My record audience was 37 million for a radio broadcast but they would have listened to the programme even though I wasn’t there.
James put that into perspective with hundreds of millions tuning in to his Chinese Idol performances – and tuning out when he wasn’t there.
And so, it’s been a long road to this new album.
It’s been fraught and, as a family, we’ve been around when we know we’ve been needed and we’ve let James develop at his own pace.
I’ve recently found out that there were some problems along the way that were deliberately kept from me because both James and his mother know that I really can’t help myself turning back into the balls-out litigator and tackling problems head on. Diplomacy is not in my vocabulary. It’s not in his, either.
But Cros Music, working with some of Taiwan’s best producers and session musicians have eased out the brutality and applied not a gloss but that thing that is the musical equivalent of food’s umami. It’s an indescribable element that turns something brilliant into something beyond that, taking the purity of a food that might be just a bit too pure for the taste-buds of most people and adding something they recognise, even if they don’t know it.
You might think that I’m one of those parents that will tell their child they are doing well when they are really doing shitly.
Believe me, I’m not and you can ask James.
He was brought up with encouragement to always see everything as a step towards distant perfection. Failure is fine so long as you don’t keep repeating it.
And one should never deny it. If you really are no good at something, do something else. Parents who tell their children they are brilliant when they are embarrassingly bad do them no service and, worse, don’t teach them to deal with disappointment.
That doesn’t mean being cruel, it means finding ways to help them improve, to follow dreams they are suited for and to work their balls (or tits) off to achieve those dreams.
James’ rewards were tied to success: his first “big boy’s toy” guitar was a Gibson, a reward for a successful school interview that was completely unrelated to music.
He had applied to go to Colchester Royal Grammar School, at that time by far the best school in Essex, for his sixth form.
But he’d have to board because commuting to it was impossible without his own car and driver.
He was told that he would be accepted as a day-boy but there were no rooms available to board.
He was surprised when we walked from the school, into a nearby music shop and the cherry-red SG chosen with a “is it this one? Yes? Can set it up while we go for lunch?” “I didn’t get in,” he said. “You did,”I said, ” there just isn’t anywhere for you to sleep.”
Later, while he was on tour with me in Malaysia, his exam results came in. We faxed Colchester. “Would you mind sleeping in the cleaner’s cupboard if we clean it out?” Colchester asked and he was on his way, in a school that recognised and encouraged individuality with responsibility.
Thank you Colchester Royal Grammar, first for finding him an actual study to sleep and work in before he arrived and also (you might not understand this, and James almost certainly will not) for providing an environment that, as a result of that combination, underpins the structure of this album. I know: for an all-too brief period, I was lucky enough to attend a school with a similar ethos until my parents moved half-a-country away and I went with them.
Some of the songs are painful for us, James’ family, to listen to. They are about loss that we all suffered and which has caused – and if we are honest continues to cause – pain. My parents were very involved in James’ upbringing and he spent most school holidays with them. He was very close to them, particularly my father who developed cancer while James was far away and unable to visit, which tore him up.
The intensely personal songs about that time, in the English versions, are heartbreaking for us because we know he wrote them as way of dealing with the frustration and sadness. One, Perfect Day, was written for my father as a thank you for all the years of care and fun and was played to him often in his last weeks, even though it was still in rough-cut.
There has been huge happiness, too. It’s a long time since James met the love of his life and while there’s never been any big secret, equally there has been a private life that has been kept private.
There have been three weddings: one a tiny civil ceremony in Beijing, one in a Herefordshire manor house and one in Harbin, China where his wife is from.
They’ve been married for almost three years but no one noticed. There didn’t seem an imperative to make it news. Last month, they welcomed their first child, a daughter, born in Taipei. There’s a surfeit of mothers there at present: I’ll nip over when things have quietened down a bit.
A recognition set in that after the album came out, and some other acting things came up, privacy would be compromised and that it was equally important that it was clear that private does not mean secret. The plan was to make a statement when mother and daughter were fully settled, in January but last week, a person or persons unknown told a Hong Kong PapRag that James was married with a daughter and, like most PapRags, they didn’t bother to fact-check other information and published fake news. So, James published a photo with his new daughter. That’s enough: no one needs to know more. “In the public interest” is not the same as “in the public fascination.”
Oh, and one more thing. Just in case James thinks I’ve not expressed pride often enough, here it is again. He knows me. If I think it could be better, I’ll tell him. After all, we’ve gone back and forth over the album several times in the past 18 months since work started and I’ve not always been convinced by some of it.
But now it’s done, it’s out, it’s playing in my office. I could not be more proud. Well done.
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© 2016 Nigel Morris-Cotterill
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