James Morrison : No longer undiscovered
By Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
"They treat you like a king, but work you
like a dog." Singer-songwriter James Morrison's remark on the plight of
visiting musicians in Japan might well strike a chord with the army of
corporate "dogs" that have to toil away day in day out, year in year
out in this country--but without the regal treatment.
Nevertheless, the British singer can't seem to
keep away and is looking forward to concerts in Tokyo and Nagoya next weekend
that will mark his fourth visit to these shores.
"It's great. I like going to Japan," an
under-the-weather Morrison said in a telephone interview from Melbourne with
The Daily Yomiuri earlier this week.
Since the release of the 22-year-old's debut
album, Undiscovered, last year, music fans all over the world have rapidly been
discovering a singer-songwriter with a maturity way beyond his years. The
soulful sound of his first two British singles, "You Give Me
Something" and "Wonderful World," have become ubiquitous in coffee
shops and bars around Tokyo.
But is his work more than just background music
for a cappuccino? And what about that name? Some people might say that using
such an iconic rock 'n' roll name as Morrison , whether you're into Jim of the
Doors fame, Van the Man or Sterling from Velvet Underground, is bordering on
Like his music, his response is simple and direct:
Morrison is his middle name.
"My last [family] name's Catchpole and it's
not a very good stage name so I just thought, 'Well, keep it simple, go with the
first two.' I wanted to go with my real name.
"Originally I wanted a band name, like
Jamiroquai. He [Jason Kay] can be in a band and be on his own. That's what I
wanted, but I couldn't think of anything meaningful enough so I just went with
James Morrison...It's from my mum's side. It's Scottish, apparently," he
If the choice of name has been a favorite question
of interviewers since his debut, it's the comparison with the pop world's
favorite ex-British Army officer, James Blunt, that has dogged Morrison over
the past year. He's still learning to live with it.
"I play the guitar as a singer-songwriter, I
came out of nowhere and did pretty well and I think those were the things I was
getting compared to him for, not the music. I think it's slowly dying now,
thank God," he says wearily.
"I've got nothing against James Blunt. It's
just that you want to be your own person. You want to get credit for your own
work. Especially when you're not like that person that you're being compared
to, it's a bit annoying," he adds.
Though Morrison was born and spent his preteen
years in central England, his musical talent blossomed after he moved to
Cornwall, southwest England. Cornwall had a profound effect on the youngster
and the area became a great source of inspiration.
"It was the first place where people used to
listen to me playing my music. I used to always have people on the beach
saying, 'Come on, bring your guitar, have a jam,' he explains in an accent that
owes more to his Midlands roots than the land of clotted cream and Cornish
"In terms of getting me more confident, I
used to do a lot of busking in Cornwall so I learned a lot of my trade in
"I used to be quite shy...[so] it made me
more at ease with playing in front of people in general. It just toughened me
up," he adds.
For someone so young, Morrison's influences are
decidedly old school.
"I've always liked Stevie Wonder, Otis
Redding, Al Green, Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, Eagles," he says without
hesitation. All were past their peak (if not dead) by the time he was born, so
who was responsible for his musical tastes?
"My mum and dad really. My mum had a good
music collection, but it wasn't very big, same as my dad. But my dad knew a lot
about music, you know. He knew who the people were and he always used to test
me on [music] trivia. He taught me a lot about who's who," he says.
But what about artists that were in the charts at
that time? Wasn't there anything worth tuning into BBC TV show Top of the Pops
for every week?
"Eagle-Eye Cherry I used to like a little
bit. At that time there wasn't really a lot about of my kind of music, you
know. It was all Britpop bands and I didn't like 'em," he says candidly.
Not that he's locked in some kind of 1960s or '70s
musical time warp.
"There's a lot of good stuff now. I've got
into people like Cody Chestnut, and Razorlight are a good band. Arctic Monkeys
are a good band."
"It's only every now and again that I find an
artist that I really, really, really love as much as my old classic stuff, and
the only guy that's done that for me recently is Ray LaMontagne. He's a real
soulful guy," he adds enthusiastically.
Undiscovered may be selling well but that doesn't
mean Morrison's creative juices have stopped flowing.
"The last couple of months, any spare time I
get I've been writing. I've got so many musical and melodic ideas I just need
to focus on. I've got a couple of things lyrically that I feel good about, but
the lyrics are always the thing that finish off a song for me, so I'm still
working on a lot of the lyrics and finding out what I'm gonna write
about," he says.
And though he may be facing a dog's life when he
visits next week, he's hoping for a snappier response from Japanese audiences
than he's encountered on previous visits.
"They're [the audience] very reserved, you
know. They're very respectful. You almost want to say, 'Don't worry about it.
Just f---ing party and do it!'" he suddenly barks. And if that isn't a
call to arms for Morrison's fans in Japan, I don't know what is.
James Morrison will play May 18, 7 p.m. at Ax in
Shibuya, Tokyo, (03) 5738-2020; May 19, 7 p.m. at Diamond Hall in Nagoya, (052)