I meet James Jamp in Quevedo, a circular plaza just north of the city centre. The Glorieta is named after Francisco de Quevedo, a poet and writer that was a humanitarian, a wit, and man of letters. James is a man who has a similar human approach to his art and music. Over a caña, he tells me his story. He talks with a confidence taken from several years working as a recording & performing musician and music teacher, and over the course of the interview he shows himself to be an engaging and charming interviewee, with a lot of interesting insights into what it is like to be a musician in Madrid.
The Interview: Meeting James
He came to Madrid after securing a music residency at Medialab Prado, working within the European Commission’s ‘Arts across Boarders’ program which helps people suffering from the affects of the economic crisis. He pitched the idea of a collaborative music composition project offered for free. James tailored the idea further, as he explains, ‘This was a project for people to come and actively compose music in a central place. I deliberately scheduled the projects access times during working hours so that the only people who could apply were those who weren’t working’. It resulted in various collaborations, the most successful being between James, an Italian classical guitarist, and a Spanish film composer, which you can listen to here. ‘Creating this song was a very organic process, we just jammed together to see what music we could produce and the song came together from these jams’. They came up with a piece of music that reflected all of their diverse styles.
This organic germination is not alien to this British artist, he feels a song should come naturally and he generally doesn’t like spending longer than an hour on composing the main idea of a song. It is one of the reasons why he hasn’t written a song in Spanish yet.
‘At this time, I feel that writing a song in Spanish would be too forced’. He remains, however, committed to integrating himself into Spanish culture and learning the language because he feels it shows a sign of respect for the country he’s living in.
As I take notes on the bar counter, it’s obvious that James is conscientious and that he has a spiritual approach to his music. This could be because he has been involved with many music projects and has** toured many countries**, exposing himself to all styles of music. He first picked up a guitar at 12, and played in various bands back in the UK. He has also released a number of dance tracks under his electronica moniker ‘Cogent’. You can visit the website here. The name reflects his viewpoints over music, with composing electronica music being more of a clinical process for James as it comes from the head. The guitar comes from the heart, and his guitar based songs are more personal though the lyrics are ‘coded’, as he puts it, meaning that it might not be immediately apparent what his lyrics are referring to in his life.
He is a man ruled by his head and his heart, having studiously observed dance music culture while attending clubs. He also admits that the musical styles he has adopted correspond to different periods in his life. His various music projects and songs are ‘chapters’ in his life and philosophises that:
This passion colours in his mission statement: to spread his music to outside of the expat community in Madrid. He not only wants to integrate British culture, but he stresses the point that Spanish crowds are different from other crowds as the majority go out to socialise and not to specifically listen to music. ‘There is a lot of talent here but the bars don’t tap into it. They should realise that the economy will recover and that they should try different things, like putting on original music events’. This is underscored by his belief that music ‘brings people together’.
James admits to being a little annoyed by the audiences in Madrid, at first by what looked like a lack of respect for musicians, but now he wants to bridge the gap between expat musicians and Spanish audiences. He organized The Expat Take Over in Sala Caravan and he told me before the gig that his definition of success (for this event) would be if more Spanish people attended. I ask him what his definition of success is in a general sense. He answers without hesitation in a manner typical of the man, thoughtful and considered, ‘Success is relative, being happy is important. Is success playing a gig,** sharing your art**, making people happy, and getting paid enough to live on? Then the next day you can walk around the city you live in and enjoy it. That’s success to me’. He half jokes that aspiring musicians should avoid TV talent shows and focus on keeping it real and working hard, that’s how ‘you can be successful’.
He likes Madrid. ‘It’s easy living… except for the pollution’. I ask him if he is worried about the pollution affecting his voice. He laughs, ‘If was worried about that, I’d stop smoking and drinking!’ Is he here for the long haul? ‘Spain doesn’t do long term planning, so it’s the same for me. I love the city, so why not? But who knows – I don’t at this stage!’ You can check out a video made by James in Madrid below:##
The End of the Interview (And How to See More of James)
He’s off now, on toward a gig and to get another taste of the thing that has influenced his life profoundly: music. I leave with a sense that this musician is one to watch and I’ll definitely be looking out for his gigs in Madrid. I won’t have to wait for long as he is playing on** November 7th at 21:30 in Sala Caravan**. Singer songwriter Melanie Lawrence and the band The Red Telephones will also be taking the stage.