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James Blunt Biography
So here we are in the summer of 2005, nearly a year after the
U.K. arm of Atlantic Records released the debut album from a new
singer/songwriter named James Blunt. Since then, Blunt has gone from
playing small London clubs to headlining U.K. tours, selling out venues
like the Shepherd's Bush Empire, from obscurity to quadruple-platinum
status (for over a million copies sold in Britain alone), from early
critical acclaim to Music Week recently stating that the artist development story of 2005, perhaps, is that of James Blunt.
At this writing, James's album, Back To Bedlam,
is in its fifth week and counting at the top of the U.K. artist album
chart (where it bumped Coldplay from the Number One spot), while his
current single, You're Beautiful, is in its fourth week at Number
One--marking the first time that a male solo artist has ruled both
charts at the same time for four weeks running since Rod Stewart did it
30 years ago.
Given these remarkable accomplishments, the temptation to proclaim
James the latest British sensation is nearly irresistible--and would
completely miss the point. Impressive facts, yes, but ones reflecting
precious little about who he is and how he has captivated the ears of
so many. Because far from being the newest pop product, Blunt is the
anti-hero of mass marketing. He is an artist whose audience has found
him, embraced him, and spread the news; an artist who has become an
unlikely chart-topper, drawing comparisons to the likes of David Gray
and Damien Rice; an artist who has built his following the
old-fashioned way, by constant gigging and contagious
word-of-mouth--fan by fan, week by week, month by month.
In some ways, everything you need to know about 28-year-old James Blunt is there in Back To Bedlam.
Ranging from acoustic, stripped-down tracks to charged-up, band-driven
numbers, the album charts a journey through life's experiences,
relationships, hardships, and aspirations. Produced by Tom Rothrock
(Beck, Elliott Smith, Badly Drawn Boy), Back To Bedlam is full of stories, vignettes, and snatched moments, all told in James's passionate and unique voice.
While James has always been musical, playing both piano and violin from
a young age, growing up he had little exposure to the rock/pop world.
There was no CD or record player in the house, and it wasn't until he
went away to boarding school that he heard the likes of the Beatles,
Pink Floyd, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin. At the age of
14, he picked up a guitar for the first time and started writing songs.
It wasn't long before he knew what he wanted to do with his life.
However, he was slightly sidetracked on the path to a musical career.
It turns out that for 1000 years or so, the Blunts have been a family
of soldiers, including James's father--a recently retired colonel in
the Army Air Corps. So it was naturally assumed that James would follow
in the family tradition. Not to mention the fact that the armed forces
had funded his education. As James wryly explains, I either had to pay
back the money, or the payback was that I owed the army four years.
So it was that upon graduating from Bristol University at the age of
21, Blunt joined the army, where he served in the elite Household
Calvary. After a brief stint in Canada, he was sent to Kosovo in 1999
as a reconnaissance officer with the NATO peacekeeping force. The one
song on Back To Bedlam
that speaks specifically about James's experiences in the military--the
album's powerful closing track, No Bravery --was written in the
barracks in Kosovo, a haunting response to the genocide he had
Returning to the U.K., Blunt served in the Life Guard, where his
responsibilities included being the Queen's sovereign escort on
ceremonial occasions and standing sentry while the Queen Mother lay in
state. The bulk of the songs that would become Back To Bedlam
were written in London during James's final year of service. He did his
duty during the day, while making some dodgy demos and gigging at
Although clearly a huge influence on Blunt's life, his army experience
forms only one aspect of his work. The core element running through my
songs is the lonely path one walks through life, the connections you
make, and the thoughts that you don't generally share with people, he
says. The songs are about life experiences that anyone can identify
with. It's just about being a human being. And people seem to be
connecting with that.
Leaving the army in 2002, James became a full-time musician. My dad
was nervous, he recalls, because I was leaving a steady job to do
something risky. It wasn't long before the risk paid off. In short
order he was picked up by Elton John's management company and inked a
publishing deal with EMI. In early 2003, he travelled to the SXSW
festival in Austin, Texas, where he was spotted by songwriter/producer
Linda Perry. She signed him on the spot to her own label, Custard
Records, which in turn led to his worldwide pact with Atlantic.
Back To Bedlam was recorded in Los Angeles, which helped
reinforce James's admiration of such American singer/songwriters as
Jeff Buckley and father Tim, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, and Paul Simon.
James chose Tom Rothrock to produce the album, a decision made in part
because of Rothrock's work with another influence, Elliott Smith.
Blunt describes the process of writing and producing the album as a
mixture of my naiveté and Tom's experience. Since James had little
formal experience with recording, Rothrock had to find a way of reining
in and focusing his ideas, while developing a common working
vocabulary. Tom is an enabler rather than a dictator, says James. I
was banging sofas and recording in bathrooms--anything to articulate
what was in my head. Tom is very experienced and very subtle. I had
lots of ideas and he helped me edit and focus my thoughts in whatever
way and with whatever came to hand.
The album's '70s West Coast feel was doubly informed by the decision to
compose and record on original '70s instruments. For his part, James
played as many instruments on the album as possible, partly to feel
fully connected to the tracks and partly to create a truly individual
Released in the U.K. in October 2004, Back To Bedlam was greeted with widespread raves. Time Out called it a work of tender, intimate song craft, Q lauded Blunt as a major talent in waiting, while the Sunday Times
noted that the album is a compulsive, gorgeous slow-burner, packed
with solid hooks and love songs with a twist, all delivered in the
voice of a fallen angel. Before reaching his current headlining
status, Blunt played a series of dates with Elton John, who has
described You're Beautiful as a modern successor to Your Song.
Exactly one year after it first appeared on U.K. shelves, Back To Bedlam
arrives in the U.S. in October 2005. And, should history repeat itself
on these shores, it will be because Blunt's compelling songs,
captivating voice, and charismatic presence are his own best salesmen,
and because once again his audience will find him, fan by fan.
Written by Record Label