Interview: James Grant
We chatted to James Grant about the life of a songwriter, the modern music industry and his affinity for our local area.
Over 35 years into a storied career, James Grant’s passion for his craft keeps the former Love and Money frontman travelling the highways and byways of the country on an almost weekly basis. Equipped with an incredible discography and a resonant voice that can invoke wistfulness, poignancy or elation with an enviable versatility, it’s no surprise that audiences still flock to see him to this day. Unfettered by tackling the inner-workings of the human experience through song, James, like the vast majority of his peers, retains a healthy sense of self-deprecation when it comes to how he got here.
“My older brother was taking lessons and he’d sometimes visit on a Saturday night to drop off my niece, but he’d always show me wee bits on the guitar too. The thing is, he had to go to work whereas I’d just sit there so I remember him coming back one time and saying ‘you’re good at this’ but I never really took it seriously until I started playing in bands with older guys. I was about 15, 16 and they’d say the same thing but I’m not sure I really believed anybody. I didn’t have massive amounts of confidence, I had really long hair that I used to hide behind like curtains. I still have my moments where I doubt I’m any use,” he concedes.
“I was actually recording something this afternoon and it’s still the same process. I’m pretty sure you can ask any singer this, but there’s some days where it’s just not your day. It’s unscientific. You can be feeling tip-top and then there’s nothing there when you go to the mic. Then there’s other times where you’re hungover or feel like s*** and it’s all there. It’s a minefield, essentially. But it’s still better than getting a real job.”
“One in three homes had a Dire Straits record at the time so we were able to take some of that money, and there isn’t a modern equivalent of that”
Many years removed from the inalienable pressure of being a major label recording artist, James has revelled in independence for much of the past decade. Accustomed to veering off the beaten track to play shows wherever there’s a demand, the Castlemilk-born singer is relishing his time on stage like never before:
“I still like being in a band but where my head’s at just now, I really love playing and entertaining people so I can totally dig folk trying to make a living from live music”, he affirms. “I guess I understand it a lot more as it’s essentially my gig now. There’s a discipline to when you’re doing it yourself and I genuinely want people to have a good time, feel enlightened, laugh… love me,” he quips sardonically. “To be honest, I will play absolutely anywhere people want me. For artists like myself who have a back catalogue, these wee gigs are absolutely brilliant”.
After inking a deal with Phonogram at the tender age of 18, James was ushered through the doors of a music industry that basked in its economic prosperity. But in the era of streaming, piracy and increasingly low profit margins, he doesn’t envy the torrid landscape that today’s burgeoning talents are forced to operate in.
“It’s very different, I feel sorry for artists now as I was extremely lucky. We [Love And Money] got to make four records or whatever it was. In essence, we sold a few albums—half a million copies worldwide on one of them—but we were allowed to develop,” he emphasises. “Nowadays, we’d have been dropped when the first single wasn’t a hit. We weren’t unique either, there were loads of bands that record companies never recouped on but it was ok. We were on the same label as Bon Jovi, Van Morrison and Dire Straits. One in three homes had a Dire Straits record at the time so we were able to take some of that money, and there isn’t a modern equivalent of that. At the end of the day, we were probably a tax loss as the music business was rich.”
Set to descend upon The Bungalow on St Andrews’ Night, this is far from the troubadour’s first visit to the Paisley area. In fact, James is forthcoming in his fondness for a town that he says has “wormed its way into my heart”.
“I’ve got a soft spot for Paisley because I was commissioned to write a show for the [2021 City Of Culture] bid that I performed at the Abbey. I wrote quite a few songs about the town and spent a fair bit of time studying. David down at the library was such a big help. There was a lot of research, I even wrote a song about the Glen Cinema disaster. When we did the Abbey show, I created something derived from its slate music which I actually might release. It’s actually one of my favourite buildings in the world. Also, the song I wrote for the Glen Cinema was quite unique in that I only performed it that night but I really like it, so I might let people hear it beyond those who were in attendance.
“The thing that’s cool about playing the Bungalow,” he continued “is that I remember getting the Sunday Mail when I was coming up and seeing all the ads for folk playing it. It’d be like Siouxsie And The Banshees or whatever so there is a sort of romantic connection with the past.”
This interview was published in Mill issue 8 November/December 2019, ahead of his gig at The Bungalow in Paisley.