I had told my classmates that I would become a professional musician since I was 14 years old. When I was captain of the British army in Kosovo, I had a guitar tied to my tank. After leaving the military, I made some demonstrations for EMI and then I lost my balance on my bike and broke the guitar that survived a war zone. Everyone laughed. Needless to say, I was not signed by the EMI.
One day I was on the London Underground and saw an ex-girlfriend with her new boyfriend. Our eyes met, but we just met and I went home and I wrote the words to Sei bello in two minutes. I went to visit my singer-songwriter friend Sacha Skarbek in Los Angeles and, with Amanda Ghost as co-writer, we finished the song. It has always been portrayed as romantic, but in reality it is a little disturbing. It’s about a guy (me) who’s tall and chasing someone else’s girlfriend on the subway. But everyone has those moments when you ask yourself, “What if I said something?”
I played it on the 25th floor of a hotel at the South by Southwest festival in Texas. Linda Perry [the singer, songwriter and record producer] he was there and said he wanted to sign me with his new label. The label asked me to remove the words “fucking high” from You Are Beautiful. I tried “particularly high”, “particularly high”! In the end I sang “flying high” in radio editing but I wanted the released version to be left as it was. I said to them: “Me was fuck up! “
The song has a false beginning. I sing twice “my life is bright”, which is my little joke, but I think in my euphoric state, from any concoction that I could have taken at that moment, life seemed really bright. The tube certainly looked very colorful.
For the video I agreed to jump off a cliff in Mallorca. When I got there, I realized I had made a terrible mistake but it was too late to retire. They had divers in the water in case I was unconscious. I had to jump twice because the first shot was incorrect and I ended up with a split lip. It hurt, but he made a great video.
I had no idea that the song was going to be a big hit, and it scared me at first. I thought I was just a musician who distributed music. The song [released in 2004] it has become so omnipresent that it started to irritate people, but I am still proud of it and I love my job. I sang it at the civil ceremony of Elton John and David Furnish and I’m about to start my sixth world tour. Without You Are Beautiful, it would be a tour of North London.
Tom Rothrock, manufacturer
I saw South by Southwest on the Internet and I saw James. It looked pretty interesting, but then I quickly forgot all about him. A few days later I heard that Linda Perry was looking for me to produce a new artist. He had just had a couple of big hits with Pink and Christina Aguilera. I thought if she had been crazy enough to sign a new SXSW artist, I could have been crazy enough to record it.
James’ demonstration tape was everywhere, but You Are Beautiful and Goodbye My Lover were there. We had lunch and I didn’t know what it looked like, but when he entered with his manager I immediately felt a bond and I thought: “I must be him”. I visited him in his London apartment and he played the songs on the instruments he wrote them on, to get rid of the insidious demos from my mind. We made a lot of recordings in my home studio, which was unusual then, but the budget was modest.
One day we were playing the strings with a quartet and something was wrong. Strings are expensive, so I called the arranger to see if we could understand why. The strings needed some modification, but it was the first time that I was able to step back and just listen and I just had the thrill that you sometimes understand when you know that a song is special or will connect very, very widely.
A few months later, You Are Beautiful blew up the devil and was spending two nights at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. We went to a pub near the club and outside we were attacked. I said, “James, remember a few months ago, we were drinking a beer and nobody knew who I was?” And he said, “Yeah, wasn’t it great ?!”