‘They were all living off one day out of date rare roast beef’ – An interview with James Rea

Anyone that has had the pleasure of meeting James Rea will more than likely have a ‘James Rea story’ to tell you. Blue Whale wanted to capture his friendly freakiness on camera and show the world his fascinating persona and penchant for jumpers that look like someone’s nan knitted it while having a major acid flashback. We caught up with James after his visit to Blue Whale Studios, where he performed live for In The Belly.

What are you up to, musically speaking?

“Currently I’m playing as much as possible trying to build my following and find that elusive and perhaps mythological big break. Even if I’m playing to one man and his whippet, you just never know, the whippet might be a head honcho at Sony. I’m also depping for various bands to get my face around, make contacts and to attract the thousands of women who are instantly infatuated with guys in groups. The couple of problems surrounding the playing for other people thing are that, although I play a mean slap bass, no one wants a mean slap bass on their tracks and also, sometimes people say it’s hard for me to blend into the background. Dunno if it’s the hair and Pat Sharp shirts or the back-flips off the amp that give that impression.”

James Rea at The Whale

At the moment James can be found flitting between London and his home city of Birmingham, trying to forge a musical career by sleeping around as much as possible – on people’s sofas that is.

“I guess I’ve got no fixed abode at the moment. I’ve hopped from sofa beds to roll out mattresses in London but can always get a warm meal and a wash at my parents in Brum when I need it – that’s not very rock and roll is it? So I suppose I’m living between the two places. I think Birmingham’s a great city with tonnes of brilliant stuff going on musically but the main problem, in my eyes, is that the majority of the people who support the local music scene are the musicians themselves rather than local people being really enthused about watching homegrown live music. It’s astounding how people will queue up halfway round Birmingham to go to a place like Snobs but would never think to watch any of the amazing musical talent on offer. In London people are a lot more motivated to go out and find new bands. Then they can say they saw them first.”

You must have seen a few sights living like that, where is the weirdest place that you’ve ever woken up?

“I woke up at a one of these so-called ‘posh squats’ recently. They’re like normal squats only the residents are on Courvoisier instead of crack and they’re only living there to make their parents livid. I was having one of the greatest dreams of my life but I woke up to find it was only one of the inhabitants’ corgis licking my face. The one girl there had a key that could open ANY BIN IN LONDON! Turned out it was an allen key which they used to liberate food that had passed its sell by date from Marks and Spencer’s industrial bins. They were all living off one day out of date rare roast beef and horseradish sandwiches or, when they were really slumming it, 100% pure breast fillet chicken nuggets.”

James’s mix of Elvis Costello meeting a half cut Ray Davies in a retro-futurist wine bar style melody with self-parodying humour makes his gigs remarkably entertaining and worth going for just for the between song babble. Not too detract from your tunes, but what is the best thing aside from the music, that has happened at one of your gigs?

“I played The Yardbird a couple of years ago right around the time that the German Market was in town. I went on late and practically everyone in there was sozzled on Gluhwein and German lager, having come in for a last drink after savouring what the market had to offer. Everyone went absolutely nuts when I played. They started bringing out the dance moves normally saved for weddings and I got about five encores. It was like the big happy ending to a million dollar American film, the whole ‘boy done good’ vibe. All that was missing was a fatcat in a suit with a cigar and a briefcase full of money telling me to sign my name on a dotted line. Apart from that, a girl once spoke to me at a gig.”

Apart from yourself, who is your favourite James?

“James Jamerson, bass player for Motown is a good one. Amazing bassplayer and total drunk. Allegedly, when he recorded the bassline for ‘What’s Going On’ he was too wasted to stand up so played the whole thing lying on his back – and it still sounds brilliant. James Brown’s another good one, I’m trying to perfect the splits he used to do, just in case anyone was wondering why I’ve started speaking two octaves higher.”

Not sure that Russ needs to mic that jumper, it seems loud enough already

What are you vibing off musically at the moment?

“There’s a guy goes under the name of Daniels & The Gold Seal who I was introduced to through Nigel Clark, who has produced material by both of us. Sounds a bit like Orange Juice meets Leonard Cohen. He’s living the starving artiste dream too. We trawl London streets imaging we’re Orwell and Hemingway but probably coming across more like Baddiel and Skinner.”

“Someone else I know from way back who’s starting to make waves is Robinson. He’s a great songwriter from Worcester with loads of sixties influences and a bit of gypsy jazz thrown in there for good measure!”

“In terms of Birmingham bands, Tantrums are always a mainstay and ever exciting to watch, just waiting for the day when someone will actually catch Stuart when he attempts a stage dive. I’m also loving Green Gables who are a relatively new band. Great songs and grooves that make you want to do all your best dance-moves at once”

And finally, the obligatory plug, how was your experience at Blue Whale Studios?

“I really enjoyed it. The hour or so I spent there was a total adventure – I got lost in the winding alcoves trying to find the toilet and had the chance to try the finest water The Custard Factory had to offer, direct from the water cooler and in both lukewarm and cold varieties. I also recorded a few songs for a live session which sounds and looks great – those guys really know how to polish a proverbial!”

And here is that proverbial polished version of ‘Quit Hanging Around’ from the belly of the Blue Whale:

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