Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1074

Welcome to B&S



James Morrison: So Addictive

James Morrison
James Morrison James Morrison

With worldwide sales of his first two albums having exceeded an impressive four-and-a-half million, Rugby, UK-born soulful singer/songwriter James Morrison returns this month with his highly-anticipated third LP "The Awakening." Which - largely produced by Bernard Butler (of Suede and Duffy fame) and marking the BRIT-Award-winnerâs first release for Island Records - is currently being pioneered across the nationâs mainstream airwaves by its hauntingly anthemic offshoot single "I Wonât Let You Go."

Indeed, with its lyrical themes drawing on recent events in Jamesâ personal life - which include becoming a father, while losing his own father following the latterâs long battle with alcoholism and depression - "The Awakening" has already been described as âa warm, live-sounding collection of classic-but-contemporary folk/soul songsâ. Its blend of soaring strings, uplifting harmonies and soulful ballads (combined with nods to Motown, gospel, country and Latin) meanwhile ranges from the raw emotion of the cinematic, softly-funky "In My Dreams" and sadly philosophical, shuffling "Up" (featuring Britainâs current Queen of Urban, Jessie J) to the compulsive, handclapping groover "Slave To The Music" and reflectively sombre "Person I Should Have Been." All of which - combined with Morrisonâs gritty, emotive voice - unquestionably confirms his standing as one of todayâs premier white soul singer/songwriters.

Born James Morrison Catchpole in Rugby, Warwickshire in August 1984, Morrisonâs early years were spent soaking up his parentsâ record collection and in turn becoming influenced early on by such artists as Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding and Van Morrison. Nevertheless, with his parents divorcing when he was four years old, James would ultimately go on to suffer a tougher-than-average childhood. As, ostracised at school for preferring music to sports, he ended up spending much of his formative years travelling around the country (his family bedevilled by debts and the frequent threat of eviction) until settling in the Cornish beach town of Porth, where at 15 he first began to sing and play guitar in public by busking locally.

Forward to September 2008 and the release of Morrisonâs UK Top Five sophomore set "Songs For You, Truths For Me" would unquestionably go on to consolidate his international status further, with its critically-acclaimed duet "Broken Wings" - a collaboration with Canadian hip hop/folk superstar songstress Nelly Furtado - becoming his biggest-selling single to date, impressively shifting one-and-a-half-million copies in its own right. Since which time James has additionally sold out numerous arena tours; gigged coast-coast in America, in addition to Australia, Japan and across Europe; sung before tens of thousands at Londonâs Hyde Park supporting both Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder; plus guested on jazz icon Herbie Hancockâs Grammy-winning album âThe Imagination Projectâ, singing a widely-praised cover of soul legend Sam Cookeâs "A Change Is Gonna Come."

⦠Which in turn brings us up-to-date. As a highly-talkative Mr. Morrison (following a quick 'fag' break outside!) relaxes in the lobby of Park Laneâs opulent Grosvenor House Hotel with âBlues & Soulâ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis, to conduct a candid and frank interview about his aforementioned new LP and its real-life-based lyrical themes; his experience of working in the studio with Jessie J; his early soulful music influences; plus the long and surprisingly-hard road that ultimately led to his current worldwide success.

Titling his new, third album "The Awakening"

âI basically just wanted it to feel like a first album, in the sense of me having woken up as an artist and a person - you know, I wanted to forget that âBroken Stringsâ kind of pop side of me a little bit. And so, with me having actually written a SONG called âThe Awakeningâ, that title also just kind of neatly fitted the album TOO⦠Plus, in terms of the themes of the songs, I also wanted this album to feel like it was an awakening to LIFE. You know, in addition to waking up knowing the kind of ALBUM I wanted to make, with me having lost my dad I also wanted it to reflect me waking up knowing how to go forward in my LIFE and how to deal with LOSING him.â

Duetting with current UK Queen of Urban - Jessie J - on the aforementioned track "Up"

âWell, when I first tried to think of singers I wanted on the track, because Adeleâs album was flying at the time she obviously came to my head first. But then I thought âNo, thatâs TOO obvious - she loves the same music as me; Iâve done tours with herâ¦â. So I then tried to think of OTHER people that had great voices and could maybe do the same job, but who would have been more UNEXPECTED... And when the idea of Jessie came up, I got really EXCITED - because sheâs such a completely different ARTIST to me!

How, after moving with his mother to the Cornish beach town of Porth, a teenage James finally built up his confidence to sing and play live

âAfter we moved to Cornwall, I found it a lot easier to play in FRONT of people - because of their lifestyle and the fact they were more inclined to LISTEN. Whereas when Iâd lived in Northampton, theyâd be like âOh, go and get your fuckinâ banjo, Catchpole and play a SONGâ - you know, theyâd take the PISS. Which meant there Iâd never felt comfortable taking out the guitar and playing TUNES to people. Whereas, with it being a lot easier for me in Cornwall, it soon just naturally progressed to me going out and playing in the STREETS - you know, I actually started busking when I was about 14. Which in turn built my confidence up to where I then started performing in random pubs, where I literally had to think on my feet what to PLAY! You know, Iâd be like âCan I get a gig?â; theyâd say âAlright - come tonightâ⦠And Iâd be like âFUCK, I only know seven SONGS!â⦠So it quickly got to where I used to just BLAG it - where Iâd know, say, two verses and a chorus, and then from there sing the first verse AGAIN or whatever! Plus Iâd have to learn a lot of different stuff just to fit in with the sort of PUBS Iâd be playing. Which all really helped in terms of my banter, my stage confidence⦠To where before long I began to realise that people were actually really LISTENING to me playing - which felt really GOOD!â

Jamesâ later move to Derby, which - while at first halting his singing career - ultimately led to his first record-deal, with Polydor

âWhen I first moved to Derby, I ended up not singing for while. Instead I got a van-cleaning job that was boring as fuck! But then, when I started getting depressed and got fired, I was like âIâve gotta get back into music while Iâve still got a CHANCE!â!... So from there I started going to these open-mic nights, where I was doing about three of them a week - in addition to my OWN gigs - while also working by day as a carpet-fitter and a DECORATOR! You know, my dad basically was like âDonât put all your eggs in one basket James! You need to really think about having a back-up option.â⦠Because, though he did believe in my TALENT, he still never thought I was gonna get a fuckinâ DEAL! But then it was actually from doing those open-mics that I started to meet people who ended up becoming my MANAGERS. Which in turn helped me get my foot in the door of the INDUSTRY. And then from that, everything happened really QUICK! You know, interest started building through the industry - and a year-and-half later I was signed UP!â

Jamesâ views on whether his tough upbringing and background have since helped him cope with global fame and success

âWell, once I did get signed, everything happened so quickly I didnât really have the chance to sorta weigh everything UP properly. You know, initially I kinda thought âWell, maybe after three albums people will get to know meâ... But then, as soon as the first album came out, it went straight to Number One; I was on fuckinâ âTop Of The Popsâ; I was going to America, to Japan⦠I mean, it was MENTAL! But, being as Iâd had such a shit time BEFORE all that, it kinda WORKED - to where I could just handle it all and it didnât seem that much of a big DEAL! Because, before Iâd been given this opportunity, I really did think I was going to be in dead-end jobs all my LIFE! I mean, all my family have all got bad backs from all the broken DREAMS theyâre all carrying! Which is why I just wanted to really kind of seize the opportunity and really ENJOY it⦠So yeah, I would say it has definitely helped having the kind of tough upbringing I HAD. Because it made me realise early on whatâs bullshit, what to throw aside, and what to take in and ENJOY!â

James Morrison's album "The Awakening" is out now


Photos: Julian Broad

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz
magazine (650×1755)

Join the B&S Mailing List

Blues and Soul on Twitter