Dublin singer-songwriter Gavin James will return to Sligo for the first time in over five years as part of the Sligo Live Festival.
The 31-year-old singer spoke to The Sligo Champion about how his start playing several pub gigs a day prepared him for a career in music, the overwhelming response he received after being hyped as a voice for Ed Sheeran to watch, and his desire to make his next concert at Knocknarea Arena on October 21 a viral sensation.
“I haven’t been back to Sligo since 2017 and I’m abuzz, last time was at HMV Soundgarden (now Anderson’s), and that gig was great fun, it was a little show so this one will be super craic,” he said.
Gavin is one of the most popular singer-songwriters working in Ireland today, his 2015 debut album Bitter Pill quickly went platinum for sales and it amassed 1.7 billion global streams and sold over 250,000 concert tickets worldwide.
Coming from a family of musicians, Gavin’s sister is a gospel singer, his grandfather was a renowned whistler and his parents always encouraged a love of music as he grew up listening to big names in the music world. songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Cat Stephens.
“I was in bands when I was 12 or 13 and quickly started doing pub gigs after school, back then it was grunge stuff like Pearl Jam and Nirvana and then I got into Rory Gallagher and Jimi Hendrix and I was playing electric guitar with three tracks from the rock bands screaming into the mic,” he said.
But soon after Gavin stripped things down and started developing the more relaxed acoustic sound he is known for today.
“By the time I got to transition year I knew what I wanted to do, everyone around me was in this moment of total panic where you’re trying to figure out what you’re going to be, but I got discovered that I wanted to be a musician and I was thrilled,” he said.
“I went to college for about two months but had to leave because I was doing so many gigs at Temple Bar, about 15 gigs a week to cover songs and I was just too tired to go to the university.”
Gavin remembers the days when he would wake up on a Wednesday to play a show from 1-3pm, then leave for an evening gig from 6-8pm, then finish with a final gig from 9-12 midnight.
“It was the same thing the next day, and the next day, and the next day, and I did that from 17 to 21,” he said.
“The constant gigging helped me with my singing, after doing a few three hour sets you get to know what you’re not getting right. That and the busking were big things for me, I didn’t have lots of voices at first, but then you learn little things and listen to yourself.
It was in the early 2010s and Gavin says it was the first time people were bringing smartphones to gigs, recording artists and then putting those clips on Youtube. He would study these videos closely and learn to hone his skills.
Starting to build a career at the start of an explosion of online technology, Gavin has always used this to his advantage, later being selected by Spotify as one of their star artists of the year in 2016.
Although he is now known for his own songwriting, it was a cover that really helped him break into the music scene. On his shows, Gavin would often play a version of The Magnetic Fields song “The Book of Love” which gained huge notoriety after Peter Gabriel’s version was used in a finale episode of the television series Scrubs.
“I loved Peter Gabriel’s version and played that song at pub gigs. We were at Whelan’s doing a live album in 2015 and people were clamoring for an encore. I was just debuting and I thought I didn’t. “I didn’t really have any songs anymore. I played ‘The Book of Love’ and I was lucky I did because it became a big thing in Europe,” he said.
The song would find success in places like Belgium and the Netherlands and soon Gavin would find himself with recording contracts with Capitol Records and Sony.
“It all started rolling and we were doing music videos in LA, playing on Jimmy Kimmel and American TV shows,” he said.
A career boost came after spending a night playing music in Dublin’s Doyle pub with chart leader Ed Sheeran.
“We were just jamming all night, I’m 6’3 and he’s a little shorter so I had his guitar on me and we said when I played it sounded like a ukulele,” he said. he declared.
The next morning, Gavin woke up to a tweet from the “Shape of You” singer telling his millions of followers, “Record companies, if you ignore Gavin James, you lose.”
This led to an influx of Ed fans discovering Gavin’s music and since then he has released four studio albums and toured the world.
“This tour is great because we’re going back to places in Ireland we haven’t been to for a long time. I haven’t played a show in Sligo for years,” he said.
Prior to the tour, Gavin did a number of in-store gigs at several gold records across the country and said it was a great way to reconnect with his fans post-pandemic, especially young kids who don’t are not always able to attend age-restricted concerts.
“I came back to live in Dublin in 2019 with the lockdown, during such a terribly crazy time, it was nice to be home, I had the new album and I was able to rewrite it about 12 times because I had the space to do it,” he said.
His latest album, The Sweetest Part, was released this summer and Gavin says the writing process reflected all the highs, lows, frustrations and excitement of live under lockdown.
“I finished half of it in Dublin and the other half in London and it felt like a party trip because I hadn’t been anywhere in a year and a half. All the fastest happy songs were done in London, then the most sad and solemn songs were completed during the lockout,” he said.
Now Gavin is preparing for his return to Sligo where he will perform at the Knocknarea Arena on Friday October 21. He says he walked around the site and noticed an exposed basketball court.
“I’m definitely going to bring a basketball, I’ve seen the court when the Coronas played before so I’m going to put a ball in the net during the concert, now that would definitely go viral,” he joked.
Tickets are on sale on Sligolive.ie, Ticketmaster or at Hawk’s Well Theater in person or by telephone (071) 9161518.