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17. 5. 2006


They tell us the music industry is at death's door, that the CD is a thing of the past. Well, in the last 18 months nine million people have wandered into record stores and bought the debut album by James Blunt. Millions more have taken his intensely personal lyrics to heart.

ANDREW DENTON: Here to show us exactly why, singing 'Goodbye My Lover', please welcome Mr James Blunt.


ANDREW DENTON: That was great. Thank you.

JAMES BLUNT: Thank you. Thank you. Thanks very much.

ANDREW DENTON: Welcome to the show, or should I say, "Greetings, descendant of King Gorm of Denmark"?

JAMES BLUNT: Well, I don't know what he's on about.

ANDREW DENTON: But you are.

JAMES BLUNT: Apparently so. I don't remember it.

ANDREW DENTON: Is there not a –

JAMES BLUNT: It was over 1000 years ago.

ANDREW DENTON: There is not a Viking salute in your families?

JAMES BLUNT: Actually, we do have a special salute because my father was in the army, same as me, and there was a time when he commanded a regiment. So he was colonel of a regiment and obviously, you know, if you see the commanding officer, you salute the colonel. There was a time when he lost two fingers in a lawnmower, and so the regimental salute became like that, as respect went out of the window and you just take the mickey out of him.

ANDREW DENTON: My father lost the top of two of his fingers. He used to terrify kids by sticking them up his nose, as though –

JAMES BLUNT: Our fathers are very similar then.

ANDREW DENTON: Is that right? We're off to a good start. That song you just sang, 'Goodbye My Lover' was, for you on the album, the most important song. That was the one about the girl who was the one. Have you sung her out of your system?

JAMES BLUNT: I've sung it a lot. No, it hasn't got me the girl back, but I'm sure it will get me laid.

ANDREW DENTON: Can you teach me the chord structure? That's a very painful thing to do, to keep putting yourself through that memory, isn't it?

JAMES BLUNT: It is. I think, as a performer, on a daily basis you go back to the moments that you wrote the song and the emotion that came from that, whether it be a sad song, whether it be a happy song in any way. It's your job, really, take people on an emotional journey so you have to really throw yourself into that. Yes, that can be hard, but at the same time I find it really rewarding because lots of people say that they relate to the song, or the songs as a whole, and so you get a feedback from people, which is the rewarding thing.

ANDREW DENTON: And you get laid?

JAMES BLUNT: Yes. Hopefully. I guess because the mind can be a lonely place, and at the same time before we go out with other people saying they feel the same way, you recognise that in many ways humans are very similar.

ANDREW DENTON: You recorded that song in Carrie Fisher's bathroom. How did that happen?

JAMES BLUNT: Yes, I did. I was staying with Carrie Fisher, who is, as you know, an actress and a writer now. Really, it's because we ran out of money making this album. I was on an independent record label called Custard and I had a very small budget, but a great producer. We spent most of the money for a week in an expensive studio, then went to his home studio, and then I said, "I want to use a piano for this song," by which stage we had no more money. So we started looking round for a piano and fortunately Princess Leia had one in her bathroom –

ANDREW DENTON: She has a piano in her bathroom?

JAMES BLUNT: They all do in Hollywood.

ANDREW DENTON: Doesn't it warp with the steam?

JAMES BLUNT: I don't know. Maybe she had cold baths, I'm not sure. But it seemed to do the trick, and, you know, people sing in the shower, so where better place.

ANDREW DENTON: It's a fascinating concept. The song, 'You're Beautiful', which everybody, it seems, sings – my football team sings it before games.

JAMES BLUNT: That's a lie. Come on.

ANDREW DENTON: As a motivational song. They haven't won a game this year, I hasten to add. But everybody sings it. I want to show a clip of it now for the few people out there that may not be familiar with it.


JAMES BLUNT: Why did you cut it there? You know, the next bit is the most impressive way you get to see my erect nipples.

ANDREW DENTON: Have you been surprised at the power of a song?

JAMES BLUNT: Yes, absolutely. For me it's a very personal song, still, about the moment I'm in London, not on the Underground, where I saw my ex–girlfriend with her new man, who I didn't know existed. But that second was literally just a second in my life and I've written a three and a half minute song about the feeling. But for it to have gone across the world in the way and connected in this way has completely taken me by surprise, yes.

ANDREW DENTON: People have got married to it, you had actually had someone propose at one of your concerts to this?

JAMES BLUNT: Yes, absolutely. In a box someone got off his chair and I could see him, in his box, kneel down in front of this girl and suddenly realised what was going on. It was a panic on stage, really, thinking, "Christ, don't get it wrong now, otherwise his only memory will be this bad start off," you know. But, yes, but it seemed to work for them.

ANDREW DENTON: You sang it at Elton John's wedding. What was that like?

JAMES BLUNT: It was wonderful. I always had ambitions to be a wedding singer and, failing that, you know, maybe the cruise ships. But I think aim for the top, and it was certainly the top wedding one could ever play at. It was a remarkable day and really very special. It was a huge honour to play that.

ANDREW DENTON: The thing about 'You're Beautiful' is that you're going to be singing that for the rest of your life, wherever you go?

JAMES BLUNT: Thanks for reminding me.

ANDREW DENTON: But there is the question: How are you getting on with that concept?

JAMES BLUNT: Well, I'm on a world tour at the moment and I'm doing the whole of this album, 'Back to Bedlam', every single day. It's not just the one song. I'm very comfortable with that because, really, every day there is a new audience and they bring their own character. When I played here in Australia, now, for a few days, and hearing them sing the words in an Aussie accent is a different experience for me and it keeps it fresh and it keeps it new.

ANDREW DENTON: "You're bloody beautiful. You're a ripper."

JAMES BLUNT: It is close to that.

ANDREW DENTON: Yes, it is.

JAMES BLUNT: And so, yes, for me that's great and I throw in new songs along the way.

ANDREW DENTON: You've also had the experience, in Rome, of having, like, three quarters of a million people singing back to you. Is that an emotional thing, to have your words sung back at you by that many people?

JAMES BLUNT: No, it's just bloody scary. I think it's, in a way, overwhelming, just seeing a sea of faces and hearing these words come back. At the same time I think it can be more intimidating if it was just one person. If I pulled out my guitar now and played just to you, that would be quite full on. So that kind of an audience is more of a celebration really.

ANDREW DENTON: Would one of our nipples get erect?

JAMES BLUNT: I don't know about you.

ANDREW DENTON: Just dim the lights a touch. The reason I asked about emotion, because you've said, "I'm not very emotional, just ask any of my ex–girlfriends." Is what you mean by that, that the best way for you to express emotion is in a song?

JAMES BLUNT: Yes, you're absolutely right. But also on 'Back to Bedlam' there are two songs about girls and there are eight songs about a whole host of other subjects. So, yes, we've got 20 per cent of this album and people do seem to focus on that because we had a very successful single on the back of it. But (indistinct) 80 per cent which shows that I'm much of a rascal than a romantic, and, yes, being a Brit I am emotionally stunted.

ANDREW DENTON: Is that the national characteristic?

JAMES BLUNT: I think it used to be.


JAMES BLUNT: Yes, but through song I definitely can capture it, and everyone, presumably, has some form of emotion inside and I find language limiting but I can capture it in a song.

ANDREW DENTON: You were a captain in the British Army, in the NATO peacekeeping forces, and one of the things you were asked to do was to sing songs to boost morale. What sort of songs did you sing?

JAMES BLUNT: I certainly didn't sing 'Goodbye My Lover' to a bunch of soldiers.

ANDREW DENTON: That would have picked them up before battle. So what did you sing?

JAMES BLUNT: Well, really anything. I think you pick your audience. I can't even remember what the songs were called. We had one which I just changed the words to being called 'What a Waste of a Day' and it was, kind of, a healthy soldiers' sing–a–long song. But, yes the occasional – in a war zone it was amusing to sing 'Give Peace a Chance' while you're driving around in your tank.

ANDREW DENTON: Did you get a lusty chorus from the rest of the company?

JAMES BLUNT: The whole battlefield.

ANDREW DENTON: Is that right? How charming. John Lennon would be thrilled, wouldn't he?


ANDREW DENTON: When you're singing, of course, you said you wouldn't sing 'Goodbye My Lover'. Is it okay to show your sensitive side in the army, or did you keep that very much to yourself?

JAMES BLUNT: Yes, of course. I mean, it's a really tight knit team of people and it's strange, people often ask me about, "God, it's amazing that you have any kind of creative element, artistic element in you because you were in the army." That confuses me because if you just take away people's uniforms, you find, underneath that, that they are skin and bone and, really, they're what you call humans.


JAMES BLUNT: So, yes, in that environment it's a tight knit team and you're doing a job which we're all getting our heads down, but we recognise that people will need support at different stages.

ANDREW DENTON: You talk about national characteristics. You only have to think of people like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brook, who were in the army but wrote extraordinarily powerful poems.

JAMES BLUNT: Absolutely.

ANDREW DENTON: It's not just restricted to the uniform.

JAMES BLUNT: Yes, and I think in those environments often that's a great way of documenting what's going on around you. I was involved in a place that was incredibly destructive. It was seeing human beings at their worst. Many people find themselves writing journals or a diary, and rather than that I wrote some songs.

ANDREW DENTON: You did more than that, you also videoed a lot of it. You were one of the first NATO peacekeepers into Kosovo, a particularly brutal war. You wrote a song about it while you were there, which took you 10 minutes to write, 'No Bravery', and the clip involves some of your footage. Here is a bit of it now.


ANDREW DENTON: Seeing those kids is particularly moving. You were only 22 when you went in there. Does that stay with you?

JAMES BLUNT: Yes, absolutely. Any experience on that level will stay in the mind forever and so should it. I think it was a really great education. I come from a very protected and safe country and background and I was going to a place where food and shelter and life itself couldn't be taken for granted. I'm really glad I got that opportunity to go there. I also have the huge privilege of, after six months, being able to come home, when there are many people who still live not there, but there are many other places in the world where people's lives are in turmoil every single day.

ANDREW DENTON: Why did you decide to film it? What were you expecting when you went in?

JAMES BLUNT: Well, I took a video camera because I wanted to document what was going on as a video diary, really. It's just easier than writing things down, to an extent. I was also, when I got there, quite reluctant to then video many of the scenes that I did witness because it seemed a bit abhorrent to start filming death on a massive level. So, really, it was only towards the end of the time that I then decided, actually I really should probably try and document some of these more abhorrent scenes. Because if I didn't, then I wouldn't be really capturing everything that was there.

ANDREW DENTON: You were only 22, you were a captain, you were responsible for people's lives in the middle of a war. Did you feel in charge or was a part of you waiting for the adults to arrive?

JAMES BLUNT: No, I felt very much in command of what I was responsible for. I wasn't alone, I was with a team of people, and although I'd been only in for a couple of years, I had soldiers all around who had been in for a lot longer and you take advice from experts and you take responsibility for your decisions. But if you don't consult those around you, you'd be a real fool.

ANDREW DENTON: When was your leadership most tested?

JAMES BLUNT: I guess it's tested on a daily basis and you –

ANDREW DENTON: Can you give an example?

JAMES BLUNT: There were moments – there was a bit of a confusing time when we first went in and we were told to race the Russians to the airport in Pristina and we were told that by all means we had to beat them to the airport. Then when we didn't beat them, because the Serbs, obviously, stopped us getting there, it was big political coup and the Russians had beaten us to the airport and we were told we had to then remove them by force. That was quite a confusing message because the Russians were, supposedly, on our side at that time. When we really tried to clarify what force meant, it meant through ultimate force. We had 200–odd Russians lined up with weapons and 30,000 of us, sort of, piled behind me and a group of soldiers, and we were told, you know, "This is it, off you go," which, to me, I understood meant that's, kind of, our definition of World War III in some way, isn't it? And it took a lot of calming down of a situation, really, and trying to reason with superior officers at one stage, before more sensible decisions could be passed back down to us.

ANDREW DENTON: You were reasoning with your superior officers?

JAMES BLUNT: No, my superior officers were pretty clear thinking about that. There were some others, who I wouldn't point a finger at, at this stage.

ANDREW DENTON: No. But that's an extraordinary situation?

JAMES BLUNT: Yes, remarkable, really. But, fortunately, armies, in this day and age, have the ability to question their orders and say, "Hang on, I know I've been given this mission but I don't know if it makes entire sense to me." I think gone are the days where soldiers just do blindly what they're told to do, but they are actually in a position to use their own power of reason.

ANDREW DENTON: If you had to, were you prepared to kill?

JAMES BLUNT: I was a reconnaissance officer during the bombing campaign and very much involved during that phase of the bombing campaign. I think there are moments in one's life where it's very clear what you should be doing. We went to a place where there were soldiers who were murdering people. We went and reasoned with them and said, "Stop murdering these people," and they carried on murdering them. Eventually you say to them, "If you murder them, we'll use force," and they continued to murder them, and at that stage the power of reason has gone and so you have to carry out your threats.

ANDREW DENTON: After the war, when you started with your music career, you spent time with Carrie Fisher. She described you, at that time, as having been through such an intense period, as disassociated from your emotions. Were you aware of feeling that way?

JAMES BLUNT: Yes, absolutely. I think it's a very easy way of not necessarily getting too overly affected by what you've done. I think you see doctors, often, that find themselves dealing with their jobs in a humorous way, and think soldiers probably do the same.

ANDREW DENTON: How do you associate again? How do you get it back?

JAMES BLUNT: I don't know. I'm not in therapy, if that's what you're asking. Well, I haven't been in that situation again so I don't have to deal with many of those things. I mean, I feel very comfortable with the past in that way, I'm really not troubled by it. But I guess, for me, as I said, what I was saying before is that I turned up for a six month period and so I played a role and a part as an army officer and we acted in the way that we were asked and were supposed to act, but then can come back and go down to the pub and have a pint.


JAMES BLUNT: So for that six months you can turn on a switch, I think, for that six–month period, act like you can and then come back and be normal again, which is what I was saying, which is so sad for those who have to stay there.

ANDREW DENTON: What do you think it is in your songs that's reached so many people?

JAMES BLUNT: I don't know because I didn't expect it to. But what I would guess at is maybe they're very honest and as these kind of honest, open ideas, maybe it's because, as humans, we all do share the same planet at the same time and we're just trying to get by through life, and so maybe we have those same emotions, be they happy or sad.

ANDREW DENTON: There has also been, as there usually is with any artist who sells a lot of records, a backlash. There is a lot of young people for whom James Blunt is the definition of un–hip. What do you think that's about?

JAMES BLUNT: I think that's a very healthy expression of what music is all about. Of course, when I first put my album out we had some very positive reviews and it was under the radar. We didn't chuck a whole load of posters and adverts out about it, we put it out with no advertising for a few months and let it bubble and boil and see if it would grow through word of mouth and response was very positive. Then, eventually, the album hit number one and exploded and went much bigger than I'd ever anticipated. As a result, you get people who absolutely love it and as a result you also get people who really would prefer, you know, not to hear it. I think that's really healthy and music is not about formulas, it's about people's opinions. If some people choose to like mine and other people would prefer to like other music, then I'm very glad for that –

ANDREW DENTON: Do you get surprised sometimes at the intensity with which people want to take exception to your music? I've seen a website which is 'You're Beautiful', but it's 'You're Gullible', with a doll of you singing and tomatoes being thrown at you.

JAMES BLUNT: I have quite a high score on that website.


JAMES BLUNT: Yes. I did, I cleared over 100 points.

ANDREW DENTON: Is that right?


ANDREW DENTON: Do you look at it and wonder why people get so intense about a song?

JAMES BLUNT: No, not at all. I think it's there, it's prevalent, and so if something has put its head above the parapet, people will take a shot at it, and that's the industry in which we're in. I totally expect that.

ANDREW DENTON: When you were at uni you wrote your thesis on the 'Comodification of Image: The Production of a Pop Idol'. Did you see the backlash coming before it came?

JAMES BLUNT: You're so well researched. Not even my parents know that. No, well I was kind of writing it long before the notion of what a pop idol was from, you know, that television program that's completely changed the definition of it, really. But, no, I didn't expect this kind of extremity, really, of passion in one way and then loathing in another. That's, you know, it's extreme. I think it's along the nature of the world we live in. People idolise now, and I think probably for the wrong reasons. We have a notion of celebrity and I think we should probably focus on doctors and nurses and firemen and a whole wealth of other people who do far more on a life and death level and idolise them instead.

ANDREW DENTON: Your family, your father and grandfather, there is a military tradition. What do they make of your career?

JAMES BLUNT: My dad was really nervous when I first said that I was going to do music. He said that I should stick with a safe job with career prospects and a steady income. Now he's my number one fan. He's now – I've got him turning up to shows, selling my t–shirts. So, yes.

ANDREW DENTON: When Carrie Fisher was talking about you, she referred to fame as magnifier.

JAMES BLUNT: Where has she been saying all this stuff?

ANDREW DENTON: She's just out the back now. She's fixing up our bathroom. She said fame is a magnifier. What's it magnified in you?

JAMES BLUNT: I'm much bigger with no clothes on.

ANDREW DENTON: That's a claim you've got to back up.

JAMES BLUNT: I hear you guys have budgie smugglers; I have a parrot smuggler.

ANDREW DENTON: Is that right? Speaking as a falcon smuggler, I'm impressed.


ANDREW DENTON: As you said, you wrote this album largely for yourself, you've said that in many interviews, and you didn't expect anywhere near as many people to hear it. Who are you going to write the second album for?

JAMES BLUNT: I will go back to doing it exactly the way I did the first, which is doing songs as a form of a diary and documenting those ideas and thoughts that I have in my own mind. I'm sure there will be pressures from various people to try and make it commercially viable, but this next one, which will be fully instrumental, using African instruments only, will be just about an expression of what it is that I feel and that's the importance and relevance to me. If I can hold up one copy of my second album and say, "Yes, I enjoy this and I like it," that's much more relevant. I think it's going back to the definition of what is musical success: It's not about the number of units you sell, it's about what you take from music, your enjoyment from music, how you express it, and if you can connect and touch other people along the way, that's the most important thing.

ANDREW DENTON: Are you seriously making this next one with African –

JAMES BLUNT: No, I'm not.

ANDREW DENTON: It sounded good. But as you say, so it's a diary. But your experience since writing this first album has been the experience of becoming James Blunt, James Blunt. Is your diary not going to be about this experience?

JAMES BLUNT: Well, no, I hope not to be writing it about hotel rooms and interviews. I think my life is much the same as it was before, in that I work with a bunch of musicians and I travel the world and I play to some people. My friends and my family and the people I work with, my relationship with them is the same. They abuse me every single day and I will write about that abuse. So I still live as an individual rather than any kind of branded object.

ANDREW DENTON: So the joy of fame is not necessarily – it's certainly not the recognition, not necessarily the income. The joy of fame is who you get to meet. Access to people who you wouldn't have met otherwise?

JAMES BLUNT: Yes, I think connecting with people is a great moment. I don't really enjoy the notion of the loss of one's anonymity as being famous, I think that's a very strange phenomenon. Also, if people do treat you in any different way, I find that strange. People can prejudge you because of the notion of celebrity and that's unusual. Again, I'm just a normal person. But I have this amazing job where I go round the world and I play to lots of people and people turn up to the shows and they seem to enjoy them and connect with them. I'm living a way of life that I've dreamt about and loving it.

JAMES BLUNT: I'll look forward to your next album with the song about the falcon smuggler.

JAMES BLUNT: Okay. And we'll know who it's about.

ANDREW DENTON: We certainly will. James Blunt, thank you very much.

JAMES BLUNT: It's a pleasure.