Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1088

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Feature

Nate James: Soul Sharing

Nate James @bluesandsoul.com
Nate James @bluesandsoul.com Nate James @bluesandsoul.com Nate James @bluesandsoul.com Nate James @bluesandsoul.com

Having quietly become one of British soulâs most successful independent exports in recent years, Suffolk-raised singer/songwriter Nate James - after being locked away in the studio since last September - returns to the UK stage this month for a special celebratory one-off show at Camdenâs Jazz Café.

Meeting up with long-time industry acquaintance Pete Lewis for lunchtime drinks at East Londonâs trendy Hoxton Bar, an ever-charismatic, Afro-sporting Mr. James immediately dispels the drabness of the English autumn weather with his upbeat, confident aura, as he begins by enthusiastically discussing his aforementioned upcoming London gig.

âWhat happened was, I did a feature with (US contemporary soulstress) Leelah James at The Jazz Café a couple of months agoâ, he begins: âWe basically just did one duet together. But the reaction I got when she was announcing me - and I was walking down the stairs to the stage - was AMAZING! And it actually made me realise that I hadnât done a headline show of my own there for like 18 months, and that there are obviously people out there who want to SEE me. So I spoke to the manager, and was like âLetâs put on like âAn Evening Withâ¦â kind of night, with more of a loungey feel and a full bandâ⦠You know, I basically just wanted to give something back to the people whoâve supported me from Day Dot, and let them know âHey Iâm still AROUND! I havenât disappeared, I havenât buggered off to America⦠Iâve actually been in the studio writing, so I can give you guys a new ALBUM!â!â

Indeed, hailing originally from Woodbridge in rural Suffolk, in the four years since his acclaimed debut LP âSet The Toneâ first surfaced, Nate has impressively risen to become one of the most successful independent recording artists around the world; selling over 200,000 albums and enjoying sizeable airplay hits across mainland Europe and Japan. All of which - with Nate releasing via his own, self-financed Frofunk label - bears testimony to the fact that, for UK black artists, domestic chart status and major-label backing are no longer essential pre-requisites to bona fide overseas success.

Which in turn heightens expectations for his forthcoming, summer 2010-scheduled third album (the follow-up to his experimental 2007 sophomore set âKingdom Fallsâ): âYeah, for me working on the next album has been very much a period of growthâ, he reflects: âYou know, once you get off the bandwagon of being on tour - where youâre constantly travelling and doing shows - you have time to reflect. So you kinda sit back, you switch on the news, you see whatâs going on in the world today... So this time around I do have some tracks that reflect that. Like one song is called âOne Kindâ, which is actually very reminiscent of (Marvin Gayeâs) âWhatâs Going Onâ. Where Iâm basically looking at the world, seeing how wrong some things are and how great OTHER things are - and just kind of trying to find that balance. You know, Iâm basically saying âWeâre all one people, weâre all one kind. So why canât we RECOGNISE that, and LIVE together as one people?â.â

âThen musically Iâm trying to go more down the sort of Eighties/Nineties retro-soul route - pulling influences from Sade, Soul 11 Soul, Roachford, and even poppier acts like Level 42 and Go Westâ, he continues enthusiastically: âYou know, while I did the Motown thing with the first album, it was actually the Eighties sounds that I grew up on. I mean, that whole era of people from George Michael through to like Loose Ends was always just so exciting to me. So I thought musically this time Iâd try to recapture that, and just give people a reason to sing, dance and have some fun!â

Meanwhile, in addition to writing and recording sessions for his next album, Nate has also been busy in the last 18 months touring Japan, headlining at The Montreal Jazz Festival, plus undertaking his first tour of North America: âYeah, the US tour was great!â, he enthuses: âAs always with me, it was very much a self-funded, self-fuelled adventure. Basically I just kinda put word out on MySpace, to a few people I knew in The States, that I was looking to come over to do some gigs. And I ended up doing about 12 dates. We actually did more the kinda cool and trendy jazz bars, as well as some songwritersâ nights. I mean, there was one place called The Bitter End in Greenwich Village (New York), where they have a sheet outside saying whoâs performed there. And on it was Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, Donny Hathaway... So I was like âOK, this is pretty fuckinâ cool! Iâm performing on the same stage as THESE people did, like 20/30 years ago!â!â

âI mean, the tour was literally just me and my PAâ, he adds, as our lively lunchtime chat draws to a close: âWe organised all our flights, booked our hotels... You know, it was a BUDGET tour, and there was no money made from it. But, at the same time, it was great to know that I could go into a room of 300 people in New York, and they knew who I was, they knew the lyrics to my songs - and the album hasnât even been RELEASED there!... So I was like âHey, if I can go to The States and have 200/300 people turn up - and thatâs without any label backing, without any tour support, without any branding, or any kind of promotion - then thatâs a pretty good START!â!â

Nate performs his âAn Evening With Nate Jamesâ show at Jazz Café, London on September 25
Words PETE LEWIS

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