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Express & Star - JB talks ahead of Birmingham... Expand / Collapse
Posted 27 September 2017 04:26

Supreme Being

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This piece is a pleasure to read.


James Blunt talks ahead of Birmingham show
Express & Star
By Andy Richardson
Sept 25, 2017

At the end of interviews, there’s a neat little ritual. If the singer-actor-comedian-TV star has enjoyed their 15-minute inquisition, they’ll tell you to come and say ‘hi’ when they’re next in town.

“Are you coming to the show?” they’ll ask.

We’ll respond in the affirmative, enthusiastically – well, in most cases.

And they’ll say: “Well, come and say hello.”

And we know they never mean it. It’s the equivalent of telling your best mate you’ll be friends forever and nothing will ever come between you. It will. You’ll have a ding dong at some point, it’s the way of life. Or it’s like taking pity on a neighbour and telling them they can stay over for Christmas and not leave for as long as they like . . . which sounds fine, until it gets to December 28 and they’re still there.

James Blunt enjoys his chat with us. He’s happy to plug his forthcoming Birmingham gig – he’s back in the big time, back in the arenas – and is thrilled that we’ve done our research about his wife and family, his work for charities and his blossoming friendship with Ed ‘Mr Success’ Sheeran.

So when he’s answered all of our questions and it’s time to call it a wrap, he walks down the tried-and-tested route of rock stars and interviewers.

“Look, come up to the show and have a drink,” he says.

We will. We will.

“No, really. Give me a knock.”

And for once, it’s believable. It’s easy to imagine that if we went to his Afterlove Tour at Arena Birmingham, got passed security on no more than a ‘James told me to give him a knock’, he’d smile, knowingly, and share a chilled Czech Pilsner while sharing tales of life on the road. “Take a seat,” he’d say. “I’ve only got 10 minutes, but good to see you, thanks for making the effort . . .”

For James is Mr Nice. He’s one of rock'n'roll's most pleasant, charming and likeable singers. While Paul Weller famously put him down – and Twitter frequently reacts in much the same way – James is too sanguine and self-deprecating to rise to any of it. Pleasant, humble and so damn funny, his Twitter stream in one of one-line comebacks that put the comics at Edinburgh Festival in the shade.

James is in a good place. The former British soldier who saw action in the Kosovo War before rising to fame with his debut album, Back to Bedlam, and achieving worldwide fame with the singles You’re Beautiful and Goodbye My Lover, has rediscovered his mojo.

Having sold more than 20 million records and won two Brits, two Ivor Novello Awards and five Grammy nominations, James is enjoying success around the world with this year’s fifth studio album, The Afterlove. And while he may never recapture the success of his debut – 11 times UK platinum albums come but once in a lifetime – he’s returned to the nation’s biggest arenas for his autumn tour.

The singer/songwriter, who lives in Ibiza and owns a chalet in the Swiss town of Verbier – which loves him so much it named a ski lift after him – is a happy guy. He married Alexandrina ‘Sofia’ Wellesley, the daughter of Lord and Lady John Henry Wellesley, three years ago and they had their first son last June. The Afterlove was filled with the sort of sentimental and inoffensive tunes that James has become loved – and loathed – for and led to a world tour.

“Yes, life is good. I’m having a blast. I’m getting ready to play in Birmingham in November and I’m excited about that.

“For me, the album has been receiving surprisingly warmly reviews. At the moment, I’m in the USA with a dude called Ed Sheeran. We’re out here for three-and-a-half months . . . but it’s just practice.”

Yeah, right.

James is, indeed, lighting up the States. Having played a comparatively short 19-date, one-month tour in 2014, to support his Moon Landing album, he’s maxing out with his road-buddy, Ed. The shows will be followed by a major European tour, which will sell out the arenas of Germany, Austria, France, Switzerland and Italy, among others, before he returns to South America and the biggest cities of Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China.

The shows with Ed came about because of their long-standing friendship.

“I rigged it myself,” laughs James. “We went on a holiday together and I taught him how to ski by day and by night we wrote songs – Make Me Better on this album was written with Ed. Then we’d have a drink or two and we ended up getting to know each other very well.”

That’s when James popped the question: ‘Hey, Ed, why don’t I play on your tour for three-and-a-half months in the States’? Ed agreed.

“Alcohol serves many purposes,” laughs James. “It’s been good fun. His audience are a little younger than mine and they are really getting over excited about it.

“I’m enjoying an amazing response out here. For me, it’s a great tour. Ed’s an amazingly talented young musician at the top of the business who’s also a great mate. We’re having a blast. His audience is a young audience and they’ve been amazing to me. We’re always asked to do autographs afterwards and end up signing for an hour and 20 minutes. It’s been incredible, the reaction to the music is great.”

The Afterlove was James’s creative response to his happy marriage and to becoming a father. Typically, he announced it in satirical fashion. Rather than send out a press release or drop a Taylor Swift-style advertising campaign, James posted a video clip on Twitter. The caption read ‘Check out my 12 inch’. He appeared naked from the waist up in his bathtub and promised the show his fans ‘something huge’. The Benny Hill gags ended when the camera panned down – to show James holding a 12-inch copy of the record. It was recorded between 2015 and 2016 and features a resolutely upbeat James, whose earlier miserabilism was strangely absent. He worked with Ed and Ryan Tedder, the lead singer of One Republic, to forge a new direction. Ed encouraged James to be more open in his songwriting. Previously, James had written an average of 25 songs per record, before whittling down his final selection. For The Afterlove, he wrote more than 100. It’s full of modern love songs and touches on drinking, relationships and lost phone numbers, among other topics. He wanted to release a record that was resolutely new and threw himself out of his comfort zone.

Ed was a constant support. He told James how much he’d loved the immediacy and directness of his drinking/skiing partner’s debut and encouraged him to do that again. And so James, who’d been scarred by the intrusion into his private life following his early success, took that advice. His lyrics became increasingly open and – for James at times – uncomfortable.

It led to the Sheeran-Blunt America tour, which reminds James of his days as an Army reconnaissance officer. “I’m on a tour and touring is similar to being in a small military unit. In the Army, we used to go to pretty rough, dangerous places as a team and be reliant on each other, from all walks of life. I do the same now. I go to different places as a team – there’s a band and a crew. We’re from all walks of life. We rely on each other and look out for each. My tank – or tour bus – is more comfortable now, of course, and the band features incredible musicians. They are phenomenal. They are the best in the business.”

James has never forgotten his military roots. He was sponsored through university on an army bursary and rose to the rank of Captain. His unit was the Life Guards. He trained at the Royal Military Academy, at Sandhurst, and later volunteer to joins a Blues and Royals squadron, deploying with NATO to Kosovo. James worked ahead of the front lines, locating Serb forces for the NATO bombing campaign. James had a guitar with him, which he strapped to the outside of his tank. And while on duty, he wrote No Bravery. His service took him to the Lying In State ceremony, following the death of the Queen Mother, where James stood guard. He was also part of the funeral procession. Having left the army in October 2002, James retained close ties.

These days, he supports Help for Heroes, a charity that supports wounded British service personnel, and has held benefit concerts to raise money. He also generates funds for Medecins San Frontieres, a non-Governmental organisation that he encountered in Kosovo. They are causes that are close to his heart.

“Having been on operations in war myself with the army and having seen people come back injured and realised that the Government hasn’t had the funding to provide support, I wanted to do something.

“Help for Heroes galvanised the public and to be a patron of that is an honour really. We are responsible for looking after people and that’s fantastic. We raise funds while on tour. I enjoy the company of soldiers and I like keeping in touch. They have a mentality that I understand. I wanted to get involved with MSF because they help civilians, who are affected 10 times as much as soldiers by war. I saw them in action in Kosovo and I was blown away by what they did.”

Military charities are not James’s only altruistic outlet. He also supports environmental causes and screened a trailer of An Inconvenient Truth at his concerts, while also performing at Live Earth and contributing to the charity single, Everybody Hurts, in aid of the 2010 Haiti earthquake appeal.

“When it comes to the environment, I’m no better than anyone else. But it’s a really important issue so I try to use my position to best effect.”

James has missed his wife and son while out on the road. He announced his fatherhood at the Oxford Union in June 2016 and is working hard to combine the responsibilities of being a rock star and a dad.

“You become aware that you can’t just look out for yourself any more when you become a husband and a father. I’ve written about that a lot on the new album. I’ve found the whole thing hugely inspiring and exciting.”

His tour will feature a slew of classics, including, of course You’re Beautiful. Though the critics sharpen their knives at the very mention of it, James views it as a blessing rather than a curse.

“It’s only ever been a blessing, that early success has been the cornerstone of my career. It set me off around the world and I’ve loved every minute.”

The journey’s not yet done. He has plenty of fuel in the tank and hunger to succeed. He has big plans for the future but, for now, is focused on his present tour. That includes his headline in Birmingham, a city that’s always been kind to him.

“The show is going to be great. There’s plenty of momentum. My touring has been quite intimate and personal. But the shows now around the world have got bigger and greater. Having 18 months in arenas around the world is great and Birmingham is a special place. The show has been designed so that it’s an intimate and close affair. Look, there’s an excitement about the size and length of the tour and I’m having a great time.”

Post #284272
Posted 27 September 2017 13:13
Supreme Being

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Thank you jbfan, it's a great article and as you say, a pleasure to read.
Post #284274
Posted 28 September 2017 16:18

Supreme Being

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Wonderful article, very nice reading.
Post #284289
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