By STEVE MASCORD
THE stigma that old rockers attach to television talent shows, based on grumpy snobbery, will no doubt die with us.
Nathan James, the lead singer of young British blues rockers Inglorious, was on The Voice and Superstar as well as being a member of Trans-Siberian Orchestra for three years.
He’s only 28 yet he knows some people can’t get past these elements of his CV and perhaps never will.
“It takes a few people a lot longer to understand why I did it but here’s a message to all those people: I earned loads of money through singing,” says James, whose band now has two albums to its credit, backstage at London’s Kentish Town Forum.
“I didn’t have to do a normal job. I didn’t have to do something I hated. For the last 10 years of my life, I’ve been paid to sing so however you look at it, that’s only a good thing.
“I got scouted by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra because I was on television. They signed me to a deal, they got me a visa for three years, flew me out to America and I toured with Al Pitrelli and all those guys for three wonderful years, played Wacken Festival in Germany, headlined to 80,000 people…
“Then I thought ‘I’ve reached my limit with this band’. I’ve done a lot, done all I wanted to do. Now it’s time to focus and concentrate on one thing, so I turned down the lovely pay cheque and I’m going out with my own band.”
Inglorious, completed by guitarist Andreas Eriksson, rhythm guitarist Drew Lowe, bassist Colin Parkinson and drummer Phil Beaver, have just released Inglorious II on Frontiers. The comparisons with Whitesnake, especially, but also with Bad Company and Deep Purple may be a tad boring but they’re more or less accurate.
Album opener “I Don’t Need Your Love” is a modern classic of the genre, with a lilting semi-acoustic intro following by a thumping, bombastic riff. And when you hear James’ vocal chords open up, you know you are dealing with an individual imbued with something most of us don’t, and can never hope to, have.
“I knew I could sing when I was at school,” says a sweaty Nathan, after an opening slot for Winery Dogs.
“I was about five or six years old and my headmaster noticed that I was really tuneful. He was like, ‘you’ve got a really tuneful voice, Nathan’. Really old fellow, he’s probably dead now so rest in peace, Mr Matheson. He’s the person who discovered my voice.
“As I grew up, my voice changed. I was a choirboy as a child and then after puberty my voice broke. Puberty is a very cruel thing. I was left with … this.
“I’ve worked on it a lot. I’ve had singing lessons since I was 15 so I know what I’m doing. I keep it healthy. I’m not a dick with it. It’s very important, it’s the thing that earns me my wage and it’s the thing that’s going to keep me going for hopefully many, many years so you’ve got to give it a lot of respect.”
Which means learning from the mistakes of some of his elders who indulged in a bit too much abuse?
“Yeah kinda but the abusing is fun. It’s all about finding an equal balance between fun and health. You have to look after your voice. It’s the size of a 5p coin. I don’t know what that is in Australia. You have to look after it and treat it like a muscle. If you don’t, you’re going to be screwed.”
But we make an almost subconscious association now between pristine musical talent and a lack of “realness”, don’t we? It’s the talent shows that have done it.
And the danger of being known first as a ‘hired gun’ singer is that it takes a while to convince many people you’re in an organic, honest and democratic band and not a mere vehicle.
“This is what I’ve wanted to do my whole life. The other things were either a means to earn money or to get to this place. It’s really nice to finally be able to sing songs that I’ve written with a band and get out there and perform it for people who’ve followed me since I’ve been on TV and since I’ve been in all sorts of other shit.
“It’s been pretty self-motivated from the get-go. I’ve had a few wonderful people help me.
“I was actually A&Red by Derek Shulman who signed Bon Jovi and Nickelback and Dream Theater.” (continued below)
While we’re talking about narrow-mindedness, the other perception with the Blues is that when you’re young enough to sing them athletically, you’ve nothing to sing about – and by the time you actually experience enough of life, your voice is on the way out.
“That comes a lot through my influences. It comes from the Glenn Hugheses, the David Coverdales, the Paul Rodgers, the Robert Plants … even, I love Ray Gillen from Badlands, he’s one of my favourite singers as well. I always like to challenge myself and I find that going back and listening to those guys is definitely the way forward.
“The day I can sing, oh, any of the songs by Queen and Freddie Mercury is a great day for me, you know? Set yourself targets and go for it. As far as soul, I’ve experienced some stuff. I’m not a kid. Hopefully you can hear that in my lyrics as well.”
At the time of our interview, James said Inglorious’ contract with Frontiers was for two albums. The band is not just traditional in their sound; they are developing in a traditional way.
As a live reviewer noted recently, there still isn’t a great depth to their repertoire. “High Flying Gypsy”, “I Don’t Need Your Love”, “Holy Water”, “Until I Die” and maybe one or two others will demand places in their setlist if they are still around a decade from now. The others? Perhaps not.
But Nathan James is no fragile-egoed talent show diva.
“When you’re on TV, you really do realise who your friends are. There’s 10 million people watching and everyone’s your best friend when you win but but the day you get kicked out you feel like the loneliest person in the world.
“I’m used to that on some level.
“But I really don’t think this will ever see a bad day because I’m not going to let it. I’m very, very positive and I’m 100 per cent dedicated to this and there will not be a bad day.
“You get to the stage where you are going to meet a few idiots and you’re just going to have to deal with them.
“… and just hope they’re not in your band.”
Read about the inspiration behind “High Flying Gypsy” here