Self-deprecation runs deep and so with his new greatest hits record at hand, the man who has sold 23 million albums, won two Brit Awards and two Ivor Novellos as well as receiving five Grammy Award nominations, thought he’d have some fun.
James reflects: “Amazingly, I’m releasing my Greatest Hits. I wanted to call it Greatest Hit (& Songs I Wish You’d Heard), but the good people at Atlantic Records suggested I call it something more sensible, so it’s called The Stars Beneath My Feet.”
Blunt has enjoyed a remarkable career and is indifferent that he is pilloried as much as he’s praised. He doesn’t mind the derision from some. Rather than taking it on the chin, he turns unpleasantness around and makes other people the butt of the joke.
Blunt’s greatest hits record coincides with a run of arena shows. He visits Birmingham Resorts World on Thursday, February 10, during a string of dates that takes in some of the UK’s largest venues.
“The wonderful thing about the greatest hits tour is that I don’t have to concentrate on trying to flog new music to the audience. They just want what they heard on the radio, so we’re all on the same page with these shows.”
Among the string of hit singles, The Stars Beneath My Feet (2004-2021) will also include four new songs: Love Under Pressure, Unstoppable, Adrenaline & I Came For Love, as well as four exclusive live performances from around the world, including the Glastonbury Festival. It also features stunning tracks from his recent Gold-selling album Once Upon A Mind, including Cold, and the heartbreaking ballad for his father, Monster.
There’s another joke: ”If you’d ever wished that James Blunt had only ever released one album – this is that album. It’s 30 awesome songs, including live performances from Glastonbury and elsewhere, and four new songs. To celebrate its release, I’ll be heading out to tour the world. I can’t wait to see people.”
James’ classic 2004 debut album Back To Bedlam, was recently named as one of the top ten best-selling albums of that decade, and with Once Upon A Mind, James Blunt reinforced his reputation for writing honest, emotional songs that people can easily relate to. The album marked a return to what James Blunt does best – writing classic songs that touch both the heart and the head. Another side of James - his wit and charm - have in recent times been showcased via his always engaging Twitter account.
Once Upon A Mind was a pivotal record. “We’d just found out that my Dad was ill. He’s got stage four kidney disease and he needed a transplant. I wasn’t a match and he was on the waiting list. It was a massive moment for us as a family. He’s a man who didn’t drink or smoke, he was very fit and suddenly he had to face his own mortality. That really spurred me on to write.
“At the same time, I had a new and very young family and a wife and I was constantly having to leave them behind on these huge tours. When I saw the circle of life happening right in front of me, it really gave me focus. I needed to get in the studio right away.”
That cycle was broken by Covid. Blunt had been a month into a year-long tour when he and his band were sent home. They’ve barely been out since, marking a two-year hiatus for the first time since his 2004 breakthrough.
Not that he feels hard done by in the way that some others do. Blunt is refreshingly down to earth and has a good sense of perspective. He realises he’s living a dream that few attain.
“I’ve been really lucky in my job in that I signed a record deal for five albums and they extended that to six and now they’ve done a greatest hits. I realise how lucky I am. We put celebrities, actors and musicians on this pedestal. We think they are a big deal and they take themselves quite seriously. But if we look at what the pandemic has done, we realise that things have been the wrong way round.
“During the pandemic, entertainers were designated non-essential, which is really rather wonderful. Essential workers now are farmers and lorry drivers and supermarket workers who stack those shelves. We are court jesters.
“So I am hugely pleased to be in this position. I was on my sixth world tour in 2020 when the pandemic hit. We were a month into it and everyone headed home. I started looking back. I’d not stopped touring for 17 years. It was a moment to reflect. The record deal was over and I thought I was being fired because that was at an end. But instead they said it would be a good time to put out the greatest hits. It wasn’t just about the songs it was also about the best performances. There’s a package of songs that I’m thrilled to have released.”
The art of Blunt’s music has been simple – he makes a direct connection with his listeners. Articulating the emotions that each of us feel, he’s been able to wrap up songs about love and loss in simple refrains.
“The more open you are with yourself, the more an audience will connect with those songs. The moment you start you start to think about what an audience wants to hear, you lose your integrity. For me, it’s always been about being honest.”
He tends to release a new record every two or three years, giving him enough time to jet off around the world once more while doing plenty of living.
“Normally I need to go out and live a bit of a life and have a bit of fun. I need to experience the good times and then I come home and write about it. on my last album, I went home and wrote about my father. To me, it was a magical moment to say to my father that I loved him.”
Finding a direct connection with his fans fills him with joy. He never tires of being able to express the way he and others feel.
“The magic of music in the first place is that we can come from different countries, religions and sexualities but we share common human emotion, which is captured in music. That’s why I love what I do as a touring musician. All these shoulders of the people in the audience stand shoulder to shoulder with us. People are united in those emotions.”
There are many musicians who bemoan the tedium of touring; of hotels and motels, of flights and long journeys, of being away from loved ones and being too close to bandmates. Not Blunt. He relishes the opportunity to expand his horizons and soak up new experiences.
“It’s terrible to say but I think touring is the best job in the world. I have such fun. I sleep on a tour bus with my band and crew. There are two tour buses and five crew. That bus never runs out of beer. We travel round the world and see amazing places for people who’ve very kindly brought tickets. What’s not to love?
“It’s a joy. I missed it over the past two years. I definitely missed it and I am excited to be going back on the road. I’d been lying to my wife and saying I’d be taking a year out and I never really meant it. But, yes, it was great to go home during the pandemic and see things I didn’t know existed, like my children.”
He’s mixed it at the highest level, touring with such stars as Elton John and Ed Sheeran as well as numerous solo tours of his own.
“I’m very lucky to have toured with Elton John and Ed Sheeran. They are the people who have influenced me the most. They are remarkable. I work with my mates in the band too. It’s not just about me. It’s about the whole party. I’m just the squeaky voice at the front.”
Few might have put Blunt down as being one of Britain’s most enduring singer/songwriters. The man who enjoyed a colossal, life-changing hit with You’re Beautiful and whose debut album achieved 10 platinum discs has, however, endured.
“I don’t know how I felt at the start. The dreams and reality are things I can remember any more. When I left the Army I just wanted to have a go at being a professional musician to see where it took me. As a child I had dreams that I’d be playing arenas and I’m playing them now.”
He is indeed. A busy and exciting year is in prospect – and Blunt is simply happy to keep going.
“When the label called me up to say the deal was over, I thought that was it. But then they called and asked me to sign up for a new deal to release more records. So I’m still in with a gig. The misery and pain is not yet over.”
And he laughs, again, at another joke at his own expense.