An Ed Sheeran endorsement can’t hurt your musical career and that’s exactly what happened to Irish singer-songwriter Gavin James four years ago when the global star tweeted to his millions of followers that “if you ignore Gavin James, you are missing out on a lot.” Since then, the singer from Stoneybatter in Dublin, has carved out a burgeoning career, which included Sheeran inviting James to play at his Croke Park concert in 2015. He also joined Niall Horan on the American leg of his world tour, performed at this year’s Electric Picnic and has now released his second album, Only Ticket Home. “It’s been amazing,” says Gavin of his rise to fame, “and it’s the little things that blow you away, like when you get on your own tour bus for the first time. That’s insane, but most of the time, you’re just going and going and you don’t have time to take it all in until you come home. It’s a lot to take in really.”
He comes from a musical family: his sister, mum and dad can all hold a tune. His uncle, a taxi driver, also does his bit as a free PR agent, playing Gavin’s album when he picks tourists up at the airport.
Fame didn’t come overnight for Gavin James. Since he was 17, he did “loads of residencies” in pubs around Dublin – “it was a hard slog,” he says. “I definitely had moments where I’d wake up in the morning and wonder if this is going to work at all. But eventually, people started singing along to my songs and my name spread, so I gave a week’s notice in work and decided to go touring around the country for a year doing open mic nights.” The hard work began to pay off and both the public and the music industry started paying attention to what Gavin was doing, leading to a record deal and the launch of his first album, Bitter Pill, in 2015. “There was a lot of risk with that too – I wasn’t getting a proper income for a year. You’re ordering the pints of water; there’s a lot of that,” he laughs. “But then it all clicked and thankfully it seems to be happening for me at the moment, but it’s constantly a risk.”
The now 27-year-old describes his second album as a mix of happy and sad.
Only Ticket Home’s upbeat melodies and catchy, pop hooks are combined with melancholy lyrics. The album is laced with stories of regret and heartbreak, yet it will still lift your spirits high. ‘The Middle’ is partly a love song to his parents, who he credits as being “the best couple in the world,” adding; “I’m doomed forever because I’ll always compare every relationship to them. They’re married 30 years now, it’s amazing.” Trying to get away from ballads, Gavin was inspired by a recent Bruce Springsteen gig to include something “that I could leg it around to on the stage at a festival.
“The one song I definitely had in my head as upbeat was ‘Heart’s on Fire’. I saw Bruce Springsteen in concert and I thought I’m missing a song that I can properly rock out to.”
Many artists struggle with their follow-up album, but not so for Gavin. “Usually it’s much harder to do a second album, but for some reason I didn’t find that the case. I took time off last Christmas and got the whole thing on paper. ‘Always’ was one of the first songs I wrote and it just flowed after that.”
He will embark on a world tour in January and he’s itching to get back on the road – “I absolutely love going on tour and the group that tour with me are my mates so it’s hard for me to get too lonely.” Before that, he’ll play the big New Year’s Eve concert in Dublin city centre and spend time with the family over Christmas, where his only contribution to the family dinner is jelly. “My Mam won’t let me near anything else,” he laughs, “I’m OK wit h that, I can start a sing song too.”
It’s been a good year for Dubliner Gavin James. With album number two just released, he will be headlining the New Year’s Eve Concert at Dublin’s Custom House Quay. He talks to Janice Butler about never giving up on his dreams and why he compares all relationships to his parents’ I definitely had moments when I’d wake up in the morning and wonder if this is going to work at all
Only Ticket Home is available online and in stores now
Gavin James is the headline act at this year’s New Year’s Eve Concert on Dublin’s Custom House Quay. See nyfdublin.com for details