A rocker from the Black Country with strong roots in the Birmingham music scene, James Harbidge has been playing, writing and producing for over twenty years with over 1 million streams/views of his music. He has always had a love of production. Finding a home in fellow Birmingham band The Twang’s studio space enabled James to hone his craft, often working with and learning from producer Gavin Monaghan (The Editors, Ocean Colour Scene) which eventually led to him engineering JAWS debut album in 2014.
He found a slot in his heavy schedule, promoting his debut solo album 'First Ray Of Light', to speak to us at 3 Songs And Out.
Thanks for taking time out to talk with us at 3 Songs & Out and congratulations on 'First Ray Of Light', it is quite an album. So why 'First Ray Of Light', what led you to that title?
A lot of the songs on the album come from a dark place and the title 'First Ray Of Light' is that little bit of hope, the seeds of a new beginning. However bad things get there is always something good to come out of it, however, that may take a lot of searching for.
That makes sense as the album seems to deal with a lot of dark subjects, but in a positive way. What would you like the listener to take away with them?
I just want people to enjoy the songs for what they are and if they feel a connection then that’s a bonus.
If a song like 'Learn To Love The Rain' helps someone with the grieving process then that song has done its job. If it doesn’t and people just like to sing along to it then it has also done its job. I guess if there is an underlying theme it is that however bad things get there is always something good around the corner. Some just have to wait longer than others to find it.
The sound is very different from that of your former band, Third Bullet, what made you go alone and in a different direction?
I have always been passionate about two styles of music, Grunge and Americana. Third Bullet satisfied the Grunge urge and when that came to an end I still had the Americana itch that needed scratching.
Matt from Third Bullet played drums on 7 of the 10 tracks on 'First Ray Of Light' and Ste co wrote a track and also helps me out playing bass live from time to time.
You have had dealings with major and indie record labels and your music has been used in a Harley Davidson advert and sporting events. Did you ever feel like giving up, and what kept you keep going?
Music is in my blood. I can’t stop writing. I have tried to put the guitar down and do other things but I just can’t do it. If I am away from the guitar for any period of time I start to get the shakes. The music business, as it was, was impossible to break in to unless you had connections. We banged on many doors and had a few little breaks. It’s enough to knock you down and keep you down but when you believe in music so much nothing will keep you down for long. I keep saying this next song will be my last but then I write another. I have already written the second album and have started writing songs for a third.
What were your musical influences and what are they now?
As a pre teen my dad always played Black Sabbath, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and The Beatles in the house. I just always remember loving music. I still love those bands. The band that got me wanting to play guitar was Iron Maiden. I saw 'Can I Play With Madness?' on Top Of The Pops when I was 9 and something just ignited in me. I made my dad take me to Woolworths that day to buy the 7” single and a guitar soon followed. In my teens it was all about Pearl Jam, Wolfsbane and Little Angels. They were my go to bands for a long time.
Since 2001 Ryan Adams has replaced Maiden as my musical obsession. I first heard him when I picked up a free sampler CD from HMV in Nottingham and 'Rescue Blues' was on there and it reignited that flame that Iron Maiden had ignited over a decade earlier. I love everything Adams puts out and have seen him more times than I can remember
'Learn To Love The Rain', has a real Beatles feel with the Mellotron, was that intentional?
The Mellotron was 100% down to my keys player, Pete Larkin. In my head I wanted the standard Americana sounding organ. I sent the track to Pete, expecting organ to come back but I played the track and there was the Mellotron. It wasn’t what I expected at all and for a split second I thought of saying re do it but the pull of the Beatles vibe was too much. I absolutely love it and I think it gives the album that little bit of a surprise element.
'Turn The Screw' has had a good reception, how excited are you at the release of 'First Ray Of Light'?
Yes it’s had a great reception. It’s one of my favourite songs on the album. I am very excited about the release but also nervous. I guess it’s the insecure person inside that is saying what if it gets released and nothing happens, nobody buys it? I am a very positive person but of late the negative is coming in to play a bit more. I guess it’s the not knowing.
I am sure that your positivity will come back once it goes on sale. The lead single 'Turn The Screw' seems to be very relevant today, I take it you are not a fan of the establishment?
What makes you say that? ;)
The beginnings of that song were in the “financial collapse” around 2008. I was furious that these so called “institutions” could just take people’s money, destroy businesses, take peoples homes and get away with it. To my knowledge only Iceland has tried and sentenced bankers for their crimes. It then got me thinking about the illegal war in Iraq and that came into play in the first verse. The world is a shit place for a lot of people right now and the governments of this world are making it worse but it seems the people who are most effected aren’t motivated enough to do anything about it or if they are we don’t get to her about it, if you know what I mean?
We know exactly what you mean. The video has 3 fine looking men in it, however if you were to replace the drummer and bassist with any musicians, living or dead, who would complete the ensemble?
Yeah, you could say an Americana boy band! Without a second thought McCartney would be on bass. In my opinion he was as great a bass player as he was song writer.
Drums..... that’s a tricky one. It would be Bonham for any Rock band but for this I would have to say Dallas Taylor. By far one of the most underrated drummers ever. He’s played on many of my favourite tracks.
One of my favourite tracks is 'A Side Of You That Cares' which seems to be about trying to get to a person who is closed with depression. It is beautifully put together and a song that I just got lost in. Is it born from experience?
Wow, thanks, you are bang on!! I have to say this is my favourite song on the album and the one my PR guy Steve picked out on his second listen and come to think of it my bass player Andy Hill picked this out as his fave on his second listen.
This song was probably the first song written for the album. It’s not that commercial a song because the M8 just brings the whole song right down. I had a guy in the industry listen to it and he said “I don’t get it, the song just dies after the second chorus” I guess he didn’t get it. To me that whole instrumental section makes the song. You are right though. This song is from experience. Life is a funny thing and it deals you some strange cards but if I hadn’t been dealt the cards I had this whole album wouldn’t have been written. There’s always a positive to every negative, the theme of the album
Who wants commercial anyway? I agree the instrumental makes the track stand out. Are you looking forward to getting on the road and playing the album to a live audience?
I am very much looking forward to gigging this record. As we speak I have just finished 10 or so dates at the coffee chain Caffè Nero. That was a great experience. At one of the gigs in London I had a guy come up to me in tears after I played a song inspired by a Second World War poet. I really wasn’t expecting that and I was really moved, I couldn’t believe a song I wrote had connected on that kind of level.
I’m really looking forward to the festival season next year. I have a few booked already but I am desperate, no, keen to play The Long Road Festival. That was a fantastic festival. So if your listening Baylen I’m available!!!!
What can we expect from a J R Harbidge gig, apart from a bigger band to play all those instruments in some of the songs?
Great question. I have a great band behind me at the moment; Mark Bates on drums, Pete Larkin on keys, Alex Dengate on guitar and Andy Hill / Ste Busby on bass. If it comes to a tour I will probably get some gospel singers in. I will play the majority of the album. I have a second album already to record so I will be playing some of those songs and at the moment we are playing 'New York' by Ryan Adams.
I spent years in a covers band so if the crowds want more and the venues are open to an old fashioned lock in I can play covers for well over 2 hours, from Green Day to the Cure, Smiths, Jam, Queen, Beatles and loads of Brit Pop.
Well let's hope for a lock in then! Finally what's next for you? We at 3 Songs and Out hope that its a second album, because 'I Know You Know I Know' left us wanting more.
Ha!! "I Know You Know I Know" is my "Alabama". Whilst writing this album I was conscious there was no electric rocker on it and I loved that Neil Young had stuck "Alabama" on the end of his album "Harvest". It's a full band rocker at the end of a really mellow acoustic album.
The second album is similar to this one but the third I would like to make full electric.
Good luck with the album, if our opinion counts for anything, you won't need luck, the music speaks for itself.
Thats very kind. I just hope enough people hear it. It's easier than ever to release a record these days but it's very difficult to get it heard.
You won't need to wait to long as 'First Ray Of Light' is released on the 5th October. Keep your eyes peeled on 3 Songs & Out as we will be posting a review of the album very shortly. For those of you that cannot wait, here is a taster for you as James has just released a video for 'When You Don't Love Your Man'.
Website - Www.jrharbidge.com
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/jrharbidge/
Interview - Tony Creek