James Stevenson has been around since the very early days of punk, living in London playing guitar for what seems like a lifetime. James's first band was Chelsea in 1977, he moved onto the revamped but short lived Gen X in 1980. He seduced us in Kim Wilde’s band, we all remember his performance on the’ Kids In America’ video, since then he’s played with such bands as The Cult, Hot Club with Glen Matlock, The Smart, joined Gene Loves Jezebel and The Alarm. He’s written music for TV commercials, a TV show and produced for various people, played as a session guitarist for other musicians, such as Scott Walker, Tricky and Jimmy Nail.
He occasionally contributes to Guitar And Bass Magazine and is renowned for being a vintage guitar collector and expert. James is still a member of Chelsea, The Alarm, and GLJ to this day.
James is such a busy man at the moment. He’s currently on tour with The Alarm, but I did finally manage to get my hands on Mr Guitar legend himself.
I’m wondering if James is touring like a crazy man cos he’s got his roving eye on more vintage guitars?
Myself and Vanessa arrived at the Academy for the second of the residencies in Manchester to meet with James again (we briefly met last Saturday) this time it was to interview him. Admittedly I had a few butterflies in the pit of my stomach on route which soon fluttered away when James strode into the room, resembling a teenager, wearing a baseball cap perched on his newly shorn head a friendly smile, big jacket and bag slung over his shoulder.He radiates human warmth and a down to earth charm, it soon became clear we were heading onto a great interview.
We started the conversation chatting about The Alarm’s ‘Guerrilla Tactics Tour In The UK’ James explains “I suppose we’re doing something that’s a bit different, ending up being a lot of extra work in a way. We’re doing this thing called The stand where we go around
We had a fantastic show in
We did the same thing in
The thing with the Alarm is that Mike will just start playing something like last night in the middle of ‘Spirit Of 76’ he decided in the middle of it to start playing The Who’s ‘My Generation’ which we have never every played, in all the years EVER!. It’s good, things like that keep you on your toes ya know.” -
I asked James what song he enjoyed playing most on the tour and what was next after this He says “Fucking hell, that’s a hard one. I think it’s hard to pick one but I like playing a lot of the new stuff, which I contributed to creating in a way. I suggested the odd change here and there to things. A lot of times when I joined bands it’s been to replace someone, like when I joined Gen X to replace Derwood, GLJ the same thing, cos the bands have already got a bit of a body of work, you have to learn what someone else created and that’s not really a very creative process.
Next I’ve got Simple Minds at the SECC, with The Alarm and we are gonna try and do another album with Gene Loves Jezebel.”
The set list changes every night, with different songs and most unexpected cover versions being played, last week in conjunction with ‘Spirit of 76’ it was Buzzcocks ‘Boredom’ this week it was The Ramones ‘Sheena Is A Punk Rocker’ which makes it very refreshing especially as the harden fans go to most of the shows, I enquired as to how this idea came around and whose idea it was. James replied “That was all of us just agreed that it would be a good idea, with the internet it’s shrank the world so much. When we played
I enquired about the length of time James had been in The Alarm. He says” I’ve been playing with Mike since 1998, when he told me he was going to use The Alarm name again I nearly didn’t do it. I e-mailed Dave Sharp and he said yea yea, if Dave would have had a problem with it I wouldn’t have done it. We’ve been together longer than the original Alarm”
James is basically known for the lead guitar but has he written songs, I asked more about this. He says”Oh yea loads I’ve co written loads of GJL stuff with Jay, have you heard the new
Last week I spotted a Jack of Spades card on his amp and wondered if this held any significance (my researched meaning was a male servant of Royalty)
He says “I dunno? There’s a bloke called Rich Henry, who’s a vintage guitar dealer that I know but he’s also the tech for The Charlatans and The Angel Music Shop,(not Angel Music, he doesn't work for the shop), the guy that normally does us couldn’t do it as he’d broken his foot. So I got Rich on it, which is great having him around cos I like him. When someone threw all the cards up on stage, he just found that one and stuck it on the amp then he gave me another one the joker and Craig’s got one as well.
The Alarm have secured the services of ‘The Rude Boy’ actor and friend of The Clash, Ray Gange, to do the DJ sessions on all the London shows, I was interested in how this transpired.
James says “Mike seems to just know everyone, he’s a bit of a clash fan and thought Ray would just be an interesting personality to get on board and to have DJ, and he was. He doesn’t just play old punk stuff he does a lot of interesting things, so yea it’s been interesting”
James it seems is always touring with one band or another I posed the question what he did to relax when it was all over and he was back home finally. He smiles and says “I never chill and relax, I always run around like a nutter even when I’m at home with nothing to do, trying to find something to do.Perhaps a holiday was is in the pipeline? James says “Not really but it’s my wife’s birthday in a couple of weeks so I’m gonna surprise her with something, go somewhere nice for a few days but I’m not a lying on the beach person I get bored out of my mind.
James must see a lot of places whilst touring around the world He says” It’s a great way to see the world cos you don’t see it from a perspective as a tourist”
I wondered if he ever got tired of living out of a suitcase how he felt constantly touring. James says” Not really, I’m just so used to it, its part of the job, and it sort of comes with the territory. I’ve been touring since I was 17 years old, it feels really normal”
I’d read on line somewhere the tour with The Cult split his first marriage up. James piped up with “Where did you read that? That was Billy Duffys fault encouraging me to misbehave”
Did he keep a list of all the gigs he’d played over the years? He says”Yes cos I’m a hoarder and a list person, but I’m about a year and a half behind, at the moment. I’ve just got it written down, it did come in really useful because a guy called Dave Thompson is writing a book about The Roxy and punk rock, he wanted to know what gigs I’d done in 1977. It was right there on my list so that proved to me it was worth it.”
I asked James to talk about his time playing in the
We’ve played twice at CBGB’S with
I thought I’m gonna end up living here one day but then as you get older New York well just because its so frantic, even though its calmed down a bit since 9/11.
I’ve started to really like
Photo The Cult Tour Vancouver1994
Photo The Cult Tour Vancouver1994
Being on the road travelling long journeys there’s plenty of time for listening to music and reading. I questioned James about the kind of music he was listening to, and the books he was reading. James says ” A lot of times Mike says we’re doing this or that and I’ll listen to it on the iPod you listen to that to remember how they went.
A bloke called Vince White, the guitarist who replaced Mick Jones in The Clash, he’s written a book it’s absolutely brilliant, and if you haven’t read it go and read it. I couldn’t put it down, it just destroys the myth of The Clash. I always thought without Mick Jones it couldn’t be The Clash, but I did actually go out and buy ‘Cut The Crap’ cos I didn’t know any of the songs he was talking about, so I’ve been reading that.
Your probably a bit younger than me *We shake our heads* but people of our generation still buy cd’s. I never had time for The Carpenters cos Karen Carpenter, slagged off Ian Hunter when I was in school in The Melody Maker that was it the end, but as I got older you start to appreciate Richard Carpenters songs.
I heard ‘Goodbye To Love’ on the radio, it’s like a love song and its got this mental guitar solo in the middle of it, I thought fuckin I’m gonna go and buy that. So I went and bought it I’ve actually been listening to that quite a bit and got all their other stuff. James roars with laugher as I say he’s spoiling his street cred, James shrugged and smiled couldn’t care less.
I’m reading a book at the moment about how the American political system works just idiot’s guides to American Politics. Obama getting elected was the most exciting thing which is happening in politics for 50 years.
I suddenly realised Sarah Palin, Governor, Congressmen, I didn’t really know how it works, like the British Politics work. So I’ve been reading that, and I’ve been reading Richard Dawkins ‘The God Delusion’ an analysis of world religion and how blind they can be.
James is a vintage guitar expert and collector, his web site holds a pictorial record with stories behind the history of the guitars. I was amazed at his knowledge of his huge collection and questioned him further. He must have a favourite one.” I mean my favourite guitar is not my most valuable, my favourite guitar is a white Les Paul custom that I bought in New York in 1980 that was like my main guitar that I used. I don’t bring it on the road anymore but it’s on every record I’ve every made, I used it just all through the 80’s and 90’s, until I just thought if this gets nicked I’d be gonna upset. It becomes sentimental, even like an inanimate object when you’ve had it for 30 years it’s a long time it starts to become important. No stories, it was 5 years old a 1975 guitar it is what it is, I always wanted one that colour saw it in a shop and there was 4 and thought this was the one I liked best. James says
The first guitar I used in Chelsea I’ve still got it it’s just a thing it’s like a Les Paul, all the tops been stripped down, the heads been smashed off it about ten times, and probably not worth much, what am I gonna do with £800 if I sell it?” Check out James great guitar and amp stories here http://www.jamesstevenson.info/tools.htm)
James's - Gibson Les Paul Custom black 1956
Does he still collect them; was he aware Peter Perrett from The Only Ones was selling his guitar? James says “Ah yes that’s my weakness as a dealer, I just wanna keep everything and I’ve got my partner, who’s in there everyday, I don’t go in the shop everyday. He plays with Edwyn Collins his names Andy Hackett, he’s the exact opposite of me, he’s got like two guitars and I’ve got about 50, something like that. I didn’t know Peter Perrett was selling his guitar will have to look at that. Everyone who mucks around with vintage guitars is a guitarist really; with Rich who’s a tech at the moment when he plays he’s a really great guitar player. The latest I’ve bought it’s a thing called a Gibson ES5 Switchmaster 1955 a great big massive thing with three pick ups, so it looks really cool.
A little birdie (Rob from Mayhem Deranged) had told me James had an interest in The Angel Music guitar shop. He says “Yea how do you know that, I’m interested? Mayhem Deranged, I’ve heard they are a mental band to watch. I know Ray from before Sigue Sigue Sputnik. There is a drummer called Igor who’s a mate of mine and Andy Hackett, he sent me a text saying you gotta come on Thursday, I couldn’t because we were playing in
James not content with collecting guitars he also has a collection of vintage motorbikes, just what is it about Motorbikes he likes, how many does James own? James says ”Three, in fact I’m thinking of getting a modern one. I’ve got an old car as well. I’ve got 3 sort of vintage but not really valuable. I’ve a BSA which is a bit valuable I’ve got two in the menders. I’m using one which is 30 years old, as an everyday bike, I was on this Honda up in the west end, the starter motor wouldn’t work, then the kick start it’s a common fault on them sort of gets worn out so you can’t kick start it either. I was in the rush hour at eight o’clock, I’m bump starting it down
Its one of the great pleasures of life riding a bike, although I don’t like a long journey on a bike. In
I was interested to find out who his guitar heroes and inspirations from the distant past were James says “Mick Ronson is the reason I picked up a guitar in the first place. A mate of mine at school who’d bought an electric guitar in the 3rd year when I was 14, he said “look I’ve bought an electric guitar so you’ve gotta get one too so we can be in a group”. When I heard Mick Ronson he just blew me away not cos he was a technical guitarist but he always played the perfect part for the song, very melodic, he’s actually a violin player, so a lot of his guitar lines, ( I don’t know how familiar you are with the stuff he did with Bowie)? You know at the end of ‘Rock N Roll Suicide’ were it goes *James demonstrate a perfect guitar rift vocally* it’s actually like a string arrangement. I love all that stuff. Sort of as I got older I got into the really classic rock guitarists, Jimmy Page, Hendrix, Jeff Beck all those people.
I really like a guy called Chris Spedding, and I went to see Wilko Johnson, about a month ago in London, he was just absolutely unbelievable, if you get a chance to go and see him if he’s playing up here, GO that’s all I can say ! When I go and see someone like Wilkco he’s like 61 but he’s still doing all the stuff he was doing with The Feelgoods. It just makes you realise why you did it in the first place, cos its wow it’s fucking great.
If he could have the pick of a ‘Supergroup’ who would he chose to be in the band dead or alive? James says excitedly “Oh my god, definitely I’d play rhythm guitar, I’d have Ronno on lead guitar. What singer would I have this is what’s good about e-mail you can go away and think about it while doing other stuff. I really like Paul McCartney’s bass playing, so I might have him, front man now that’s the hardest thing. Ya know I used to be such a Roxy Music fan, so I would say Bryan Ferry but he’s turned out to be such an idiot in his old age and his son’s is such a twat, and you can quote me on that. I don’t know if I would but I might have Bryan Ferry. I might have Dave Grohl as the drummer that would be quite interesting.
I suggested Mark Laff. He says “I’ve been doing some playing with Mark and Glen Matlock cos Glenn wants to put a side band together separate to his Sex Pistols stuff, with me, Mark and Tony Barber.
Photo - Gene Loves Jezebel
Who would James love to perform with? James says ”I would love to play with David Bowie, when I was in GLJ we signed with this label called Savage Records in the early 90’s, they were like a new maverick label, they had a lot of money they signed Bowie for the US, and they paid him so much money it killed em they were trying to give themselves some credibility. I was with the guy who owned the label David Nimran. I was always saying to him “Can’t you get me on a
James has played guitar in bands since 1977 I asked him to share some special moments with us out of all those various bands. James says “One of my favourites is when I was in Chelsea, Miles Copeland who managed us, also managed The Police (his brother Stewart was in the band) and they did a whole British tour supporting us. First gig was at
Photo of James in Gen X 1980
I’d left Chelsea, my mum had just died with cancer and my dad always wanted me to go to university, I could just about scrape by with enough A levels just about to do it if I wanted to but I was still toying with the idea. I got the phone call from Tony (James) and I thought thank god I’ll do that instead, that was great.
Lot’s of things with GLJ when the band became very successful in America, walking on stage at The Hollywood Palladium in 1986 and the place just erupted it was just a fantastic time.”
I was keen to find out about the lifestyle of a young punk rocker on the road to sex, drugs and rock n roll, tattoos, would he give away any revelations in his forthcoming autobiography. James says ”I haven’t got any Tattoos, you like tattoos? It’s normal to have tattoos now. Yea it’s all true it’s there if you want it when you’re young!
Oh yea my books called ‘25 years in the rock n roll wilderness’ and I’m about halfway through it. I started it about 5 years ago so the title doesn’t work anymore. I started off with this mad burst of energy, I’ve really been doing it on my own and showing extracts to a few people. What I really need to do is get off my arse and find a publisher who’d be interested and then I’ll get sort of motivated to do it properly. I’ve been quite lazy with it over the past year, it starts in 1977. Andy Summers has apparently written a book and the first 200 pages are all about him before he was about 15, I mean who gives a fuck, know what I mean hahahaha.
What about juicy gossip? James remarked “TON’S! I kept a diary I’ve always kept it from about 14, I always knew I’d write a book. When I was in Gen X, or playing for The Cult, if Billy Idol said something I thought was funny or Ian Astbury did something mental I’d always write it down. I’ve got a list of all this stuff.”
Photos by Mel - Vanessa and James Dec 1980 'Bradys' Liverpool and below Manchester Nov 2008 (28 years later)
I asked James how he thought he differed from the young man we’d met in 1980 playing for Gen X, the one that looked a lot like Jack Wild who played’ The Artful Dodger’. James laughed and said “Did I hahahah. I dunno, I’ve been married twice, got one son, he was 17 yesterday.”
James turned 50 in Oct this year but surprisingly in good shape and I wondered if he’d had a touch of mid life crisis and how it had affected him if at all. James said “Oh ya know it was a big one, when I’ve been 21, 30, 40 you sort of take it in your stride but suddenly you do feel your own mortality a bit, you think 10 years time your gonna be 60 years old. I can’t lie about my age cos it’s easy to work it out, the years have been quite kind to me thank god, my dads 78 and he looks about 55.
I told James I’d been unable to find out much personal stuff about him online in my research, is he such a private person? He says” But thank god for that, if it’s relevant? The only reason I’ve got that picture of me and Cindy Day on my web site is cos it was in The Daily Mirror. I would never have a picture of me with my wife on MySpace. She works for a PA to someone, she was the singer in Westworld. Yea she’s my wife, hahahah she is part of the reason I did this, she said “oh she’s done the interview with Derwood it’s really good.” Derwood thinks I want to be him because I replaced him in Gen X and then married his girlfriend hahaha”
James has been in the music industry since 1977 and I wanted him to send a message out to other striving, talented musicians. James says “Give up hahahahah, not really, it’s very different, the music business used to be that you could totally pigeon hole it they were like big labels. Now with the internet, the death basically of selling music, the way bands seem to be making money is by going out touring, and doing gigs, bands like using cd’s promo for their live concerts. I think what’s going on now even though the industry is a sort of a few years away from finding their feet. I think bands will end up owning their own copyrights again instead of big labels owning and I think it will destroy all the horrible one hit wonders, Pop Idol and all that X Factor, I know there really popular and all that. To get into the top ten you only need to sell 4,000 singles, back in the day you had to sell half a million singles and that just doesn’t happen anymore.
Do it cos you’re passionate! I think lots of young kids today whatever they're doing they're doing it not cos they wanna be creative or passionate they just want to be celebrities and that is really really unhealthy. So I would just say if you’re passionate and you believe in it, all you can do is keep trying, don’t give up.”
My final word to James I ask a seasonal question. I wondered what James would like in his Christmas stocking? James says “Oh I’ve got enough guitars so I wouldn’t have that, hhmm a new computer. I’ve got an old bloody titanium apple that has seen better days it’s got about 1 gig of space left on it and the wireless can’t pick anything up unless your two feet from the router. Thanks Mel.
Thank you James!By the end of the interview I felt like I’d known James for years, it became apparent how interested he is in other people. He’s a real gentleman, natural and honest, funny, charming and very down to earth, no airs and graces or falseness which you see with many musicians today. Many thanks James for a great interview and taking time out of your busy schedule for Mudkiss.
We returned to watch the show later in the evening, with support from the original Alarm member Dave Sharp, who also joined them on stage later. As usual it was a storming set, with the crowd once more going wild in the mosh pit. James again came out in-between sets to say hi, greeted us warmly. After the show we ventured backstage to say goodbye, as lovely as ever James invited us back for round three next week. So we may see you again next week!
If you’d like to see James in action here are the dates:
Nov 22nd at
Dec 4th Supporting Simple Minds at SECC
Check out the various bands and James Stevenson’s personal web sites:
Check out James’s web site – http://www.jamesstevenson.info
James MySpace - http://www.myspace.com/james_stevenson
The Alarm MySpace - http://www.myspace.com/thealarm
The Alarm Web site - http://www.thealarm.com
Gene Loves Jezebel MySpace - http://www.myspace.com/genelovesjezebeluk
Gene Loves Jezebel Web site - http://www.genelovesjezebel.co.uk/
Chelsea MySpace - http://www.myspace.com/chelseapunkband
Interview and photos by Mel 15.11.08
Credits - Tony Mclean for Chelsea Promo shot
Thanks to Jeff Rushton for additional images - MySpace http://www.myspace.com/djjeffers
If we have missed the credits on any other photos please contact us firstname.lastname@example.org