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Paul Stimpson

James Holt

Paul Stimpson, Features Writer
credit Shay Rowan
credit Shay Rowan
We first came across Bolton born singer-songwriter James Holt whilst covering a gig at Manchester's Gullivers venue.

James immediately impressed at Gullivers, leaving a lasting impression on us due to his charm, sheer musical ability and familiar vocal style.

After listening to his fantastic EP, In The Face Of It All, we had to find out more about James Holt. We caught up with the Salford University student and grilled him on his song writing approach, his first experience with music and Brian Eno being a fan...

So first of all James, can you tell us a bit about how you got into music? What made you pick up the guitar?

"My earliest musical memory I have is playing on an old piano at my Nan's house. I was 5 or 6 years old and I loved it so much, shortly after that I began having piano lessons. I was 9 when I started lessons on the guitar (and a few years after that I began learning the cello). Ever since then I've been addicted to playing and composing music."

Your songs feel well structured; do you see it as a craft? And what is your general song writing process?

"Thanks! Yeah, I try to take great care in my writing. I'm currently studying MA music composition at Salford University and part of my course involves me not only composing, but analysing my compositions critically and writing about it (which includes all kinds of things: harmony, melodic development, metre, form etc.)

"I try and let musical ideas flow naturally, but then allow myself the opportunity to stand back and observe these ideas and work on them. There's no set rule but usually the music and melody comes first. I have a big text document (kind of serves like a digital notebook) in which I have loads of random lines, verses or just general song ideas/titles. When the form of song (i.e. the melody and chords) are exactly how it will be I merge the song and lyrics together. The entire writing process can take me from anywhere between an afternoon to 6 months."

I saw you solo, but you play with a band too occasionally? Which do you prefer and why?

"Yes I play with with a band too (our next gig is at the Ruby Lounge, Manchester on the 11th Sept!) and I can't say I prefer either because I have different sets for each.

"There's loads of material I play solo which wouldn't work with the band and vice versa. I do feel the band shows are more energetic, more lively than the solo shows but the soft ballads work so well with just vocals and acoustic guitar. There's something about the simplicity which just works.

"That said, I'm really enjoying playing and working with the band and I've begun writing songs with the band in mind."

I can hear a lot of John Lennon and Dylan in your music, but what would you say is your main musical influence?

"Oh yes, probably the two major songwriters of the 20th Century, they've inspired and influenced so many musicians and songwriters between them. I love both of their music and they have been a great influence on me.

"I guess one advantage of playing different instruments is the repertoire of music you can play. I love jazz and classical, just as much as I love rock or popular contemporary music. And I enjoy playing and composing these different styles of music.

"My major influences from the entire spectrum of music: The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Coltrane, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Dylan."

And any influences outside of music?

"I love films, books and poetry. I love Bergman films, old Russian books (Chekov, Dostoyevsky). They create a spark of inspiration which can turn into another art piece, like so many of my songs. I think anything can inspire you if you look at it in a certain way and with a certain pair of eyes."

A bit of a legend in the music industry, Brian Eno picked one of your songs for his Noise Festival did that feel?

"Ah yes, probably the greatest moment in my life so far. It was rather surreal, I got a phone call one day last year from NOISE to tell me that Brian Eno had not only listened to my music but had chosen one of my tracks for the festival, it was so unexpected and I was completely blown away.

"Since then I've had some great opportunities and exposure. I've released my debut EP In the Face of It All, been featured and had radio plays on BBC Radio (Radio 6 and Introducing Manchester), Xfm and I've had good reviews in magazines and articles.

"I can't thank Brian Eno and the NOISE team enough for the opportunity and his recommendation really spurred me on to do the EP. Any artists/photographers/filmmakers/poets/designers/musicians should definitely check out the NOISE festival."

What are your plans for the future? More EPs? A tour?

"Yes I'm always working on and recording new material. The next EP is more or less recorded now; I'm just working on finalising and mastering everything. I had such a great response with the artwork on the last EP that I'm using the same artist, Anthony Greenhalgh, this time round. I'm also going to be gigging more and more with my band, we've got some great shows lined up (check my website for details!)."

What is your favourite venue you have played?

"I think the best gig I've played so far is my EP launch at the Kings Arms in Salford in February. The room was packed but the crowd was attentive throughout each performance. It was such a wonderful night.

"Other highlights have been the Trades Club (Hebden Bridge), This Feeling show at Night and Day, my band's first show earlier this year. Hopefully more great gigs to come!"

You have some proper rocking folk songs, but also some lovely ballads - what is your favourite to play?

"I like to break it up, have a mixture of the high-energy rock tunes with the ballads; it's about getting that balance and variety. I try and take the crowd on a journey and there's no better feeling than when everyone is completely with your set from beginning to end."

You seemed very relaxed and confident on stage, what is your secret?

"No secret! Just a lot of practice!"


James will play The Ruby Lounge, Manchester on September 11