Interview with singer-songwriter Gavin James

(Originally published in The Galleon, available to read online here)

Singer-songwriter Gavin James, who performed at Portsmouth’s Wedgewood Rooms earlier this month, has had a whirlwind year.

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From supporting the likes of Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran on tour, to appearing on James Corden’s TV show in America, it’s understandable that he finds it difficult to pick out a highlight.

“I got to do all the good places I never thought I’d be able to play like Red Rocks in Colorado, which is insane,” he said, referring to one of his nights on tour with Sam Smith. “The U2 ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ video was shot there, so I kind of freaked out a little bit!”

“Then there was the Ed Sheeran gig. We did Croke Park which was absolute madness. There was 90,000 people there or something like that. It’s been scary! All very scary things, but a lot of fun.”

Gavin explained how that Ed Sheeran gig came about: “At a bar we started jamming with each other and bumped into each other every so often, and then he just shouted across the room ‘Gav, do you want to do Croke Park?’ and I was like ‘Yep, yep!’, because it’s kind of like the Wembley of Ireland.”

Despite Sheeran being at the top of his game as an artist at the moment, Gavin admitted that he didn’t really get any advice from him, although he did learn a lot from the 25-year-old.

“I just kind of watched him and what he did at the gigs because it was just him and 90,000 people, and everybody was in the palm of his hand the whole time. He never gave me any advice though. It was just casual, nice lad chats.”

Although 90,000 people may be a big crowd, Gavin reached an audience of even more when he got the opportunity to perform on The Late Late Show with James Corden thanks to Dublin band Kodaline.

“It was random. I was over there with the Kodaline lads to do my first US tour. I think they gave my live CD to him (Corden) and he was listening to it, then he got me on pretty much the week afterwards.

“Then he got me on again because he was coming out for Halloween. I was dressed as a gingerbread man and I was pretty drunk, and he was like ‘Yo, do you want to do the show tomorrow?’ and I was like ‘Yes, of course I want to do the show!’ It was very cool to get to do that.”

You may think that after the Croke Park gig and the James Corden appearance, coming back to England and playing more humble venues such as The Wedgewood Rooms would be a piece of cake, but Gavin admits that he still gets pre-show nerves.

“I get the same amount of nervous for every gig. I used to do pub gigs playing in front of one person and a dog, and I used to get the same nerves as I do now. If you talk to me 20 minutes before the gig, you’ll not be able to get a word out of me at all. But the second I walk out on stage it’s fine.”

Even with the nerves, Gavin clearly knows the value of putting on a good live performance and, being from Ireland, he also knows the value of good craic! In fact, his performance at the Wedgewood Rooms even featured a cover of the Harry Potter theme and an impressive Cookie Monster impression.

When explaining the reason his shows feature so much banter, he said: “I think you want to get to know somebody a bit from going to a gig, whether it’s just through craic and a joke or just talking about your songs or something like that. I’ve gone to gigs before where I’ve thought I could really just be at home listening to the album.”

Another way the Dublin-born artist gets to know the crowd is by getting off the stage and joining them, allowing them to form a circle around him while he’s playing. It creates a personal and intimate moment, but that wasn’t the reason he first started doing it.

“I used to do it in pubs to get everybody to stop talking! Then I’d go back up on the stage and the whole atmosphere would change.

“Back home you can do a gig in a pub and it’s mad with hen nights and stag nights, and it can turn into this crazy atmosphere, so I tried it once and it worked once. I’ve also tried it a couple of times and it’s failed miserably!

“With these gigs I love doing it because it’s good fun and you can see everybody as well which is nice.”

Any music magazine or website worth their salt has hailed Gavin as ‘one to watch’, and his reputation is growing even more as his solo tour goes on. However, he says he’s not under any pressure to live up to those expectations.

“I’m just enjoying it. I’ve been doing this for years, and I’ve been doing it back in Ireland for years, and Europe for a long time just gigging and gigging and gigging. Pretty much since I stopped doing pub gigs at 21 I started doing my own stuff properly.

“I’m 25 now, so I’ve done the ‘next big thing’ thing before in Ireland and it doesn’t really bother me that much.”

And what does the future hold for the next big thing? Well, he’s definitely not looking to slow down.

“I’m going to do this tour, then we’re going to do an American tour, a European tour and then finish in Dublin which will be a big arena show. It’s going to be absolutely insane.

“The busier I get, the more creative I get because when I’m doing music all the time, I’ll go back to the hotel and bust out some stuff. I’m writing a lot now and it’s becoming a bit more upbeat and feel-good.”

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