Interview With James J. Turner originally published by Liverpool Acoustic on May 6th 2013. The interview can be seen on www.liverpoolacoustic.co.uk
James J Turner took time out from recording and mixing his next album and preparing for his gig with Radical Liverpool this weekend to talk to Liverpool Acoustic’s Ian D. Hall.
You’re going to be playing at the Casa soon?
James: “Yes, it’s on Saturday, 11 May, Cup Final Day!”
Is it something that you’ve been looking forward to?
James: “I’m looking forward to it a lot, I really support the things that people from Liverpool stand for, and I love the fact that it’s just going to be me on my own playing with my acoustic guitar. I’ve been doing a lot of work and gigs like that recently. It’s quite a challenge but I love it. In other words, if I stop playing, the music stops. It’s about as organic as you can get. I think for a singer/songwriter, it’s really where it’s at. I go back into the studio this afternoon, I’m finishing my album and mixing it, that’s wonderful, but when you’re standing there with your acoustic guitar and you’re just singing and people are watching, that’s the most important for me as a singer/songwriter.”
Is it daunting doing that sort of gig by yourself?
James: “It’s an array of emotions, because it is daunting but you need to overcome that and walk up there and stand there and do it, I always find though that the people are so warm and lovely that all of a sudden, the thing happens where there’s no audience and no you, it all melds into one thing and that’s the wonderful point for me. If you have something to say, you have to avoid being patronising but I do like to have something to say in my songs. People know it any way; I’m not saying anything revelationary or even revolutionary! It’s just that my job if you want to put it that way is that the only thing I can do properly is to play guitar and sing these wonderful songs that come from me and through me. There’s a lot of spiritual belief in what I do, which is based on the bardic and druidic traditions. That’s a main driver for me.”
How long have you been playing then?
James: “I’ve been on the road since I was nine years old! I did have a day job though until my early 20’s, I mean it’s quite ironic in that those people who run the Casa worked on the docks, I did too. I worked on cranes and all sorts of stuff when I was younger.”
Where you there when the casual labour was still being selected on a daily basis?
James: “I was there when all that was happening but it had mostly been sorted out by then. I was there when the Seaforth Dock opened with all the containers and that changed a lot how we all worked. It was inevitable that it was going to happen. For argument’s sake, my great-grandfather worked on the docks and he was there when they selected the workers each day and the rest were sent home. The Casa is owned by ex-Dockers, so it’s going to be a very interesting playing my songs like Gone Away, it’s going to be a ‘coals to Newcastle’ trip for me.”
Do you not find that Liverpool’s acoustic scene is so much more different from the rest of the country? It has this in-built social structure to it?
James: “It does, I was put under a lot of pressure recently, people said I was a protest singer, you know, people have to put a badge on you, it’s cool though. I also like to think that I do stuff about human politics too. I like to do that and I find that it’s coming round more now because of the humanity involved and it’s not just about ‘I love you, you don’t love me’ there’s a lot more than that going on. When I travel round, I think it was in Farnham in Surrey, there were a load of acts on and they were all brilliant but why the same politics going on? We all feel the same, so I found that very interesting. It’s almost like the punk movement. You see I believe that The Clash were a folk band! I just think that folk music is by the people for the people and it should reflect the times that we live in. I saw The Clash many times when they first came round, in fact I met Joe Strummer in the summer of 1974 when he was in the One-o-Oners but that’s another story altogether! I thought, what is this guy doing with this band? So, it’s a bit like the punk rock scene before it became all Carnaby Street, like Mathew Street was before The Beatles. I sense a lot of the acoustic music scene happening now but I don’t like pushing it down people’s throats because we’re not soft are we? We know what’s going down. So I’m just trying to stand there and sing my songs, everyone knows what I’m singing about and it’s my gig and I’m going to do it.”
How do you feel about the younger generation of acoustic performers in Liverpool?
James: “They need to make their own message, their own point, don’t they? I think there’s a lot of pressure on acoustic musicians now, like there always is in the music business. I find that it’s very genre-specific, don’t stray outside the genre and all that. The really sad thing is that if you don’t do that as a conscious thing, you’re never going to get any radio plays, you won’t exist but if you deliberately do it then you can been seen to be faking it. The second you start to fake it; you may as well not be doing it. You become pointless and everyone will realise that there’s no real substance in there. It’s a really fine balance. One of the things I was amazed by was the response I got to my music. I didn’t quite know how to respond. I could have died in the water but they loved it, the radio picked up and played my songs and I thought it was huge compliment.”
I listen or read first to get my own ideas about something then I’ll look at other reviews, I don’t want anything colouring my opinions.
James: “That’s the best way, otherwise it will programme the way you deal with something. You picked up on Gone Away. It’s a bizarre song, if you believe in reincarnation as I do; I believe that we meet time and time again in different places. Surely the real great ones don’t just get to a point in their lives, surely they come back. For argument’s sake, when John met Paul within a mile of each other, when Mick met Keith, strange individual human beings – how did this happen, how did Muddy Waters exist? These are great people, they aren’t just going to go away, they are going to come back time and time again. It’s like King Arthur and the whole mythology thing. I would love to believe that King Arthur really existed but I think he’s a little bit of a folk myth, that people can draw energy from when they need it. I love Snowdon, I love the mountain and I can’t wait to get up there and you’re up in that environment, it’s very easy to believe that Merlin’s just around the corner! How wonderful would that be?”
On your last album, you’ve got the great Vicky Mutch playing cello on there! You’re a very lucky man!
James: “Aren’t I lucky? She’s an amazing and lovely person. It was a conscious decision to have her play, I’ve known her work with the Mono LPs but I know she can play very differently to that stuff. She’s classically trained and she knows what she’s doing but she’s highly musical with a pop sensibility. I was recommended to try her out as soon as I saw her walk in the room we just hit it off and she’s going to be working on my next record as well. You know what it’s like when you get musicians who come into a room and you can’t tell them what to play because you’re doomed if you try that, you may as well play it yourself. You’re best off just letting that person come in and do what they are there to do; otherwise you’re not getting the best out of them.”
You’ve also got Henry Priestman from The Christians on the album.
James: “He’s a great guy and a very talented writer. He’s an extremely quirky English musician, he does this squeezebox thing and it’s him coming out of that! Henry’s going to be doing more stuff for me as well. He’s reinvented himself as an acoustic artist. I knew him in The Yachts – I’m so old!”
What can people expect with the new album then?
James: “This new album, there’s a lot of human spiritual searching in there. I wrote it very quickly and I didn’t realise what I was doing and then of a sudden when I was listening to the songs I thought this is more human politics, looking for a purpose and a meaning, it’s me asking myself questions as much as anything else. There’s still the social commentary, it’s going to be a bit more of the same but it will be raucous live and everyone is playing live on it, drums are being played in the same room so it’s still going to be me but happily it will change a little bit as well. So there’s an extra dimension in there.”
Will you be doing any of the new tracks at the Casa gig?
James: “I’ve been practising two of them, I’m definitely going to do a song I love called Watching You which is about the surveillance society that we live in now, how it mirrors back on us, how we perceive it and how we act when we know we’re being watched. Are we really on t.v. or are we not?
© 2013 Ian D Hall – Liverpool Acoustic & Liverpool Sound and Vision liverpoolsoundandvision.co.uk
James J Turner
James will be playing at Radical Liverpool at The Casa on Hope Street on Saturday 11th May 2013. Doors open at 7.30pm and the event starts at 8.00pm. This event is free, and a hat is passed round for donations to the musicians. More details here.