James Blunt on Dubai, being a court jester, and living his dream

The British singer spoke to City Times ahead of his gig in the city on January 29.

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied

Enid Grace Parker

Published: Sun 23 Jan 2022, 8:42 AM

Last updated: Thu 29 Dec 2022, 3:15 PM

Despite building up an impressive body of music in the past 17 years, British singer James Blunt can never quite escape the You’re Beautiful phenomenon.

The Grammy nominee’s ubiquitous 2004 track with its haunting video shot atop a cliff in Mallorca, Spain, tends to overshadow his other musical accomplishments, a fact he both acknowledges and takes a dig at.

Blunt even calls his latest tour (officially named for his recent Greatest Hits compilation, The Stars Beneath My Feet) ‘The Greatest Hit Tour’, insisting on social media that he will only be playing ‘that song’ 20 times.

To know that the 47-year-old, unlike many celebrities, doesn’t take himself seriously, is endearing. Blunt is prolific on Twitter and his hilarious feed became so popular that it made it to a book, How To Be A Complete And Utter Blunt: Diary of a Reluctant Social Media Sensation, published in 2020.

The Goodbye My Lover singer, no stranger to Dubai, is excited to perform at the Coca-Cola Arena on January 29, he told City Times, bringing both charm and wit to a delightful Zoom conversation where You’re Beautiful wasn’t mentioned even once.

Sharing that he had friends and family in Dubai who he would be getting together with despite being in town only for a day, he said of the upcoming show, “I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve played in Dubai a handful of times at the Jazz Festival and it was always really a surprise to me how much fun I had. I expected the audience to be a little bit conservative and serious and instead they were really fun; they got involved and joined in and made it a really special occasion for me. As well as that, Dubai was a fascinating place to be in, so thank you for inviting me back!”

Getting back on the road again after the pandemic-induced hiatus is a breath of fresh air for any musician and Blunt is no exception. “I haven’t been playing much live music for the last couple of years, so to get back together with my band and to be able to play live, will be great, great fun.”

Going the ‘Greatest Hits’ way

It was a combination of the pandemic and finishing his record deal, he said, that inspired him to release his Greatest Hits album, The Stars Beneath My Feet (2004-2021).

“I’d done six albums, and that was the end of my record deal. At the same time we had a pandemic and my tour was cancelled halfway through. I was sent home, and there I was twiddling my thumbs, reflecting on what had gone on and I started pulling out my favourite songs that I’d written and recorded.

"Not just the studio versions but the best recordings and performances. At the same time my record label called up and said ‘hey, record deal’s over’ - for a moment I thought I was being fired! But they said, no, now may be a good time to put out a Greatest Hits.

“And I said, that’s fantastic, particularly if I can curate it because I know what my best recordings and performances are, and really make something special, then I think it would be worth doing. And they were up for that, so I’m really proud of being able to do that, and all the songs - they are the ones that I wish that I had captured in the very first days maybe… it makes great sense, and the good news for me is that my record label just signed me up for a new deal so I’m still in the job!”

The album, released in November last year, consists of 30 songs (including live performances from Glastonbury and elsewhere). Hits from his repertoire like 1973, Bonfire Heart, Cold and more share pride of place with four new tracks - Unstoppable, Adrenaline, I Came For Love and Love Under Pressure - which, Blunt said, were written during the pandemic.

“I was just writing with the view to potentially making another album and then when the record label asked if I was going to put out a Greatest Hits, they said you should put a handful of new songs. And I said, well, I’ve got them, I’m ready to go with that.

"Some of these songs I’ve been writing for a long time, in fact I finished them in lockdown. I had the piano part for Love Under Pressure for 12 years and hadn’t quite found a place for it. It wasn’t until I was in lockdown on a Zoom call with a guy called Jack Savoretti (Breaking The Rules, Soldier’s Eyes) and I played it to him and he said ‘hey I know where we can go with that’, that it suddenly blossomed!

‘I always had the dream’

Music has always been an integral part of Blunt’s existence, even when he was a teenager with simply a dream. And whether it was through serving in the British military in the 90s or any other aspect of his life, the Hampshire-born singer has never been short of inspiration.

“I was 14 when I decided I was going to be a full-time musician. That’s when my dream started, and I just needed to get some inspiration first. From, you know, the university, the army, meeting people, living life; to have some things to write about in the first place! But I always had that dream, and I suppose my biggest fear in life would have been not chasing that dream. It would be awful to reach old age and say, I had a dream that I never pursued.”

He is both sincere about his music, and self-deprecating about the business of being a famous musician, often bringing a much-needed dose of light-heartedness to his social media feed. In a post late last year, quoting Adele’s tweet about her new album 30, he joked, “Watch how fast that date changes the moment she realises my album is out the same day.”

A fan called him “the funniest person on Twitter”.

The singer admitted self-praise was not his cup of tea.

“I’m very English and I find it very hard to go out and sell my music by saying, hey, this is the best thing in the world. Every album that I put out they say ‘is this your best album’ and I sound so unconvincing when I say, yes, it really is my best…it just doesn’t come naturally in any way!

"But the Americans are much better at that! I think my way is just to say - you know, it’s quite nice and I’d love you to have a quick listen to it and I sound quite squeaky in quite a lot of the songs but you’ll get over that hopefully… that’s the only way I know how to sell something.”

Enter the court jester

Blunt added that the pandemic has demonstrated how celebrities shouldn’t take themselves too seriously.

“We are, as pop stars, or ‘rock stars’, really just court jesters! We’re there to entertain and I don’t think we should necessarily take ourselves too seriously. And perhaps this pandemic has really pointed that out - where governments have designated certain people as essential workers and others as non-essential. Musicians and actors are all designated as non-essential, quite rightly.

"Doctors, nurses, teachers, people who stack our supermarket shelves, farmers, lorry drivers who supply our supermarkets - these are the essential workers at a time of crisis, at a time of a pandemic and these are the people we should celebrate more when we’re not in a pandemic. So perhaps these should be the real celebrities of the world, and maybe that’s been a good reminder to us all, through this pandemic.”

And how would this “reluctant social media sensation” recommend his book How To Be A Complete And Utter Blunt to someone who is not familiar with the medium and has never read his tweets?

“Well, to any adult I would say, please don’t get my book! But for anyone with a very childish mentality and anyone who owns a lavatory that needs a book in it to sort of open and read when they might be in there for extended periods of time, it’s perfect!”

Leaving us in splits, the singer signed off by beckoning UAE fans to attend his upcoming concert, in trademark style.

“Hey, I’m coming there very soon to the Coca-Cola Arena… be there… or don’t!”

Tickets for James Blunt’s The Stars Beneath My Feet tour in Dubai organised by Blu Blood, are available at Platinumlist, coca-cola-arena.com, and Dubai Calendar

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