The Master & The Apprentice

Alexander O’Neal has a career that has spanned over 30 years and spawned countless top 40 hits after being signed by Prince back in 1981 to Warner Bros. His voice has been compared to the legendary Otis Redding and he has seen great success in the UK. 

Songs like ‘Fake’, ‘Saturday Night’, and ‘Criticize’, to name a few, will always be remembered as classic songs from the 80’s. Now after nine solo studio albums released between 1985 and last year, he’s back on the road with the ‘Resurrected Tour’, which climaxes at the London Palladium in April. 

So when an R’n’B master chooses someone to tour with him, we should take notice. The fact that the big man from Mississippi has chosen Welsh singer-songwriter Jay James as his support is a next big step for the former X Factor favourite and he is thrilled to bring his music to a whole new audience.

Essentially Pop was lucky enough to catch up with Jay and ask him a few questions about the past, the present and the future and he gave a really good insight into the hard work needed to make steps in music, his excitement about the tour and what he hopes to achieve. Tickets are available here.

EP: Jay, a lot of people will recognise you from X factor in 2014, but in fact you were highlighted as one to watch by none other than Radio 1’s Annie Mac and Soul R’n’B expert Trevor Nelson as early as 2012. Do you think, retrospectively, that despite raising your profile, X Factor may have detracted from your real soul pedigree?
JJ: Thanks so much for the questions! Not to shy away from some possible hype but the love was certainly for the track I featured on, probably more so than me as the writer & featured artist, all the same to be acknowledged by them and have some awesome airtime & love was class!
I definitely try not to think retrospectively about anything to be honest. After doing the show, which I’m glad and grateful of, I’ve certainly found some music industry folk with unaccepting preconceptions about it and ‘the people’ who do it, that’s a real shame. It’s ok for the likes of Adele, Beyonce and Coldplay to use it as a platform to promote themselves but it seems there’s still some stuck up thoughts towards new artists trying it. There are little to no platforms available for artists now to find their light and give them the opportunity to showcase themselves without all the usual shit & hype expected, hit songs, working with hot music producers, writers, a big internet following blah blah, essentially the show gives the ability for someone to just sing and be judged on a voice, after the camera’s turn off and the show ends ultimately it’s down to you to utilise whats been gained and prove you want more than to just be famous and on TV. I think in short my ‘real pedigree’ I hope, will be in the music I’ll continue to make.

EP: Having had a number 2 hit with your debut single in the Radio 1 R’n’B charts, why did you think X factor was the way to go for your career and not a more slow burn approach?
JJ: After the slow burn approach for nearly 7 years, a major label & publishing deals, radio airplay support and all the ’right’ music associations and people telling me all the ‘big things’, it honestly meant nothing, I was living back at my dads house with my wife and a 6 month daughter. With trips back on for from the states being promised the World by stereotypical flaky label executives, I decided to take control and although entering the show may not feel like Independence, trust me it did. I put my faith in everyday people and a Worldwide TV platform to decide finally if I had what it took. I was blessed it did and after telling myself, if I could get to the live finals I was sure I could continue on Independently, it’s now given me more than anything I did previously. With a lot more hard work I’m hoping that can continue.
EP: After X Factor you decided to take a break from the limelight. What was your thinking?
JJ: I wanted to get back to focussing on music and life to be honest. There is definitely a temptation to utilise the fame to go on to do more reality TV but it’s not really me. After touring the UK & Ireland with the show I took some time out with family, focussed on my next steps, got back to writing and creating original music and decided to get involved in broadcasting. Broadcasting is like songwriting, you take observations of the World in through your own creative filter and then express it on the microphone, the connection is real life, I fell in love with it, plus the idea of being passionate about playing music out on the radio felt like an awesome career move to supplement the music dream. For the past year I’ve been blessed to be presenting the ‘Big Show’ a global radio show on Forces Radio, BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service) 3 times a week. (Tue, Wed & Fri 4-7pm UK on DAB tell ya friends! lol).
EP: Who do you consider your main musical influences? Has R’n’B always been your preferred genre or do you see yourself dipping into other genres?
JJ: I’m a soul & blues boy really, I love everything from hip hop, cinematic, to folk and country. I’d say my biggest influences would be artists that express and write honestly, the likes of Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, Otis, Lewis Taylor to Adele & Amy.
EP: How has your background in the Royal Navy prepared you for the future and did a role as a Warfare specialist helped to plan your assault on the charts of the future?
JJ: Haha nice! If honest I owe so much to that, I loved my time and love still being well connected through my work on BFBS. I’d probably say focus, self belief and the saying ‘crack on’ are all things I gained from the Military, nothing was more pressured than that. In music whether it’s yours or anyone else’s mistake you will live & die by your own sword. The ability to take the experience, bad or good and learn from it has definitely given me the ability to continue to positively hold my own sword and crack on.
EP: Having taken time to refocus, and in the process adding to your skills with a new career in broadcasting, how exciting is it to be invited to tour with R’n’B legend Alexander O’Neal?
JJ: I’m absolutely buzzing, I met Alex about 2 years ago with the idea of writing & producing some music for him. I had the honour of doing a couple of shows with him last year and we had so much fun. Like many people, I adore Alex, love his music and value his experience, he has been a big supporter, now to be given the opportunity to head out and perform to his fans & spend some great time together is awesome.
EP: With Alex’s Resurrected Tour to look forward to, does it feel like a resurrection or just the natural step in your game-plan?
JJ: For the sake of a great pun, I’d buy that! LOL but honestly, it definitely feels like a natural step. I’ve been blessed previously to be associated with some great ‘Old School’ artists. From Booker T. Jones to now Alex I’m just buzzing for the opportunity to be backed to get out and do me.
EP: How exciting is it to bring new music to your fans and how much are you looking forward to making new fans with the tour?
JJ: Massively exciting! when you work for so long and hard on creating it you can’t wait to get it out there. Performing with real musicians and sharing those experiences with a crowd is the best feeling in the World. I’m hyped to get that opportunity.
EP: It must be very exciting to look forward to finishing the tour at the world famous London Palladium in April. What comes next?
JJ: can’t wait I hear it’s nearly already sold out! well the album is now available to pre-order via I’ll be working on that alongside a load of other shows and festivals in the summer with th idea of my own headline tour in August!
EP: Finally, many thanks for your time and all the very best of luck for the tour and the future. Any final message for our readers?
JJ: Thanks so much for your time, interest & some great questions! I just want to say thanks in advance to anyone who is reading and thinking of giving me the opportunity to open their ears to my new stuff, please if you connect and enjoy it would be awesome to connect, you can hit me up on Facebook, Twitter or on my website where there are some free downloads etc
Jay x
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