Meet James Wood- the British musician living in France
James Wood was born and raised in Sheffield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. His dad worked for the Social Security and his mum was a teacher. His grandfather, on his dad´s side was a grinder in the steel industry and his mum´s family had origins in Scotland where the family spent most of their holidays. James has one brother, Richard, who is a private detective and his sister, Jane, is a priest.
– I first became interested in music when I heard Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joni Mitchell and of course, Fairport Convention. I was a great fan and still am, of Led Zeppelin, Genesis and Pink Floyd, to name a few. There was so much going on at the end of the sixties and beginning of the seventies! I came to the Beatles a little later.
James tells about how he ”stole” his sister’s guitar and taught himself how to play by copying from records and ”of course with a little help from my friends”. He had had a few piano lessons before, so he knew a little about chords and harmony.
He started his first band at school, playing the bass and began the working men´s club circuit with another band at the age of sixteen. James started to write songs and his goal was to sing and accompany himself on the guitar.
-My main instrument is the acoustic guitar but I also play the electric guitar, the bass and keyboards.
Physics – another passion
-I went to university in Newcastle to study Physics, which is my other passion. While there, I joined a student band called The 45s and we made some recordings on an 8 track reel to reel which we sent off to London. Surprisingly we got a deal and zoomed off to London to record a single. This was 1979. The single was a success and got much radio play, so I took the decision to leave university and move to London. Then followed three years of intense gigging, playing at all the clubs and pubs in the city and several tours around the country.
James left the band and moved to France to be with his girlfriend. He decided to give the music a rest for a while and became an English teacher and went to evening school to study Physics.
-This was in Paris and my daughter Helena was born there in 1984. We left Paris for Nantes and I got a job in an electronics firm but when the company went bust, I decided to try my hand at the music again. I joined several bands and toured in France extensively.
In 2000, James went back to university in Nantes and did a degree in Physics. His intention was to continue and do a Master’s degree, but the tragedy of his daughter Helena who died in 2004, put a stop to the studies.
In 2016, the album The Last Journey was released. This album is his first album as a solo artist. The album is dedicated to his daughter, Helena, who tragically died in a car accident in Brisbane, Australia, where she was studying at Queensland university. James says that this project come to mind, when on the plane coming back from Australia, that he wanted to dedicate an album to his daughter. But it took many years before he could write anything. The first song he wrote was The Last Journey.
-When the songs were ready, I asked Gerry Conway (drums), Dave Pegg (bass) and Chris Leslie (violin and mandolin, all from Fairport Convention), if they would like to take part in the recording and they very kindly agreed. I recorded in my own studio, Woodland, in Nantes, France. Gerry came over and recorded all the tracks in one day! So did Dave, who came down from his place in Brittany. Chris recorded in Blue Moon Studios, Oxfordshire and sent me some great violin and mandolin. Chris Short, from The Churchfitters, did some lovely violin and mandolin which we recorded at his home in St Malo. Jacqui McShee did some great backing vocals which were recorded at Fairport member, Ric Sanders´back garden rehearsal room! The picture on the cover is of my daughter, in a park close to my home in Nantes, in 2002.
James Wood says that ”each of the songs is either about Helena or my attempts to come to terms with her absence, but I hope that the album is not a downer. I tried very hard to avoid writing songs of complaint or self pity. I believe I succeeded, but you will be the judge of that! Many thanks to all who helped me finish this album, an album which has helped me to face up to my loss and to share my love for Helena!”
-I work now as a full time musician and studio engineer. I have my own little studio in Nantes. I play in the Pat O´May Band as a guitarist, keyboard player and singer. I also have a group with some friends called Rosemary and the Brainless Idols, in which I play bass and sing. We are recording an album at the moment, which is planned to be ready by October. All the songs were co-written by the five of us together and the main themes are Physics, Astrophysics and Science Fiction! Most of my studio work is recording voice overs, sound effects and music for films and animation films for museums.
The Excalibur Project – one highlight in the career
James met Alan Simon in Nantes, at the beginning of the nineties. Alan had just come back from the Seychelles where he had recorded an album of songs by a French singer called Jean-Michel Caradec. Some of the guitar parts were badly recorded and needed to be redone. He then asked James to help him record his other albums which were for kids.
-In 1996, he told me about his project Excalibur. He wanted to do an album with lots of famous people – it was an amazing idea! I thought he was mad! We did the demos together and I wrote a co-wrote some of the tracks. He started getting people interested and even managed to get Rodger Hodgson! He met up with Dan Ar Braz, who had become very famous in France and Dan suggested contacting Fairport Convention, who he had played with in the seventies. So in 1997, Alan and I drove to Oxfordshire, to meet Dave Pegg, who welcomed us as Dave does, with open arms. The album was a success and went Gold. The first gig was in Rennes in 1999. It was recorded live and ws released as an album and DVD. Other gigs followed including Bercy in Paris, in front of 10 000 people. Then we did an album called Gaia, followed closely by Excalibur 2 and Excalibur 3 and Anne de Bretagne, which was performed in the courtyard of Nantes castle and recorded live. This was released as a DVD, too. We did extensive tours in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, playing at arenas in front of 5 000 people a night. The last gig we did was Anne de Bretagne in Nantes. Alan Simon has now moved on to other things.
James says that these gigs were probably the greatest happenings of his career, because of the sheer numbers of people, but it was also fantastic to meet so many people like the Fairports, Jacqui McShee, Maddy Prior, Martin Barre, Rodger Hodgson, John Helliwell, Les Holroyd, Billy Preston, Anggun and many more.
James has also performed at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, a couple of times.
-I´ve been attending Cropredy every year since 2000, except of course, 2004. Being on stage there is wonderful!
-Another great thing was being able to finish my album which I´d been working on for so long. Because it was very personal, it was difficult to write. Most of the album was recorded in my studio.
You can order this album at:
Listen to James Wood at youtube:
Inger´s personal reflections of the album The Last Journey:
This is a very personal and beautiful solo album from James Wood. It is dedicated to his daughter Helena, who died tragically in a car accident in Brisbane, Australia, in 2004. On the way back from Australia, the idea of dedicating an album to her, come to mind. Though it took many years before James Wood was capable to start recording it. It was ready in 2016.
James Wood has written all the 12 beautiful songs on the album. There is a constant thread through the album where I can feel the struggle of survival – but never give up! – the love which remains forever, the the pain but also always hope, the fear and the forever missing of a family member and the continuing longing …..
The album has also a a very beautiful melodic thread. The lyrics are sensitive, soft and lovely. Sometimes I feel a bit melancholic, listening to this lovely music and brilliant musicians and friends of James Wood. But there is also comfort and hope on this album which makes it to a very nice album that you can listen to more than once! The more I listen to it, the more I like and appreciate The Last Journey!