James Blunt is back in Yorkshire next month. Chris Bond talked to him about a music career that shows no sign of slowing down.
JAMES Blunt has been described as the Marmite of the pop world –you either love him or loath him.
There may be a kernel of truth in that but you suspect that someone whose global album sales are north of 20 million and who’s amassed a staggering 625 million views on YouTube is comfortable enough in his own skin not to be precious about such things.
His latest album, The Afterlove, was released in March and now he’s about to embark on a whistlestop tour that comes to the First Direct Arena in Leeds next month - one of just seven dates in the UK.
It reunites him with Yorkshire, a county he says he has a genuine fondness for. “I used to live in Strensall. I was there for a couple of years when I was younger. York was the nearest big city,” he says.
“There was an army range there and when it wasn’t being used we would run about there. The countryside around there was incredible.”
That was long before he became a pop star. Since then he’s completed a string of world tours, enjoyed four number one singles and won more music awards than you would care to shake a stick at, including Grammys, Brits and a couple of Ivor Novellos.
For The Afterlove, his follow-up to 2013’s Moon Landing, he wanted something a little bit different. “I was looking out at the Burning Man Festival in Nevada. It was 5.30 in the morning and I wasn’t entirely sober and I felt I needed to do something special for my next album.”
He spent two years working on his new album writing more than a hundred songs in the process. “I didn’t just want to repeat what I’d done in the past.”
And he’s pleased with the end result. “It’s exciting and diverse… it’s one man and a guitar. I think they’re some of the best and most beautiful songs I’ve ever written.”
Blunt’s path to fame and fortune has been an unusual one. His father was a colonel in the British Army Corps and Blunt spent his childhood living in Cyprus, Germany, Hampshire and Yorkshire and started writing songs as a teenager.
Blunt went to school in Harrow and after studying sociology at Bristol University he completed his education at Sandhurst, home to the Royal Military Academy.
He spent six years in the army and served as an armoured reconnaissance officer during the Balkans conflict, before leaving in 2002 to pursue his musical career.
Elvis Presley famously put his music on hold in order to join the army, Blunt did it the other way round. Though, as he points out, he’s not the first. “I’m following the same path as Jimi Hendrix, it’s a well trodden route.”
Back on civvy street Blunt was snapped up by Custard Records and travelled to Los Angeles to record Back to Bedlam (he stayed with the late Carrie Fisher who suggested the album title).
He then burst onto the music scene in the late summer of 2005 when you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing the ubiquitous song You’re Beautiful.
The hit single became the soundtrack to countless first dances at weddings up and down the land and lit the touchpaper of his music career.
His debut album Back to Bedlam proved to be an astonishing success, selling 17 million copies worldwide, spawning two of his biggest hits to date – You’re Beautiful and Goodbye My Lover.
Fame, however, can be a fickle mistress as he found to his cost in 2008 when he was voted more irritating than traffic wardens. Ouch.
Just two years earlier he’d picked up the best pop act and best male solo artist at the prestigious Brit Awards.
You might think he would be tired of endlessly playing his big hits whenever he’s on tour, but he insists the opposite is true.
“People who buy tickets for concerts want to hear the songs they know and it’s a pleasure for me to play those songs.”
Nor does he take his success for granted. “I left the army in 2002 and started doing this. It’s been an amazing ride and I’m incredibly lucky to be doing something I love.”
James Blunt plays the First Direct Arena, in Leeds, on November 18.