Lytham Proms Performance Photos Courtesy Mark Liebenberg Photography
Promising U.K. singer/songwriter James Edgar grew up and still lives in Lytham, in the North West of England, near the coastal town of Blackpool where he made his mark as a performer on the local scene but it was the Internet that spread his talents around the world. His YouTube videos featured amazing versions of songs by everyone from Bon Iver and Leonard Cohen, to the Mamas and the Papas and Tom Petty, but his unique mash-ups: a version of “California Dreaming”, which incorporated snippets of White Stripes’, “Seven Nation Army”; the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and fellow British singer/songwriter Alex Clare’s “Too Close” completely made the songs his own. Edgar began writing his own material on acoustic guitar; tracks like “Better Off” and “Black and White” but the insular nature of the process led him to seek out like-minded collaborators.
Through a mutual friend, he ran into fellow musician Danny Wilkin, a keyboardist/ bassist for the Scooter Braun-managed U.K. band Rixton, which had a massive worldwide hit with the chart-topping British/United States smash and platinum- certified “Me and My Broken Heart.” Upon hearing James perform in a local Blackpool pub, Wilkin expressed an interest in working together. “He asked me to play a few riffs on acoustic guitar, and by the end of the night, we had written a song,” marvelled James about “You Got Me,” a cheeky rocker that launched the working relationship with Wilkin. “It really opened my eyes to the possibilities of a bigger, more relevant, more contemporary sound”. The next day, we cut some vocals and by then, we were mates.”
A few months passed, and the two got together again at Rock Hard Recording Studios in Blackpool for two-and-a-half intensive weeks with an actual band: guitarist, Jack Lavelle; bassist, Dave Benkel; keyboardist, Danny Marland and drummer, Matt Bamber. This resulted in eight new songs and a demo which crystallized James’ new direction: hints of pop, soul, R&B and dance music in tracks like the Marvin Gaye-inflected “Surrender”; the reggae lilt of “If You Say So”; the Beatle-esque reverse acoustic guitar that runs through “Fall Together” and the chicken-scratching funk guitar of the Prince-inspired “Question Mark”. Seemingly overnight, James had graduated from primary influences like U2, Coldplay and John Mayer to exploring more exotic blends of modern music, including Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Maroon 5.
It was his first experience recording with other people, and he took to it naturally. “Danny brought out something fresh and new in me. I stopped worrying about sounding too much like other artists and just followed my own instincts,” explains James. “We didn’t set out to write in any style. We took it one song at a time and, depending on our mood and what we were listening to at the time, that’s what we came up with.” It was a revelation to James to write songs without starting on acoustic guitar. “The chord progressions were dictated by the melodies,” he nods. “That was something new to me. I’m now writing more with my voice, and then taking those ideas to the guitar, rather than the other way around.” Even while collaborating with Wilkin, James discovered much to his surprise, that the results were representative of the musical direction he wanted to head in all along. “I told Danny I wanted the music to sound like me,” says Edgar. “When you write with somebody else, you do take a part of them, too, but there are little touches and sprinkles on these songs that make them mine. It can be lonely writing on your own. It’s nice to be able to have someone to bounce ideas off, to have that validation. It’s very much a learning process. We’re both pretty headstrong, so we had our opinions. I wasn’t afraid of pitching him my ideas and he wasn’t afraid of saying no. We drew subconsciously from a well of different musicians.”
James began the sessions hoping to come out with an EP of four or five songs but ended up with eight and hoping more are on the way before they are released. “We want as many people to hear the music as possible,” he admits “but we want these songs to have longevity, which is why we’re taking our time. The object is to be able to go out and play them live. It’s not just about getting them on the radio but to have people listen to them over and over and over. It’s a more mature sound for me. It shows my growth as an artist.” His new band has even performed live in Blackpool and London.
From a very young age, James was encouraged to sing and play different instruments even with the awful noise he used to create around the house while trying, and failing, to play the violin. By the time he was nine, he played the part of Tiny Tim in a local ballet company’s production of A Christmas Carol at the Grand Theatre in Blackpool, an experience which gave him an early taste for the stage. “I was even paid what felt like a fortune at the time, £12 for four nights work!” he laughs. Throughout his school life, James would sing at concerts although he suffered from severe stage fright. When he learned to play the guitar and piano as a teenager that fear subsided as the instruments made him feel less alone in the spotlight. “The shackles were off,” he recalls.
James has been writing stories and poems since he was 15, with music helping to unlock the ability to express himself and his feelings. “As a typical teenager, I was angry at the world,” he confesses. “Writing reeled me in a little and gave me an outlet.” James learned how to play his first guitar, an old used nylon-stringed instrument, while his broken left hand, suffered in a rugby match, was healing. He grew up playing football, rugby and cricket, and still enjoys an occasional match but he realises it’s too much of a risk to his musical ambitions at this point.
Edgar’s major influences on guitar include Mark Knopfler (“I loved how melodic his solos were”) and Prince (“For his showmanship and style”), along with David Gilmour, John Mayer, Jimi Hendrix and Brian May. Still, Edgar’s own finger-picking style is uniquely his own, even in his covers. “Playing music by different kinds of artists has always been something I have enjoyed doing,” insists James. “I love so many genres of music and thought having the juxtaposition of old and new songs in different styles would showcase my love and appreciation for all kinds of music and in turn create something new and original.”
Edgar has become something of a local source of pride in his community, a fixture with his regular gigs at the Beach House and playing before 10,000 at the Lytham Proms Festival “less than 200 meters from my home.” He’s performed at the local iconic landmark Blackpool Tower (“Even though I’m terrified of heights”), and he’s also made a trip to New York, a “bucket list” dream come true where he performed original material before an appreciative audience at Rockwood Music Hall, an event that made him even more eager to continue his journey.
Having honed his musicianship and stage presence in bars and restaurants in front of friends and strangers alike, Edgar is ready to launch his own musical voice. “Making a transition like this is really a huge moment for me” he admits. “Throughout my adult life I always had a rough idea of how my musical career would go but I always knew there would be a time where I would perform my own original songs. I am craving something more and now it is time to share myself and my own stories. I waited until I was ready but thankfully that time has come and I can’t wait to share what I have been keeping to myself for so long. I am now in a fantastic place to fully delve into my feelings, my ideas and what I would like my music to feel and sound like. I have worked very hard to get my voice and my guitar work to a level where I can express myself. I intend to carve out songs and music that really represent who I am.”
In James’ words, “My songs reflect my feelings and emotions, but I will never put boundaries on where my music can go. I had no idea things would work out so well with Danny. He’s now a great friend. Writing with someone else has brought out what I always aspired to be”. When the music is ready, look for it on James Edgar’s Facebook page, where his fans have shown great support. “I wanted to create original music without an agenda, representing who I was” he says. “I could always write music and poetry but I needed someone to help me put them together, who could cherry-pick what I was saying and help me say it”.
For a young man who has spent his entire life in the coastal town where he grew up, James Edgar is ready to spread his wings and fly, finding his own voice, while learning the art of collaboration. James Edgar’s talent has already taken him from Lytham and Blackpool to London and New York City, and now it’s ready to launch him to the rest of the world.
-American Music Critic Roy Trakin, December 2015