We had our first ever sell out gig last night in Nottingham’s Rock City
By Rob Billingham
So … James, JT, which are you cool with?
Yeah, James is fine and I get the nickname JT quite a bit too,
Ok. Well thanks so much for meeting with Midlands Rocks and giving us some of your time; appreciate it’s valuable.
Pleasure, not a problem at all and thanks for covering it.
Well you’ve gone from World Superbike Champion to rock star …..
Ha! I don’t know about the star bit!
What was your first real love? It’s widely accepted to be music but deep down was your first love bikes or music?
Music for sure. I studied the piano for the best part of 5 years before my Mum met the boyfriend who had a motorbike, that’s why it all changed. But my Gran played in a club herself and that’s where the interest of playing the piano came from. I was 6 or 7 when I began taking a real interest and I started lessons when I was about 7 or 8. I had lessons all the way until I was 16, when I stated World Championship racing. I couldn’t keep the lessons up then with all the travelling around the world with the bikes. But luckily I got to grade 6 with it and I got decent enough as a player to get real enjoyment from it and that’s why I never gave it up. With any instrument you kinda get to a certain level where you get something back from it and luckily I’d gone past the shit phase (laughs).
Why the change from music to bikes? Did you leave your music totally behind?
It was just an age thing really. Going to my piano lessons wasn’t the coolest thing you could do in Sheffield – it’s a bit rough and tough where I’m from. But as soon as I got a motorbike for Christmas, I remember going to school and all of a sudden I was much cooler. I just remember it changing and I thought, ah, this IS cool but you know, it was always 50/50 for me at that point in time. I was always practicing because I’d have my exams when I was getting into trials riding.
I did love riding a motorbike, but it certainly wasn’t the only thing to do at that point. The only time it really changed was when I found something I really connected to like Road Racing… I did Trials and that was fun but just felt like a hobby and then I did Motocross and I didn’t feel that I was overly in control of that; I really, really felt a bit vulnerable because my enthusiasm didn’t match my talent and it was a bit, errrm, dangerous (laughs) so I never caught up with that. I never really finished a Motocross race… It was always like, Christ I’m glad that’s over!
That’s some statement given what you went on to achieve
It felt like my bravery outweighed what I was capable of and ‘cos of that I never really fell in love with it, but as soon as I jumped on a Road Racing bike and I went round the tarmac, got my knee down and the rest of it, it didn’t matter how fast I went, I just loved it and it wasn’t a problem.
So getting back to your music. Who are your influences?
Er, my Gran first, with the piano. She was the one that showed me an instrument could get everybody together and instantly a family can come together and have fun, so that’s where, for me, the love of music started.
Then when I got introduced to rock was when my Mum’s boyfriend came along and he was a massive Queen fan. We’d get in the car on the trips to Trials and listen, so they were my first massive influence and I would say they are my favourite band. Then obviously, when I got into motorcycle races professionally, every track you went to had classic rock; AC/DC, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, Guns n Roses, you name it! Motorhead and Metallica were on the heavier side of things. I was surrounded by those kinds of sounds and I just grew up with them.
Motorbikes became more part of my life when I realised I could be really good at it. I knew I was pretty good on a motorbike but it took a while for me to really believe I could be a World Champion. The effort it takes to do it at that level is absolutely 24/7. You eat, sleep, breathe it and to put that amount of commitment in, for me, I needed the absolute guarantee I could achieve it if I was gonna put that amount of effort in. Luckily I figured out pretty early on that if I did keep putting 100% in I was going to climb the ladder.
I’m really competitive and as soon as I realise something is out of reach, I’d rather leave it, that’s why I retired so quickly. I knew that with the wrist injury I couldn’t do it properly anymore and I instantly knew it. That’s why I left it. I knew it was only gonna go downhill from there and I didn’t want that.
Fascinating! So 2014 has brought Toseland to the forefront of the music scene and with Renegade getting amazing reviews, have you got any plans for a follow up album?
We have! I’ve been writing with Toby Jepson again, same format as Renegade. I really found something when I got introduced to Toby, especially on the song writing front. I’d got a lot to sing about and a lot to write about when we first met. Renegade was autobiographical about my personal situations in life and this second album is gonna need a little bit more thinking about, which is a good challenge. I think we wrote about 20 songs and I was struggling to find 20 stories about myself, so thinking of another 20 is going to be tough. We’ve put two new songs in the set that we’ve been working on and they went down really well in Nottingham last night, so I’m really pleased with that, really excited.
We’re hoping for a support slot in November/December this year. We’re still waiting on confirmation of that but if not, I’ll crack on writing with Toby. If we do get the support then we’ll do that and then early next year I’ll do the writing. The album will definitely be finished next year. It’s just when, depending on whether we get the support.
Any hints at the support or is it top secret?
Well I’m not really sure how it works but basically we looked at who was coming to the UK touring and Bryan Adams was coming so we went in for that, but he’s not having a support band. Then Slash was coming but they’d already announced theirs. So those two didn’t come off but there’s plenty more touring in November/December. We’ll keep on cracking on until we get the opportunity.
Do you enjoy your collaboration with Toby Jepson?
Yeah, he was a massive influence on the first album and he will be on the second. I’ve really enjoyed working with him. He thinks very similar to me, even though he’s been in the music industry and I’ve been on the bikes, we’ve had quite a similar kind of path in life, travelling and seeing lots of the world. He’s successful in his own right. He’s co-manager of the band right now, so that works out well.
He has a fine track record
Yeah, his writing skills are fantastic and you know, he’s even been writing with my wife and he had a couple of tracks on her latest album as well.
I guess the tour is going pretty well so far. How have the audiences and ticket sales been?
Yeah, from the last run we’ve pretty much doubled, which is outstanding. We had our first ever sell out gig last night in Nottingham’s Rock City which was a 300 cap and that was a real moment for the band. I drove all the way from Aberdeen to Nottingham which was a 7 hour trip, but it wasn’t a problem ‘cos we knew we were going somewhere that was sold out. We were really excited about it and it went great! The audience was great but this one, the Slade Rooms tonight is gonna be the biggest one of the tour. I think the pre-sales are nearly 400 and because the cap here is 500 it’s not sold out but with the walk-ins etc, it’s gonna be really busy. The last time we played here there was just under 300 and it was busy then! Cram another 120 or so in there and it’s gonna be a sweaty old night. The Midlands has been great for us, because of Planet Rock Radio (on FM in the West Midlands area) and t and the Midlands being a true rock area, it’s been great to find those pockets where you know your music fits ‘cos its not gonna fit everyone – Wolverhampton’s been a great place for us.
The Slade Rooms was the game changer on the last run for us. We were playing to about 100-150 people. We came here and ‘cos the album wasn’t out either and there was like nearly 300 in and the noise was unbelievable and it was so much higher than what we’d been doing for the rest of the tour. It was like, what’s happening here? You know, you can only thank the radio stations that are playing you in their areas and for sure it does work.
Are the goals for the band going to plan?
They are! To have a sell-out gig on literally your second main tour, plus the festivals we’ve been doing this year. We’ve had the opportunity to play in front of a lot of people this Summer, which for a rock band that’s difficult to get on radio is what it’s all about, those opportunities to play in front of a big crowd.
We supported Status Quo with their Frantic Four line up at the Civic Hall here in Wolverhampton. That was a real game changer too. There it was 3,000+ all with a similar taste in music. So to go out in front of them and play for 40-50 minutes added an extra 40-50 people at out next gigs, so it really worked out for us! And then we did Calling Festival with Aerosmith, the Steelhouse Festival in Wales, we did both Carfests for Chris Evans, all these were big, big gigs you know, 5000 plus. It just shows that if you can actually present your music to a lot of people then your audiences can really grow.
How does taking on a rock audience compare to taking on the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca?
[laughs] Yeah it’s very similar actually. Some you go to and it’s a bit tricky and you’ve gotta show your mettle and the Corkscrew’s pretty similar. If you go up there a little bit too fast or a bit too slow, you can find yourself in the shit! [loud laughing]. And a rock audience is the same. You go out there and the pace is a bit slow or too fast and you know, the rock audiences aren’t daft. They can see when it’s got real conviction and if the artist really believes in what they’re doing. I think it’s the honesty of the whole thing… I really enjoy that. Rockers are very, very close to the biking crowds, they’re really nice people and really loyal but they certainly won’t be bullshitted. That’s the good thing about writing with Toby, he knows that. He did it for years in front of them and he knows what does and doesn’t work and what you can and can’t do and say. He was very, very cautious ‘cos he knew the hurdles that we had to overcome. I used to be a sportsman, so trying to be a respected musician is a big hurdle to overcome, especially in rock as well. Also being married to Katie (Melua) has got its downsides as well as up; in this industry where people think you can get a leg-up from the Missus and all the rest of it, Toby knows that as well. So we’ve been really careful and done what normal rock bands do, i.e. get into the clubs and built it up and up.
OK, lets say it post-gig now, you are on the tour bus and hit a quiet moment. What do you like to do?
No tour bus?
No… a Sprinter van and I’ve done all the drives so far, except for one I think. After the drive from Aberdeen we stopped in Sheffield before the Nottingham gig last night. Did the laundry and was up till 1am drying them and getting them all sorted, keeping everyone’s pants and socks separate. So I did all that.
Yeah, I book the hotels, I book the van … it’s really hands on. It’s been rewarding. We’ve put all the work in and seen the crowds grow. I don’t mind the graft. I’ve got a great management and agent behind us now and that was through Toby as well, because he used to work with Steve Strange and Steve Zapp and Martin from Strange World and it was really nice after the first couple of demos we did that Toby started to get quite excited about it and he rang his old mates and said “I think you’ll be wanting to get interested in this” and they did and that’s where the team came from. It was a nice, the way they got interested.
Okay, so no tour bus and hence no quiet moments. When you do get time to chill, have you a favourite thing you like to do?
She’s here in a second!
At this point almost as if scripted, JT’s wife called him to say she was outside the venue trying to park. After ensuring that Mrs T was safely ensconced in the Slade Rooms, it was back to the interview …
So finally, what chance is there of you going back to two wheels or is music your future now?
Yeah, the wrist is knackered unfortunately – I’ve got 4 screws in there and it doesn’t bend at all now. That was the second operation on it as well. They tried to put some screws in and get some more movement but unfortunately because the wrist is partly fused, the screws were just bringing the bones away from each other. I had arthritic pain for 2 years ‘cos I chose not to have the pins at first so as to try and come back. I knew that if I had the pins initially it wouldn’t bend. But as it wouldn’t bend anyway it was a no brainer to get it fixed ‘cos it was like a broken wrist for 2 years. Going back to my downtime, I’m home with the Missus or with my family. I have 3 nephews who I am close to and it’s also busy with Kate being away on tour so I’m usually travelling around watching her. Other than that then it’s back at home but I don’t get too much time at home. And I do a bit of TV stuff for BT Sport on Moto GP which keeps my hand in on the racing side of it.
Thanks once again for meeting with Midlands Rocks tonight. It’s been a pleasure and a fascinating interview. Have a great gig!
Thank you. Hope you enjoy it.