An Interview with
Frontman/Keyboardist of Toseland
that took place at Corporation, Sheffield on
Friday 30th September, 2016.
Interviewed By Glenn Milligan.
Glenn: How have your gigs been going so far Sir?
James: Great. This is only the third show. On the balance though, it’s been a pretty intense start. We started off in Stoke which was a great opening gig. The Sugarmill in Stoke is just a lovely little rock place. That kicked things off really well. Then one of the biggest shows on the tour actually in Wolverhampton Slade Room. Rock ‘N’ Roll is so popular in that area. We had our best numbers ever in the four or five years since I got the band together there last night and that was really special. It’s given us such a good vibe, such a good energy to come back to my home show – the third show. I’m really pleased because I kind of class them as our two warm-up shows ready for my home one. We should be fully up to speed for the guys tonight. It’s been good though. We’ve got 21 shows in four weeks so it’s going to be pretty intense but I’m looking forward to it. The band’s all on good spirits. We are really feeling good about the set. It’s coming good.
Glenn: So there’s no nerves for tonight with it being the home show? You are so used to it.
James: It’s just a little bit busy – a home show. You’ve got your family and your friends coming. It’s nice to have that local support. I had such good times with my old job. I didn’t realise but we had some amazing times as friends because it gave them an opportunity to go and see the world and see what I used to do with that. We used to have evenings of dinners and drinks in foreign countries. I did appreciate the time but just to do something where your friends can come along to and have a really good time. It’s exactly the same gig – you are entertaining people – whether you are on two wheels or on a stage. It’s nice now that the boys can travel. They came to Newcastle on the last run. We’d have a weekend lads out. I think they prefer this job to be honest so they can go on a bit more of a jolly! (We laugh)
Glenn: What songs are going down best at the shows? Have certain songs become famous as such now?
James: ‘Singer In A Band’ has always been a bit of a dark horse. It was one when we weren’t sure if we were going to put on the album ‘Renegade’ but we got it on there because of the catchy… it almost had that ‘Summer Of ‘69’ kind of vibe. It’s been a grower that one. ‘Renegade’ has always had a connection especially around this part of town because the opening line is ‘Brought up in a backstreet of a Northern English town’. I think everybody relates to that. On the latest album that we just released ‘We’ll Stop At Nothing’ seems to be burning up to being a bit anthemic for us because of the simple message and everybody seems to be able to connect to it straight away. You know what it’s like? Having a new album and new music – it takes time for people to really know the lyric enough to connect to it and grow on it. Another one is ‘Puppet On A Chain’.
Glenn: Yeah! That’s a great song!
James: Yeah! That’s been one – for radio especially. The first four releases that we’ve had have all gone on the A list or B list of Planet Rock Radio and the support we’ve have from them is phenomenal. It’s made a big difference to us.
Glenn: The song that really stood out to me on the new album was ‘Waiting For The Answers’. That’s a killer song!
James: Well we didn’t have it on the last run. You know what it’s like in a rehearsal room? We start playing all the new stuff and we just had so many favourites from the album that we did have to drop something. We ended up dropping that. It was always one of them that the band always chimed up with and really liked playing it. When we rehearsed it compared to the other stuff it didn’t really step up. In the break before this tour we said, “We need to work that one up!”. We put some time in with it to work it up to what we’ve been playing all the time – so it’s in the set.
James: It’s been the first time we ever played it live in Stoke. It’s been twice now and the third time tonight – so third time lucky! And yeah, it is going down, really, really well! It’s probably the first time anybody’s heard it. It does have that connection that we probably took for granted that maybe people didn’t compared to the others. I think it’s been a good decision to get it in.
Glenn: How did you manage to go over to the AC/DC studios in Vancouver?
James: Mike Fraser?
James: To be honest, it was an old connection from Toby Jepson that I’ve written songs with. He had the connection in the industry. Steve Harris mixed the first album, ‘Renegade’. What we were doing with the second album with the strings.. it was a bigger production on it. He thought that Mike would be the perfect guy and he was. I was a bit precious of the drives. I went over and took them by hand in hand luggage. It was an excuse for me for the first time to go to Canada. I loved it. A great place. I took Zurab as a bit of present for the work he’d done in the studio with me. Mike was a fantastic guy.
Glenn: It must have been very surreal being in a vocal booth where Bryan Adams or Brian Johnson has sung. No doubt you are fans of those guys!
James: Well he took us around. He took us into the main room. We weren’t recording anything there. It was just to hand the drives over to mix them. But the leather seat on ‘Pump’where the Aerosmith had been… I’d seen them on the documentary on the leather sofa. The leather sofa was there. It had some great history. It was nice to be in a place where you were alongside that history.
Glenn: You’ve had quite a few supports that you’ve done over the years, what would you say you’ve enjoyed most? Which ones stand out for you over the years?
James: Do you know? They’re all different. We really enjoyed supporting Black Stone Cherry at the beginning of the year. Those boys were really good with us. All their crew backstage were so good to us. It wasn’t really a dressing room for them and us. We’d wander around wherever. They were in ours and we were in theirs. They invited me to sing with them on the last gig that we were doing with them on stage with them. I really enjoyed that, but, I mean - Deep Purple – crikey! Just the band alone. To be invited to play in front of between 6,000 and 11,000 people every night was a real, real honour.
Glenn: They are nice guys as well.
James: Ian Gillan – I didn’t realise he used to be into his motorcycles. He used to sponsor a team and Steve Morse, his best friend had a Ducatti dealership in American and he wanted an autograph and all that. For them to be asking me for that was… that just broke all the barriers down. They didn’t know at first on the first gig. Then someone mentioned a few things because they enjoyed what we did for them. They found a bit more out and the penny dropped about the name and everything. It really did break those barriers down and it was such a great tour to be on.
Glenn: That’s brilliant! So you are obviously in touch with Tobe quite a bit?
James: Oh yes, we’re really good friends. He’s just getting his new band together, Wayward Sons. He’s rehearsing with Fastway at the moment. They’re going back out on the road. Yeah! Toby’s great!
Glenn: Your vocals! I was sat watching last night and was thinking, ‘This guy is from Kivo – we always call it Kivo (Kiveton Park), (James Laughs) He’s got phenomenal vocals!’ Have you always had a voice like that or have you actually been coached quite a bit to get to that level?
James: No I’ve never really had any vocal coaching really as such. I had a couple of sessions with a friend of mine down in London but it was really just coaching me a particular song I had to sing. That taught me quite a bit with the breathing techniques. Where my tuition came from was being in a covers band for ten years. I was racing still and subconsciously to me, I didn’t realise how much practise I was getting. It was a Classic Rock covers band, so all of a sudden they were trying to make me song all this really high stuff and that probably built up the muscles. You’ve always got something natural about your vocals haven’t you?
James: I’ve got what I’ve got and I try my best with what I’ve got. I’m fortunate to suit this style of music. This is what I love doing. My heart’s in Classic Rock so I was pleased that I’ve got a voice for it.
Glenn: I was sat listening.. Some singers hate it when you make comparisons but I thought this is like Danny Vaughan, Joe Lynn Turner, Glenn Hughes is coming in..
James: Wow! Glenn Hughes Wow!
Glenn: There’s a slight Roger Chapman in the high shrill of it!
James: Wow! I get Myles Kennedy a bit. Oh crikey! If it’s anywhere near any of them you’ve just mentioned, it’s very flattering. I’m fairly new as a vocalist. I’ve only really been singing a full set with this band. With a covers band that I did for ten years it was good practise but I hadn’t worked on my vocals enough. I could only sing two or three songs in the set before I blew my voice because the technique wasn’t very good. I put a lot of work in. We’ve got six shows in a row – 90 minutes! It’s pretty intense!
Glenn: You keep watered up all the time as well?
James: Yeah it’s a little bit of that and also I’m on in-ears now which makes a massive difference.
Glenn: You’re not blurting it out as much?
Glenn: That makes a lot of sense.
Glenn: You’ve always been a Rock fan anyway from being a very young lad?
James: Yeah! Since I was about nine or ten years old. Someone put a Queen album on and I thought, ‘Hang on a minute, I like this stuff’. That’s what sparked it off.
Glenn: It’s strange because that’s what got me into Classic Rock apart from liking The Beatles. The first thing I remember is my Dad walking in. He’d just bought ‘News Of The World’ by Queen’ & Status Quo’s ‘Rocking All Over The World’. He put them on and I was like ‘Whoah!’
James: I think everybody’s like that no matter what genre you like.
Glenn: Yes exactly!
James: Something will grab you and it was Rock that grabbed me for sure. It was ‘Greatest Hits II’ that was put on and I just loved every track and thought, ‘This is for me’.
Glenn: Our Paul, (my Brother, who James has known for 12 years) threw this one in to ask you. He said, “Ask James if Katy has thrown that bloody leather jacket away?”
James: Mine or hers?
Glenn: Yours. The line for us for a long time is, ‘He’s got that leather jacket on again!’
James: Oh yeah. It doesn’t own me anything. (We laugh)
Glenn: That wasn’t a serious question. I was only joking on that one. But because you are known as wearing the jacket a lot, are you actually getting endorsed by any leather jacket companies or anything like that?
James: I never wear a leather jacket on stage really.
Glenn: Well I’ve seen you wearing it..
James: On the photos?
James: Yeah on the photos there’s always a leather jacket on there.
Glenn: It’s too hot for stage though.
James: Yeah, yeah. To be honest with you, I do like wearing a leather jacket, I must admit. But no, it is too hot on these smaller club gigs. But yeah, I suppose all the images we’ve had taken as a band I used. It is the same jacket. I can see where he’s coming from. It definitely doesn’t owe me anything. I’ve got my money’s worth out of that.
Glenn: A good few years you’ve had it then?
James: My mum’s stitched it up twice!
Glenn: No way!
James: Yeah, yeah! You know what it’s like, it’s like a second coat.
Glenn: Yeah! It’s a seconds skin. I wore mine for years and years until I grew out of it.
James: I don’t want a new one.
Glenn: It doesn’t feel the same does it?
Glenn: It becomes part of you.
James: Tell your Paul to stop taking the p*ss! (We laugh)
Glenn: Yeah! He’ll be here later, you can give him a slap (We laugh) Are you still playing piano a bit because I know you had your wrist injury?
James: Yeah. I play about four or five songs. I have to stand to the left of the keys a bit a lot more than I used to just because the flexibility on your wrists as a piano player is right and left movement. My old job was knackered because I couldn’t do the up/down movement. Because I can’t bend it left to right I have to stand to the left of the keys. To be honest, I don’t move too much. There’s half of it still dusty! (We laugh)
Glenn: Well you do what you can do!
Glenn: You’ve got to make the best of what you’ve got.
James: Yeah! Luckily the fingers are okay. The movement of the fingers is okay but the wrist does start to ache quite a bit after a while. Luckily I can touch wood. I can still play well enough to enjoy it.
Glenn: Your Gran taught you how to play?
James: She did. She’s not coming though, bless her – she’s 86 now. But yeah, when I was a youngster I lived with my Grandparents for a few years. Whilst I was living there she was playing quite a bit. In those days, I used to sit down and she used to teach me a few bits and bobs. That’s where the fascination came from. I was very, very grateful for my Gran teaching me long enough to… because with an instrument you’ve just got to go past the crappy stage. You can give up if you don’t get past that. You get past that stage and you don’t want to give it up then because you are going to get something from it.
Glenn: Yeah! If you could duet with anyone in the future as a one-off or for an album, who would that be and why?
James: Alive or dead?
Glenn: Let’s go for both!
James: Alive: I sang and Roger Taylor was playing drums once at the O2 Indigo and that was really something. The Queen boys are obviously massive for us. A duet on the piano, on the bluesy rockier side I would say Jools Holland. It would be fantastic to do. There’s not that many piano players in Rock ‘N’ Roll really. That’s a difficult point. Let’s say Jools on the piano side and on the dead side, it would have to be Freddie on the vocals. If I could do a ‘Barcelona’ duet with him. He’d have to operatic bits (We laugh).
Glenn: Does Katy (Melua, James’ Wife) influence what you do musically or lyrically?
James: Oh we are totally separate. The genres are totally separate. We’ve just got that respect for each other. There’s no point in trying to influence or have any say really on each other’s art just because our art is so different. Okay, if I’m sat down and I’m working on something, we’ll both say, “What do you reckon to this? Is it worth carrying on with or shall I ditch it?” That kind of vibe but other than that no. She’s more than capable of sorting herself out. With the way that I do stuff with Toby, I’ve got my right hand man. So no, but it’s nice to have music in common in the relationship. I’ve very, very proud of her. She’s just bringing a new album out. It’s fantastic. She’s been writing with a Georgian Choir and she’s touring that in November/December. I can’t wait to see that live because I’ve heard it and it is amazing actually.
Glenn: As well I think it’s ironic that she just done the programme for Terry (Wogan) and while you’re on stage the programme is on at the same time.
James: She was really honoured. There was only her and Peter Gabriel invited to sing at his memorial. That’s something isn’t it?
James: It was Terry that launched her. She got turned down by about four or five labels and it was Terry that said, “I like it. I’m going to play it!” and from the airplay that Terry gave her it just went through the roof. That’s the power of what Terry did. What he can do. I was lucky enough to just have a photograph with him but I didn’t get chance to know him. Everyone that I talked to said he was very highly regarded and respected.
Glenn: I remember being on ‘Points Of View’ and Terry said my name. I was talking about ‘The Tudors’ series about all the mistakes in it. That was my connection to Terry Wogan.
James: Yeah! She was very humble for that.
Glenn: That’s beautiful. How did your band come to be as it is right now? When did you get your members from?
James: Well the one of the Guitarists in the band is my Brother-In-Law, it’s Katy’s Brother. When I met Katy and met the parents I heard him playing in his bedroom and I was amazed by his talents. I had just got three or four demos written already. At that point I had not got a band together but I was writing, I said, “Look, I’ll be looking to get a band together at some point soon and would you like to be part of it?” He liked the music and that was it. He was studying at ACM in Guildford. He got three other lads at that point in time but they were playing in another band as well. Then our band got busy enough where they couldn’t do both, so they chose their original one that they’d bee writing for, which is fair enough. Then I went from the students to the teachers basically. The line-up I have had have been together for two years now. It’s just worked out great. I’m really, really honoured to have the musicianship I’ve got in a band.
Glenn: Yeah, you’ve definitely come on a bit.
James: Yeah. They’re good. Really great lads.
Glenn: That explains why because it used to look like you had different session players in your band.
James: Well it wasn’t through my choice but it was through Management choice. This is why they said, “Just call it your name. Just call it Toseland. Don’t think of a band name because if you have your band members and people get connected with a band and one member leaves it can be catastrophic for the band. Call it you. As long as you’re there at front, it doesn’t matter so much if it does swap and change behind you.” That’s the reason they wanted to call it my name. It was their choice really. Not mine but because of what’s happened in the last few years since forming it. It’ saved me a little bit on that front.
Glenn: Yeah because you get split-off bands and all sorts of…
James: Well if it was a band name and everybody got used to the first line-up, then they could say, “Oh it’s not the original line-up anymore and blah, blah, blah…” It’s difficult when you have that.
Glenn: Yeah. What are your thoughts to the music scene over here?
James: I think it’s as great as you want it to be for yourself. It’s all about dedication and hard work with whatever instrument you’ve got or whatever you’re doing. It’s certainly not easy because it’s expensive to tour. It’s not easy to sell records anymore – physicals. You don’t really see much money from selling online so there’s not much income stream for bands. It’s all about exposure on radio and it’s all about fanbase and people who come to see you live – but that takes time. The problem is just hanging in there, keeping true to your music and keep focussed on what the main thing is, which is the art. Then hope that you can hang in there enough before the crowds are in front of you enough to start paying for stuff.
Glenn: Yeah. I was impressed that you are going to be playing support to ‘Last In Line’ in Belfast!
James: Yeah, I’m looking forward to that one. We’re looking forward to it and it came in just over a week ago. Our Agent’s actually based in Belfast, so that’s where the connection was. We played Belfast earlier in the year and it went really well for us so they invited us back in.
Glenn: Vinny Appice is a really nice guy. I interviewed him last year and I think you’ll get on great with him.
James: I’m looking forward to meeting him.
Glenn: What are your plans for next year?
James: We’re hoping next year for quite a few festivals. Everything in different places other than the UK. We’re booking those at the moment.
Glenn: How are you finding the live scene here compared with Europe? Do you find much difference with people or venues and the reception that you get?
James: It’s difficult to say at the moment because we’ve been playing in front of other people’s audiences. This tour that we’re going to go on in Europe now for the first time is the first time we are going to do headline shows. I’ll be able to tell you a little bit more accurately once I get used to my own crowd but other people’s crowds have been amazing. Germany’s been amazing for us. That’s where our label is so I’m really pleased that our music is going down well there because that is one of the focal areas that we’d like to do some business. We’ll see!
Glenn: Are there certain parts of the World that you’ve love to play. I know you’ve been there on two wheels but did you ever think, “If I’d got a band, I’d love to play here with my own band”. Are there certain places that really stand out to you?
James: Germany is obviously one of them because that’s the connection with the label really. Other than that, to go overseas anywhere would be a big honour because if we go overseas it means there’s a real need for that band to be there because I can’t afford to take all the band over and all the crew over just for vanity of wanting to play there. If we ever go overseas, it means that we’ve got enough of an audience where Promoters of venues are inviting us to come. When that day comes we know we’ve done something right.
Glenn: Oh completely. Do you still see yourself as a local lad even though you’ve been in London, living on the Isle Of Man? Is it always good to come back home and see all your friends and family in Kiveton Park and everywhere else?
James: Yeah, Kiveton Park’s always home and always will be. I’ve done the certificates at Wales High School, the one I went to for the last 13 years on the trot. I go back every year just to do that for them, just for the connections. Yeah, I love it. Kiveton will always be home. I was at the Isle of Man for 8 years and then London for five years but I come back at least once a month because my Brother’s got three kids. I’m close to my nephews as well so I always come up for them.
Glenn: Do you think they will aspire in your footsteps in time either on the bike or musically? Can you see that coming from them yet?
James: No, no! My Brother will not allow them to do motorbikes. He’s visited his little brother in hospital far too much. I always said to him, “I’m here if they want to do it. I’m here and I’ll teach them as much as I can to keep them as safe as possible if they do want to do it”. He said, “No mate, they’re not doing that”. I’ve always respected that because he’s their Dad.
Glenn: Musically they might.
James: Yeah. The middle one was drumming a bit but nothing’s grabbed ‘em yet. Nothing’s grabbed them to the point where they really want to do it everyday. That’s something you’ve got to find as a kid.
Glenn: Completely. It’s all about them and not what you want them to do.
James: Completely yeah! They’ve got to find what they enjoy doing.
Glenn: Nice! What would you say you are most proud of over the years so far? There must be so much!
James: To keeping dedicated to whatever I’ve done enough to possibly have a career in what are both my loves in life. It took a lot of work on a motorcycle to get as good as I was and it’s taken a lot of work as a vocalist and musician to do what we’re doing now. It’s a lot of sacrifice and a lot of one-track minded selfishness to be doing anything like this. Just my perseverance and dedication and all the rest of the band I’m proud of. It’s not really an achievement. You look over everything and you think, ‘Well I’ve had a great time but it’s all really down to keeping focus on it.
Glenn: That makes a lot of sense. How long did it take to record your album and get it all together?
James: It’s about eight months from starting writing to actually being in a studio, recording everything and the presentation. The first album was eight months and this one was about eight months - about the same.
Glenn: What highlights or what were any hard parts of it that took longer to get down?
James: Writing. Writing is horrendous. The soul searching on every single line of every single chorus and of every single verse. Trying to get each song personally connected enough where you’re really, really feeling what you’re creating. Writing lyrics is the toughest part of the process.
Glenn: Do you have certain favourites yourself?
James: Well I’m really proud of everyone because on an 11 or 12 track album, we’ll have written at least 25 songs and narrowed it down those. But yeah, lyrically is the hardest thing because you want it to really mean something. You’re not just chucking words down that rhyme. You want it to mean something. You want a story behind each one.
Glenn: Do you talk about your background in your songs? Are some songs influenced with being a former Superbike Champion?
James: I think there are references to all of my life really. Not so much reference to racing or the bikes but references to life’s experiences which would have included that for sure. All the emotions that came from racing - the ups and downs. From life – the ups and downs. It’s all the same emotions in sport in achievement, in band and in general life. It’s just the exact same emotions to everything but there’s probably bigger peaks and troughs when you’re doing something so intense.
Glenn: What was it about the actual title, ‘Cradle The Rage’ that made you choose it as the album name especially since it’s the name of a song on there too?
James: Because having to retire from something I loved doing was difficult. I always had that song title in my head because it took quite a lot of cradling the rage and the frustrations of not being able to do what I used to be able to do that I loved. As time’s gone by, as the music’s got better, the band’s got bigger and things have developed. I’ve been able to adapt all myself and my life and what I wake up for in the morning to concentrate on this and be happy and content with what I’m doing now. The problem is, when you want to do something really, really well, as soon as you open your eyes you are thinking about it and until you close your eyes you’ll not stop thinking about it. To then having to do something else and start from the bottom of the ladder again was just tough. It was the emotions of really starting that crossover period where that song-title came from. It was so prominent to me personally that that was the emotion that I was having. That’s why it takes time.
Glenn: What item or items over the years you’ve either acquired, found or been given have meant the most to you and why?
James: Crikey! My home is probably my proudest possession. Then the Missis does come close! (We laugh jokingly) But yeah, I’ve got my two World Championship Trophies on my mantelpiece and they’ll be forever very special to me as a symbol and a mark-up of all that life. Then I look at the albums. Any physical thing that shows your achievements and hard work – it’s always nice to have those. Yeah! Definitely my home – always home!
Glenn: When you are away from home in different parts and you’ve been supporting people or whatever else such as being in Canada, what certain thing do you miss most because it always becomes more apparent when you’re not there?
James: Family really! Nephews! I really miss my nephews! Because my Mum’s, my Mum, I mean, we always take Mums for granted don’t we as boys. She’s just always there because that’s how I think of it. Mums are just always there. My brother, my friends – same thing – they’ll always be there. But my nephews, when you miss time when they’re growing up, when you miss periods, you feel like you are missing out. Your friends, your family, your Mum and all the rest of it, they’re always the same. But your nephew’s go through a process where you miss out on stuff. But the oldest, he’s 17 now, left school and gone to college. The middle one’s 14 and the youngest one’s six. They are all getting to an age where there all kind of getting into the process where they’re not changing either. (We laugh)
Glenn: What did you enjoy most about being a Wales High School?
James: Friends. Easy – Friends. I made some amazing friends and I’ve still got them. They’re all coming tonight. The Headmaster was amazing, Mr. Morton. He was around me when I had a few issues going on. He invited me to his office quite regularly. Mr. Morton as a Head and it just filtered down. A great person at the top means that the whole thing runs great because he sets the bar doesn’t he? But friendship for sure.
Glenn: Anything else you’d like to add?
James: No, I’m just looking forward to tonight, to the tour. It’s going to be a long hard slog. I’m sure we’ll be ready for our own bed after four weeks on the road but I just can’t wait to get all the memories again.
A big thankytou to Valeria @ Duff Press, Toseland's Tour Manager, Craig, Mark Hobson and the great @ Corporation, Sheffield, My Brother, Paul Milligan for the Question Input and Transportation, Help from The Illustr8ors and and of course, James himself for a real open and honest down to earth Interview!
Concert Photographs taken by Glenn & Paul Milligan @ Corporation, Sheffield.