Irish Star On The Rise Gavin James Talks Upcoming Aus Tour & Irish Pubs In Abu Dhabi

Gavin James is one of Ireland’s top rising stars, scoring a top-five peak in the Irish charts for his debut album, Bitter Pill and winning praise from the likes of Ed Sheeran and James Corden. Before he ever turned his eyes to sentimental, sweet acoustic folk, however, James was a fiend for classic rock and huge riffs. Yeah, no kidding. “I really wanted to learn the guitar when I was little,” he says, speaking to Music Feeds from London on a late Thursday night about what initially sparked his interest in playing music.

“I was eight, maybe nine, and I was just obsessed with stuff like Jimi Hendrix and Deep Purple. It’s all I wanted to listen to and it was all I wanted to play. Weirdly enough, the first album that I bought that made me want to start writing my own songs was The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. I remember that being my first proper ‘holy shit’ moment – it was my epiphany. I didn’t want to do anything else after that.” It’s put to James that he’s ended up musically a lot closer to Dylan’s early folk days than that of Deep Purple. “Wait until the next album,” he says with a laugh. “It’s gonna sound way more like Purple – it’ll be mental!”

James has been touring extensively in support of Bitter Pill since its release, both as an opening act and as a headlining performer. In June, James undertook his biggest headlining show to date in Cork, a city in the south-west of Ireland, in which he performed as part of a concert series entitled Live At The Marquee.

“It was mad,” says James, incredulously recalling the scale of the performance. “It was five thousand people, and before that the most I’d ever played to was probably just over a thousand. It’s a lot different to the kind of more intimate crowds that I’m used to performing in front of – you can’t really talk much when it’s that many people. You can pretty much do big ones like ‘Hey!’ or ‘How’s it going?’ and that’s about it. It’s a lot easier to chat when it’s a smaller show, but it was still a great experience. It was the first time playing with my new band, as well – I’ve mostly been playing solo lately, so this was a really nice change of pace.”

James goes on to speak the highest of praise for his backing band, which is comprised of two players that have been around the man and his music long enough to complement his singing and guitar playing perfectly. “My piano player, Kieran, is a guy I’ve worked with for awhile,” he says. “He’s from London, and I met him ages ago. As for Jamiel, I stole him away from Sam Smith. I did a tour with Sam not too long ago, and I kept saying to Jamiel backstage ‘I know Sam’s planning to take a break, so I’m gonna steal you for my band.’

It was kind of a running joke, and then it just got to the point where I really just wanted him to be in my band – I mean, he’s very good at the drums. It’s just the three of us, and it’s sounding really good right now. I’m gonna do my best to rope in the two of them to come down to Australia with me.”

The platinum sales and high chart positions could certainly give off the impression that James is somewhat of an overnight success. He’ll be the first to tell you, however, that such a title couldn’t be further from the truth. He may only be 25 years old, but James has been putting in the hard yards as a live performer since he was 17 years old; doing everything within his power to be heard over the noise of a city like Dublin, where there is quite literally a band on every corner.

“I started out doing pub gigs,” begins James. “In Ireland, there’s two main kinds of pub gigs – there’s the ones that everyone knows, where all the musicians sit around and sing the traditional songs and everyone takes a verse; and there’s the more contemporary ones, where it’s a lot of cover songs mixed in with more of the Irish stuff. I did a mix of both for years – mostly the second one, but the first one is really nice to do too. Everyone’s laughing and singing and sharing stories. There’s always one old guy at the bar, and he’ll be quiet for like 10 minutes before he pipes up and gets us all to shut up and hear him sing his verse. Then he’s straight back to his Guinness.”

As much as doing covers has been a part of James’ DNA as a performer – indeed, one of his key breakthrough singles was a cover of The Magnetic Fields’ indie classic “The Book of Love – James knew that he would outgrow performing in the shadow of others. In the early 2010s, as James hit his twenties, he began putting more and more time and effort into adding hyphenates to his job title and securing the position of singer-songwriter.

“As soon as I left school, I played around as many pubs as I could,” he says. “When I started to write my own songs, I tried them out around the places I was playing in Dublin, which were all pretty rough places. They were all like, ‘What the fuck is that? Play [Steve Earle song] Galway Girl!’ It took a lot for me to put myself out there, so I wasn’t about to give up on these songs. I kept bringing them up and re-introducing them into my set over and over again, and eventually I was able to build up my confidence as a songwriter. I still have nerves and the occasional bout of stage fright, but I got into all of this so that I could be a performer.”

Now with the eyes of the world watching, James is travelling to as many parts of it as he can muster. This will include a visit to Australia this coming September for a run of intimate club shows, as well as visiting some extended family over in Perth. As for what’s next? Well, put it this way: Saying James is on a ‘world tour’ is quite literal in this instance.

“I have this calendar on my computer which I check to make sure I know what’s going on – I’m the type of guy who doesn’t even know what he’s doing tomorrow.” says James. “I was going through it one morning, and I saw ‘Abu Dhabi’ written down as one of the places I was playing. I called up my manager, and I was like ‘This must be some sort of mistake, right?’ It was all legit! There’s seriously an Irish pub there – this place called McGilligan’s – and they bring over Irish artists all the time. So along with going to Australia, I’m going to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Singapore.” He’s genuinely stunned at the information he’s just relayed, leaving him to pose rhetorically: “How mental is that?”

Gavin James hits Australia this September, grab all the dates and deets below!

Gavin James Australian Tour Dates

Presented by Music Feeds

Tickets on sale now

Thursday, 22nd September

Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane

Tickets: Troubadour Music

Friday, 23rd September

Plan B, Sydney

Tickets: Troubadour Music

Saturday, 24th September

Ding Dong Lounge, Melbourne

Tickets: Troubadour Music

Sunday, 25th September

The Boston, Perth

Tickets: Troubadour Music

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