James Canty is anything but your typical run of the mill artist. For starters he has the look of the eccentric about him which is helped by his trademark coon-skin cap. He has a captivating stage presence that I first came across when I saw him performing ‘Strange Times’; fuel injected folk with quick-fire lyrics, there is a touch of Guthrie in there as well. Anyhow, with a growing curiosity I approached James for an interview and he kindly obliged, but before that, watch him performing ‘Strange Times’.
James hails from my own home county of Essex, he adds “I was brought up in Billericay”, and to be sure the readers of this interview know where he’s talkin about he offers up this video of Ian Dury and the Blockheads performing…Billericay Dickie:
By now most of you that are regular listeners will have heard James singing Shark in the Shallows which is released as a limited edition 7″ (worth getting!). He sounds great but to get the real deal you need to see him live, his home isn’t the studio, it’s the stage…a born performer? “I started playing the guitar at 14, but there’s a video of me air-guitaring at about 7… from that I got into songwriting, but I have always loved performing.”
After watching the Ian Dury video you begin to see where some of his influences may have come from, Dury’s entertaining stage performance and clever lyrics are a definite influence, but not all his influences are obvious, far from it, he lists them off “Woody Guthrie, Ian Dury, Cohen, Jacques brel, The Radio ballads, Robin Pecknold, Radiohead, Pete Seeger…” The names read like a musical chronology from roots to the British pub rock scene of the mid-70s, a fine musical education!
Making the jump from air guitar to doing it for real normally entails some rite of passage that will remain inscribed on your brain for the remainder of your life, Canty is no exception: “I had to play ‘Wonderful Tonight‘ in the town hall on electric guitar… Eric Clapton, my mum loved it.” That experience in bringing entertainment to others played its part in sealing his fate and he continued to pursue music with more than just a passin interest leading to his first big break. “My first big music gig was a theatre, Quadrophenia that toured the UK for 6 months. I saw a lot of cities and people and this definitely was the basis of the first songs that started coming.”
James is releasing his latest EP through Smugglers Records a fitting label whose motto of “Smugglers Records is more than just a label, it’s a way of life” is more than just words on a piece of paper. They are an adventurous collective who are also home to the likes of Cocos Lovers, Tom Farrer and Will Varley. As well as gigs with Smugglers James also puts in other appearances around London. “I played Hidden Away Music which David Hatton puts on, a cool guy, and nice little night. Its down in Wimbledon on a Tuesday night at Berties Bar.” Now if that’s not an invitation to you all to go and pay them a visit then I don’t know what is, other players at Hidden Away Music have included Trent Miller, Jamie T and John O’Reilly who is also signed to Smugglers. He is also known to frequent Cecil Sharp house on Tuesdays…
With a new EP out he has a long road ahead with no rush to get to the end, at 22 years of age why would he? “I’m just gonna keep gigging and releasing double A sides I think. The single was the first step for me, and now I’m just gonna keep walking.”
James has made a number of festival appearances including the Leigh Free Folk Festival which he has played before. “I met Scroobius Pip last time and my old Banjo player Tom Paley played last year. I am also playing Winterwell Festival, we played krunk Fiesta in liverpool, Smugglers Festival and I think I’m playing at a vineyard in southern france at some point.” I push him for a favourite…”The Cambridge Folk festival used to be, and Greenman. But I haven’t been to enough small festivals. I like gigs a lot better, I saw Randy Newman in February at the Royal Festival Hall, just him and a piano. Magic.”
I’m looking forward to his long string of double A sides, long may they continue!
James Canty Recommends:
Jonas Alaska and Mikhael Paskalev over in Norway. Greenwhich Tea Party, Jacob Berry from Blackburn, Douglas Dare from Dorset. Like Spinning, Anna Lena and the Orchids are another two songwriters from Norway. All very visionary with acoustic guitars…
Dead Prez – Let’s get Free. Better late than never. Good music.
Also jacques Brel – Brel. His songs are thrilling.
Last book you read?
Last book was Brave New World. Better late than never again. The kid in it turned me on to shakespeare properlly, going down to the Roundhouse tonight…. I hope it doesn’t go completely over my head.