- 22 Nov 18
With his new album going stratospheric, friends in equally high places and a burgeoning Brazillian acting career, life is pretty sweet at the moment for Gavin James. He treats Stuart Clark to afternoon tea and tales.
There was a time interviewing Gavin James when you were fortunate to get a chipped mug of tea and a stale digestive, but not this afternoon in the Westbury where bone china cups of Darjeeling, triangular smoked salmon & crab sandwiches with the crusts cut off and a dinner-jacketed man tickling away on the ivories provide the accompaniment to our chinwag about his much-lauded Only Ticket Home album.
"I've gone all posh, haven't I?" laughs Gav who's actually as down to earth as he was when Hot Press first met him in 2008. The big difference then being that his surname was still Wigglesworth. "I'll have to bring me Ma here so she doesn't think I've completely fucked my life up!"
Mrs. Wigglesworth must have realised fairly early on that her Gavin wasn't going to conquer the world via-academia.
"I was a bit shite at school," he admits. "When I got to fourth, fifth and sixth year I stopped going. I lost the notes that you needed for science and just went, 'Fuck it!'. Which is terrible. Don't not go to school, kids! I used to get on my bike and cycle to Walton's music shop in Dublin instead."
Only Ticket Home was the highest debuting Irish album in more ways than one last week, with Gav's people coming up with the wizard wheeze of attaching a copy to a high altitude balloon that's currently orbiting 1,000 kms above the earth.
"We're sending it into space because it's out of the world," he joked as he let go of the guy-ropes.
Cheesy asides, er, aside, it's an all killer, absolutely no filler collection of songs that moves Gavin another step closer to the stadiums you feel he's destined to fill.
"There's one sad as fuck song, 'Always', and 'Put You Together' which says, 'Life can be shitty but we'll pull through', but otherwise it's a lot happier than Bitter Pill whose title gave it away. I did a bit in London and the rest in Windmill Lane - all the really good ones were recorded here!".
The stunning cover image of Gav, battered suitcase appropriately in hand, was supplied by Dublin artist Barry 'Jazz' Finnegan who wields a mean piece of charcoal.
"It's insane, isn't it? The original's ten-foot tall. I've had people on Instagram going, 'You look a bit Photoshopped' and I'm like, 'Itı' a fucking charcoal drawing!' Barry used to work in Bruxelles and still runs the Zodiac Sessions there. When I was doing pub gigs, I'd finish at ten and run up to Bruxelles for the session, which would go on until four in the morning. He was good when he started, but now he's world-class. He did an amazing portrait of Robert De Niro, which De Niro's son bought off him for his dad. I want to make sure everybody knows his name because he's sick."
Which, I gather, is young people's parlance for being simultaneously cool and awesome. Like his hero Bob Dylan - more of whom anon - James has been on a seemingly never-ending tour these past few years, with enough air miles accrued to be on the first manned mission to Mars. The numerous stop-offs have included Rio and Sao Paolo where riotous gigs were played and unlikely TV appearances made.
"You never think, 'Brazil's going to go mad for this!' when youıre writing a song but that's what happened last year with 'Nervous'," Gavin notes. "I was wondering why all these people were suddenly talking Portuguese on my timeline, and then I heard that every time there was a sad scene on this telenovela called Pega Pega - it's like a Brazilian EastEnders with a hundred million people watching - they'd play it. I got to do a cameo on the show and it was fucking gas 'cause yer' man tried to make me speak Portuguese in it. I was meant to say, 'Her name is Maria' but after ten takes of not getting it right, he was like, 'Say it how you want to say it!' The actress playing Maria walks out of the hotel into the swimming pool area to meet a man, and I just happen to be standing there in front of a microphone with a guitar and serenade them with 'Nervous'. It was totally surreal."
And available for your viewing pleasure on his Facebook. Asked whether the mental image Pega Pega viewers had formed of this romantic balladeer corresponded with what they saw on their screens, Gavin laughs again and says, "There were lots of tweets about me being on Pega Pega with block caps and multiple exclamation marks, which made me think I was better off not translating them. I look more like a rugby player than I do a singer. I tried to play rugby but I was shite at it. I'm quite tall for such a high voice. All the falsetto stuff doesnıt correspond with the size of my head."
I think it's a lovely head.
"You donıt have to lie!"
I have to admit to being royally pissed off during last February's snow storms when Gavin tweeted a picture of himself singing a song on the Copacabana.
"I made the mistake in Rio of not wearing my sunglasses and went home looking like a lobster. Otherwise, I had a savage time and can't wait to go back to Brazil, which is a massive market. You could spend your while life touring and only get to half the places where they're listening to you online."
Further proof of his global appeal is provided by Gavin currently being one of the most Shazam-ed artists in the Philippines; Spotify Signapore going batshit crazy for recent single 'Glow'; and his household name status in Holland, fueled in part by him appearing on the Nederlandse version of The Voice.
"You put it out there and never know whatıs going to come back," he muses. "We're going to Brazil again in March. I'd love to do Peru and Colombia as well while we're in South America. There are gigs planned for South Korea - I'll have to brush up on my K-Pop - and the Philippines and anywhere else we can sensibly get to. The buzz of touring definitely hasn't worn off yet."
Are the love songs he writes testament to Gavin's own blissful contentment or a plaintive call for Cupid to aim his bow at him?
"I've been in the same relationship for three years," he divulges. "She's from London and didn't know anything about me playing music for three months. I brought her to Bruce Springsteen in Croke Park and she was like, 'Why's everybody coming up and saying 'hello' and buying you drinks?' I was off at Christmas and in January and February, but otherwise time together this year has had to be grabbed. She's very understanding. I'm going back and forth at the moment between my parents' house in Dublin and my missus' in Hackney. I know the rents are astronomical, but I'd like to get us a detached place here where I can build a little studio and make as much racket as I want."
Having gone viral earlier in the year with his gorgeous interpretation of Ariana Grande's 'No Tears Left To Cry', Gav has done it again with a cover of the Cranberries' 'Linger' that Noel Hogan told me to tell him he loves.
"Jesus, fuck... that's good to hear," he says looking mightily relieved. "I did it outdoors at the open air concert in Collins Barracks and was bricking it because 'Linger' is such an iconic song. I was freezing me bollocks off thinking, 'God, how many people are listening to this on live radio'ı I always associate 'Linger' with being the saddest part of the movie Click when Adam Sandler's character is dying on the street and the rain's coming down. I'd sung it loads of times before but not with the RTâ Concert Orchestra and as a tribute to Dolores O'Riordan. It was one of the first songs she wrote aged just seventeen, which is staggering. Hopefully we did her justice."
They did. Who else has been on his Spotify 'most played' list this year?
"Sigrid is fucking awesome," Gav shoots back. "I listen to a lot of Anderson .Paak. Lyrically, musically and looks wise - he's got that Peaky Blinders thing going - David Keenan is really special. For some reason the Guardians Of The Galaxy soundtrack is my airplane record. Two '60s classics I keep coming back to are The Freewheelin Bob Dylan and Sgt. Pepper's. I fucking love Jeff Buckley's Grace. 'She is the tear that hangs inside my soul forever' from 'Lover, You Should've Come Over' is one of the greatest lines of all-time. One of my few genuine regrets in life is that I was too young to have seen him in Whelanıs. Can you imagine? A favourite song I can't listen to any more 'cause it soundtracks a break-up is Fleet Foxes' 'White Winter Hymnal.' Do you have any like that?"
Stick the Lightning Seeds' 'Pure', Glen Campbell's 'Wichita Lineman' or the Kirsty MacColl version of 'Days' on and I'm guaranteed to spend the next five hours in the foetal position crying but otherwise, no, I'm a hard-hearted bastard.
Gavin isnıt the only musical talent in the family, with his sister Emma continually wowing with the tunes she puts up on her @redzerwiggles - great name! - account.
"She's seven years older than me and totally amazing. I heard all the early Cranberries stuff via-her and my brother who's ten years older, and had to put up with me sharing his room. They guided me in my musical taste. Before moving to London Emma was in the Dublin Gospel Choir - she toured as part of the Sister Act stage show - and does a lot of session work. I had this rehearsal room in the shed and she taught me how not to have a weird quiver when I sang. That and five years gigging in pubs got rid of it."
Did he enjoy his time on the Oliver St. John Gogarty/Norseman circuit?
"It was a great education," he reflects. "A big ginger guy playing acoustic guitar in a pub - no one wants to listen until you make them listen to you. If anybody heckles, you're louder than them 'cause you've got the mike! You learn how not to take it personally if there's only ten people - and, believe me, I've done gigs of my own with even less - and how to keep ploughing on if the sound's shite and there's smoke coming out of the amplifiers! It battle-hardens you."
The 27-year-old's celebrity fan club includes Michael Ball, the Phantom Of The Opera and Les Mis star who invited him onto his primetime BBC TV show.
"We had a battle of the falsettos where we kept going up and up and up until one of our voices broke. Who won? I'd rather not say... He also had me on his radio show recently, which blew my sister's mind 'cause like me she's a massive West End musical fan. We went to Harry Potter And The Cursed Child in The Palace two weeks ago, which was very magical, and I saw Jersey Boys for, no word of a lie, the seventh time."
Another industry A-Lister whoıs gone in to bat for Gavin is James Corden.
"After being brought over by him to do the Late Late Show in 2015, I was back in L.A. the following year for Halloween and rang James, who's a really nice guy, to see if he wanted to come out for a pint. He was like, 'No, I'm with family but what are you doing tomorrow?' I go, 'Nothing' and he says, 'Do you want to come on the show?' Like Ed Sheeran, he's just a normal lad."
I don't know if he qualifies as 'a normal lad', but Gav got to meet Conor McGregor when he sang at his sister Aoife's wedding last Christmas.
"I got a call the week before asking if I'd do it and because she's from down the road I was like, 'Yeah, cool.' Conor walks into the church, sees me and goes, 'Alreeeeeeet!?' Crushed my hand when he shook it. I did my song and left because my sister was having a party that night in London, but he seemed a decent guy."
The most important flight Gavin's taken this year is the one to New York to see the aforementioned Boss on Broadway.
"Fucking hell, I've never experienced anything like that before at a gig," he says with a look of wonderment. "When he came to Croke Park last, I went two nights running and was blown away, but this was... religious! He talks about his dad and being depressed and everything else that's had an effect on his life and his music. He said a particularly amazing thing at the start of the show: 'I've been writing songs about the American worker, the 9 to 5-ers like my daddy, but Iıve been lying to you guys 'cause I never worked a day in my life.' The flights over cost considerably less than the tickets, which I had to get from StubHub, but it was worth every cent."
The most important bus Gavin has taken this year is the one to Electric Picnic where he played a confetti bomb blinder on the Main Stage.
"I nearly died when Edison, my manager, told me how much each of those explosions cost," he deadpans. "That was the best time I've ever had on stage. To go from the 2,000-3,000 people places I'd been doing to the hugeness of EP was a bit daunting, but I just rocked the fuck out of it and had a ball. The theme of the Picnic weekend was how well all the Irish acts did. I missed them myself unfortunately, but Versatile had 20,000 turn up to see 'em. That song of theirs, 'Dublin City G's', is fucking class."
Unlike Bob Dylan, Gavin has yet to master the art of the protest song.
"I tried to write one about marriage equality, but was like, 'It's shit! This will destroy any credibility or goodwill I've built up. Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell can do it, I can't!' Itıs on the Cloud somewhere, but hopefully so deeply buried that nobody ever hears it. The referendum passed without my help, thank god. It's amazing when you think condoms were only legalised here in nineteen-eighty-something. But, yeah, I'll stick to writing love songs!"