have a listen to his album and you'll understand why.
FF: Your debut album Back to Bedlam shares a lot of your personal experiences – was it hard for you to record? James: Um, I guess there was self induced pressure because I had been dreaming about this since I was 14 years old and you want to get it right, not for anybody else but I had these thoughts, ideas and later on the songs and it would have been an awful shame to have this opportunity and not make the right album. So yeah hard in the sense that I wanted to get it right – hard in the personal things? No that's what songs are all about for me, it's the only form of expression I really have. FF: You recorded the album in LA what was that like? James: It was amazing. I lived in Beverly Hills 90210, I drove down Mullholland Drive everyday and went to Tom Rothrocks studio which is under the Hollywood Sign... it was great fun, I lived the life out there. FF: Any plans to go back? James: Yeah I'm off to Texas next week to do the South by Southwest music festival, which was where I first met Linda Perry and originally got my record deal. FF: Is it true you recorded the track Goodbye my Lover in Carrie Fishers (Star Wars) bathroom? James: Yeah, she had a piano in there, they do that kinda thing in Hollywood. FF: You have been compared to the likes of Damian Rice, Beck and a young Elton John what do you think of these comparisons? James: Those are all huge compliments really aren't they; I think they may be a bit over generous with those associations..... Its weird, I guess any singer-songwriter gets put into the next singer-songwriter bracket but I guess those sort of comparisons are necessary so people know what the hell the album is going to sound like before buying it. But yeah they are great compliments.
FF: Your song So Long Jimmy reminds me of a Doors track, is this an ode to Jim Morrison? James: Um yeah it's really a tribute to him [Jim Morrison] and Jimmy Hendrix. I wrote it with my friend Jimmy Hogarth and I get called Jimmy occasionally. It was the last song I wrote before heading off to LA so it was like saying goodbye to Jimmy my song-writing partner, you can obviously hear the nod at the end to Riders on the Storm by the Doors. I was enjoying making all those associations. FF: What is your favourite track on the album? James: I think Goodbye My Lover is the most personal on there, it really reminds me of the thoughts that were in my mind at the time so I am really happy about that song but also really sad about it too. FF: You wrote the song No Bravery while stationed in Kosovo – how does it feel to sing this track now you are totally removed from you old life? James: It does always bring back vivid memories from those times. The song is very descriptive of the sights, sounds and smells that are out there so yeah when I am singing it I definitely find myself in that place again. FF: Is that hard for you to be back there? James: No not really it's a frame of mind you get used to very quickly out there, so no it's not hard but not really very pleasant either. FF: Do you think your former career as an Army Captain has made you more resilient in the music business. James: I am pretty independent and maybe you have to be as a solo artist....you are out on your own so its put me in pretty good stead for that, also I have performed in front of soldiers who have given me all sorts of abuse so I can face any crowd now, its much easier in comparison. FF: You are still listed in the army, how does it feel knowing you could still get called up at any time? James: In reality I don't think the army would dream of calling me back up, looking at me now I'm far to scruffy, but if I get a call out I would be very willing to go – unless I've got a big gig that night. FF: Your tour kicks off in April are you looking forward to it? James: Yeah its great fun, for me live music is what it's all about FF: What can people who might not have seen you play live before expect from the tour? James: Well I am touring with my band we make up a five piece and there are some really lively songs in there but some miserable songs too we'll also be road testing a few new songs. The last tour was great fun, the audience were really enthused by everything and for me it's what I'm really enjoying at the moment and the audience seem to turn up and sing all the words so it's really exciting.
FF: Yeah I have noticed people seem to be genuinely touched by your music. James: For me it's doing all it possibly could do. Some people can be so isolated and if you can communicate or connect with anyone through music it can be really magical. FF: What do your friends and family think of your music? James: My dad was really nervous when I said I was going to leave my 'proper' job and get into music but now they have heard it on the radio, got my album and seen me supporting people like Elton John they are my number one fans – I think my mother is actually stalking me. FF: What are you most looking forward to in the coming year? James: Doing lots of live shows, the tour, possibly some festivals, it's all about the live shows for me at the moment that makes it worth while. I am living this wild lifestyle and travelling a hell of a lot but sometimes you don't get time to stop and look around you so the live shows are where we get to stop, take a breath and enjoy it all. FF: Do you have a message for your fans at FemaleFirst.co.uk? James: Thank you for all your support and if you haven't already got it go out and get the album. James Blunts album Back to Bedlam and new single Wiseman is out now.
James Blunt is an ex-Army Captain turned singer/songwriter. He's busy promoting his latest single You're Beautiful but we caught up with him to drill him with some Blunt questions.
You released your new single You're Beautiful was released last Monday. Can you tell us a bit about it? It's a miserable song. Quite miserable. It's about a time when I seen an ex girlfriend on the subway with her new boyfriend.
You recorded your debut album Back To Bedlam in LA. What was it like to live there? It was amazing, great. I lived in Beverly Hills 90210, and worked with my producer over there. I went past the Hollywood sign everyday but I worked in a small studio too. I had a few friends over there so that was good.
Do you have a favourite track on the album? No, I love the whole album. It was a journey for me. But I do really like Goodbye My Lover.
What does the rest of 2005 hold for you? Well, I have the festival season coming up. I'm doing the main stage at Glastonbury, then the Wireless festival. I'm going to the USA to release the album there and then I'm back to the UK for another tour. Which is great!
15 Blunt Questions
Favourite pizza topping? Pepperoni, sweetcorn, onion - and a can of coke.
Ever been on a blind date? No, no I don't think I have but I think that's one I've still to do.
Would you bungee jump or sky dive? I don't think the record company would let me... but I would like to. I have done parasailing - where you jump of the side of a hill.
Favourite cartoon character? Danger Mouse.
Last time you cried? Em, I can't remember.
Chocolate or crisps? Chocolate.
Can you stay friends with an ex? Hopefully not.
Can you cook? I can do a mean tuna sandwich. No, scrambled eggs is my best.
Being a billionaire or finding true love? True Love - definitely.
Apple juice or orange juice? We'll say apple juice but it could change tomorrow.
First pets name? I had a dog called Tara. I also had a rabbit but it died after three days.
Favourite all-time singer? Mmm, I don't know.
Or band? I'll say the Pixies.
Are you sick of reality TV? No, I'm not because I haven't seen any of it.
Not a Big Brother fan then? No, life's too short to watch other people's lives.
With his debut album Back to Bedlam flying off the shelves 28 year old James Blunt is quickly establishing himself as the singer-song writer of the moment. The soldier turned musician talks to UK Music about his army days, touring with Elton John and many other things!
Where did the interest in music come from? Because you didn't grow up in a musical family did you? No, we didn't have much popular music, but my mother was very good at making me take up music instruments. She made me learn to play the recorder when three, violin when I was five, piano when I was seven. Then I did the classical grades, which I found really boring. When I was fourteen I started playing the electric guitar because I saw some boy in the ear above me playing. Really at that age I decided I wanted to be a musician and what my life was going to be all about.
What were your influences? I wasn't listening to music at that stage, just classical stuff. Then when I took up the guitar, I listened to what everyone else at school had, which was Pixies, Doors, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin.
What was it about being a musician that attracted you? It was nothing to do with the life of a musician, just the fact that I really enjoyed music and I wanted to cement musical ideas, express the feelings and emotions that I had inside that doing music couldn't really contain.
Coming from a military family, what was your childhood like? Was there much moving around? Yeah, we moved around every two years. I was born in Hampshire, my parents, moved to Cyprus, Germany and Yorkshire. But what I would I do was they'd send me to boarding school, the army assisted with your the fees and stuff, and I'd be at boarding school during term time and go and meet my parents during the holidays.
What was it like in boarding school? It was pretty tightly controlled. I mean you've got these masters who run the show. You had everything nearby that you wanted to do, if you wanted to play football, tennis or rugby, it was all there. You worked hard, do all your homework at the same time you had your friends around you and no parents. So there were some fun bits, but the age of fifteen sixteen I was pretty desperate to get out of there, because you wanted to meet up with girls and stuff like that.
After your education you joined the army.... That was something I had to do because the army paid for my tuition fees, so I owed them four years. I knew I was going to do music all the time, but I thought I might as well get this out of the way otherwise I'd owe them thousands of pounds. I had to pay them back, how was I going to pay them back? By getting myself a job, well what job was going to get? I thought I might as well join the army and that solved the problem! But I had an interesting time and saw some interesting things, met some interesting people, travelled a lot during that time and did some extraordinary things.
Like what? What did you role as a Peace Keeper involve? Well, I was in working in Kosovo during the bombing campaign and during the peace transition period and that involved stopping people trying to kill each other and picking up the pieces. Beyond that, I worked in London as the Queen's body guard and I also worked Canada as well. It was a really interesting, but at the same time I always knew that I wanted to do something different, that I wanted to do music.
Did you make a conscious decision not to really discuss the army days in your music? Unfortunately I wasn't a banker because then no one would want to know what I did and no one would be saying 'why aren't you singing about your banking job'. A job is a job, I did it for a number of years but I'm still a human being with other emotions. I wrote No Bravery, which is last on the album, from Kosovo but the others are all about trying to be a conscientious human being in today's society.
How did you manage the transition from army to music? It took me a fair amount of time. I'd wanted to do it since I was 14 years old, trying to meet people from the industry at the age. The main thing was getting the songs in place and then meeting musicians, and I did that in my last year at uni and in my job. And then when I left I got myself a good manager and he sorted me out a publishing deal with EMI publishing, and then I signed to a record label Custard, which is run by Linda Perry from the four non blondes. It was another six months after I left the army, so it took me a bit of time.
What did you understand of the music industry at the time? I think because I didn't know much about the industry I kind of took whatever I got at that stage, and I have been offered a lot of crappy deals along the way. But then when you find the right people, you know you've found the right people. At the same the music industry is a difficult place with thousands of talented musicians out there and not enough places going round, so I think if you're going into the industry you have to have a very naïve sense of confidence because if you know about the realities it may just overwhelm you and make you just step away from it.
You recorded your album in LA, what was that like? LA is a fascinating place. I wouldn't choose to live there for rest of my life, but I really enjoy visiting there. I was living in Beverly Hills 90210! I recorded in a small studio up in the Hollywood hills so it's a special place. I was well looked after, I went out on the town and made the most of it living the Hollywood lifestyle for a moment.
You lived with Carrie Fisher though didn't you? Yeah I did. She put me up and I was very fortunate to have done that. I had met someone who knew her, met her and she said 'Come stay with me' and I did.
Are you looking forward to Glastonbury? Playing the Pyramid Stage is a dream of most musicians so I'm really looking forward to it.
How does a festival gig differ from your own shows? Well a festival set obviously has a different feel to some of your own show. You can afford to be a bit more down tempo and you have even longer. At Glastonbury everyone just wants to have fun so you don't want to be all miserable and moody on them.
What was it like touring with Elton John?
For me it was an amazing opportunity. I had first audience at the time of about 200 and then to audience of 28,000. It was a really magical time. Playing football stadiums with the best set up you could possibly get. The equipment was all fantastic. I'd highly recommend it.
Did you get to hang out with him?
I've met him a several times and I still have contact with him. He's at the top of the industry, sold millions of albums and yet at the same time he's has a complete grasp of what's going on at grass roots level and a real interest in what's happening at the bottom of the ladder. To me, he's one of the top people to meet and has a genuine in the little people. He looked after us well and gave us the incredible opportunity of touring with him. He's someone I am eternally grateful to for everything he has said and done for me.
What advice did he offer you?
He said to have fun, and I take that very seriously!