Intrepid interviewer Carl Marsh feared an outbreak of diva drama when he was kept waiting by X-Factor graduate turned pop-rock arena-filler James Arthur. Turned out it was just technological gremlins, and the ‘Boro boy – who plays Cardiff in March – was nice as pie and twice as polite.
Rumoured to have a reputation of being a bit difficult, I find myself waiting for over 10 minutes talking to two PR staff, as James Arthur still hasn’t connected to his Zoom link. Then, finally, he appears. Visible behind him is a room I can only describe as palatial. He immediately quashes such rumours: “Really sorry that I am late! My apologies! I’m having Wi-Fi troubles now I’ve moved in…”
This place looks a million miles away from the humble Middlesbrough bedsit Arthur had before his X-Factor success in 2012, although in a literal sense it’s only a short distance from it. So why did the singer leave London to return to the town of his birth?
“I’ve been in London for the last 10 years or so, but it feels like the right time to move home, to be honest.”
Did COVID and lockdowns have anything to do with the decision?
“Yeah, COVID definitely accelerated that whole idea. I’ve rented places whenever I’ve come up north, but that can become a bit of a ballache – I was definitely on the lookout for a forever home up here. It was a case of finding the right spot, and luckily this house cropped up. I think lockdown showed us all that we can be anywhere really, and still be able to work.”
Arthur’s fourth album It’ll All Make Sense In The End came out in late 2021, preceding a UK tour this March. His debut was self-titled, the second implied redemption (2016’s Back From The Edge), and the third, 2019’s You, I can only presume was about the fans. So what’s the story behind this latest title?
James takes a moment to think. “Well, similarly to Back From The Edge, I found myself in a difficult patch. It was different, in the sense that when I was writing Back From The Edge I was trying to… make a comeback – trying to save my life, in a way – and it was a very redemption-themed album.
“With this [new] one, I’d got to a pretty shit place, to be honest. It was like therapy – it saved me, in the sense that it was the thing that I used to channel the energy that I was feeling at that time. So, it does feel like a moment in time, both lyrically and sonically, as it was all made from my house. I was just doing a lot of reflecting.”
James tells me that he’d written this new album over “a very intense three months of writing, maybe a song a day,” at the back end of 2020. He had wanted the album out sooner, in the early part of 2021, but made the decision to delay.
“I wanted to put out as many songs as I could, as I had a lot of visual ideas for the music videos and I wanted them to have their own moment. I’m lucky to have a big YouTube following, so I wanted to share a lot on there because I hadn’t made a hell of a lot of music videos, even though I’ve been around for a long time. I think my music lends itself quite well to visuals and is possibly cinematic in a way.”
The only issue he didn’t foresee was that the eventual release would be “slap bang in the middle of releases by Ed Sheeran and Adele! Still, I’m in the fight, but that’s something I love, mate.”
Once this interview got underway, it was your writer who suffered intermittent Wi-Fi issues: no complaints from James, but I felt obliged to apologise at the end. “No problem at all. I was 10 minutes late, so we’re even!” Anyone expecting James Arthur to be difficult, then – think again…
James Arthur, Motorpoint Arena Cardiff, Fri 11 Mar. Tickets: £29.50-£45. Info: here
words CARL MARSH
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