James Morrison: So Addictive
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-winner’s first release for Island Records - is currently being pioneered across the nation’s mainstream airwaves by its hauntingly anthemic offshoot single "I Won’t Let You Go."
Indeed, with its lyrical themes drawing on recent events in James’ personal life - which include becoming a father, while losing his own father following the latter’s long battle with alcoholism and depression - "The Awakening" has already been described as “a warm, live-sounding collection of classic-but-contemporary folk/soul songs”. 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 Britain’s 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 Morrison’s gritty, emotive voice - unquestionably confirms his standing as one of today’s premier white soul singer/songwriters.
Born James Morrison Catchpole in Rugby, Warwickshire in August 1984, Morrison’s early years were spent soaking up his parents’ 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 Morrison’s 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 London’s Hyde Park supporting both Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder; plus guested on jazz icon Herbie Hancock’s Grammy-winning album ‘The Imagination Project’, singing a widely-praised cover of soul legend Sam Cooke’s "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 Lane’s opulent Grosvenor House Hotel with ‘Blues & Soul’ 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"
“I 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 ‘Broken Strings’ kind of pop side of me a little bit. And so, with me having actually written a SONG called ‘The Awakening’, 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.”
Duetting with current UK Queen of Urban - Jessie J - on the aforementioned track "Up"
“Well, when I first tried to think of singers I wanted on the track, because Adele’s album was flying at the time she obviously came to my head first. But then I thought ‘No, that’s TOO obvious - she loves the same music as me; I’ve done tours with her…’. 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 she’s 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
“After 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 I’d lived in Northampton, they’d be like ‘Oh, go and get your fuckin’ banjo, Catchpole and play a SONG’ - you know, they’d take the PISS. Which meant there I’d 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, I’d be like ‘Can I get a gig?’; they’d say ‘Alright - come tonight’… And I’d be like ‘FUCK, I only know seven SONGS!’… So it quickly got to where I used to just BLAG it - where I’d know, say, two verses and a chorus, and then from there sing the first verse AGAIN or whatever! Plus I’d have to learn a lot of different stuff just to fit in with the sort of PUBS I’d 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!”
James’ later move to Derby, which - while at first halting his singing career - ultimately led to his first record-deal, with Polydor
“When 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 ‘I’ve gotta get back into music while I’ve still got a CHANCE!’!... 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 ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket James! You need to really think about having a back-up option.’… Because, though he did believe in my TALENT, he still never thought I was gonna get a fuckin’ 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!”
James’ views on whether his tough upbringing and background have since helped him cope with global fame and success
“Well, once I did get signed, everything happened so quickly I didn’t really have the chance to sorta weigh everything UP properly. You know, initially I kinda thought ‘Well, maybe after three albums people will get to know me’... But then, as soon as the first album came out, it went straight to Number One; I was on fuckin’ ‘Top Of The Pops’; I was going to America, to Japan… I mean, it was MENTAL! But, being as I’d had such a shit time BEFORE all that, it kinda WORKED - to where I could just handle it all and it didn’t seem that much of a big DEAL! Because, before I’d 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 they’re 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 what’s bullshit, what to throw aside, and what to take in and ENJOY!”
James Morrison's album "The Awakening" is out now
FOR MORE FROM JAMES MORRISON ON NEW ALBUM "THE AWAKENING" AND HIS FEELINGS ON HIS RECENT DUET WITH THE UK'S QUEEN OF THE CHARTS JESSIE J... DON'T FORGET TO BUY OUR JAMES MORRISON (COVER) ISSUE FROM THE B&S SHOP JUST CLICK HERE
Photos: Julian Broad
Words PETE LEWIS