Singer-songwriter James TW speaks to Herald arts ahead of going back to school for his homecoming gig at Warwick Hall on Friday
JAMES TW is no ordinary teenager. The 18-year-old from Barford is a soulful singer-songwriter with a big voice and even bigger aspirations.
His talent and drive saw him signed to Island Records last summer, and he spent much of the back end of last year touring Northern America, where he supported Canadian pop star Shawn Mendes.
When he was ten, his dad, who plays guitar in a wedding band as a hobby, came home one day to find James banging on the drum kit. Shortly thereafter, the band’s drummer wasn’t able to make it to a show.
“It was either let the ten-year-old play or cancel the gig,” remembers James, whose full surname is Taylor-Watts. “So they let me play, and I just fell in love with performing.”
Since that day, James’ passion for music has grown. Naturally gifted, he picked up guitar when he was 12 years old and began playing piano the following year. As James — whose song When You Love Someone features on the latest NOW That’s What I Call Music album — honed his skills as a multi-instrumentalist, he began to post cover songs on YouTube. His videos showcase an undeniable talent with immense technical aptitude and a voracious will to learn.
“I would like to be received as a serious musician,” he says. “That’s really important to me.”
James got his chance to play to a bigger audience in America where both he and headliner Shawn were regularly greeted by screaming girls. “Touring the States was a eight-year-old dream come true for me,” says James, who also gigged in London just before Christmas.
“Ever since I started out as a drummer I wanted to play to different crowds and sleep on a tour bus every night!”
What were his stand-out moments from the American tour?
“There were many, but sharing the stage at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto with Shawn was a significant one. I learned that you have to adjust and cater your performance to the crowd in order to make the night special and unique. It’s given me a lot of confidence in performance, and ticked off a lot of cities of my bucket list.”
Now he’s set to play Warwick School, where he was a student, tomorrow, Friday. So how does he feel about his upcoming hometown gig?
“I’ve been excited to come back to my school to perform for a while now. I played my leaving show around a year and a half ago now. I will be playing with a band, which I’m excited about as I’ve played solo this entire year.”
What would he like people to get from his music?
“I want people to hear my music and think: ‘How did that guy describe the way I feel?’,” James says.
Even though he’s one of the youngest artists on Island Records, James has managed to develop a wholly unique sound and lyrics that capture real, relatable emotion. James’ discipline has clearly paid off, resulting in a distinct blues and jazz-infused, singer-songwriter sound that recalls John Mayer and Jamie Cullum — two of James’ influences. He is equally capable of delivering ballads reminiscent of Ed Sheeran’s work, another artist who has had an impact on his music.
James’ songs demonstrate critical elements of experienced songwriting and resonate with ease. James has a maturity well beyond his years. He speaks with authority and a sense of worldliness that is rare for someone of his age. He cites Bill Withers and BB King as inspirations, and aims to emulate the vocal nuances of soul music and guitar riffs of modern blues.
He was named after his parents’ favourite musician, James Taylor, the folk-pop legend. With hard work and good luck, James hopes to be as accomplished as his namesake someday. And for him, the path ahead is clear: “I want my music to connect with people by having meaningful lyrics and memorable melodies.”
Of his plans for 2017 he adds: “This year is going to be a busy one. I’ll be releasing my debut album and touring some new places. “I’m very excited to release new music and just continue to grow.”
WHERE AND WHEN: James TW plays Warwick Hall at Warwick School on Friday, 6th January at 7.45pm. Tickets are almost sold out but find out more by calling the box office on 01926 776438.