James Morrison

Here’s the setup: A promising singer/songwriter from England is scheduled to play a career-boosting showcase attended by hundreds of music industry bigwigs and journalists from all over the globe.

At the last minute, something happens that prevents him from getting there, and someone else goes on in his place. A case of mistaken identity ensues and a reporter from an influential newspaper writes a scathing review.

It sounds like the plot for a sitcom. Except it’s all true, and James Morrison has the embarrassing press clippings to prove it.

Morrison was scheduled to play this year’s South By Southwest Music Conference in Austin, but got stranded in New York by a freak spring snowstorm. Fellow Brit Scott Matthews took the stage in his place, and a writer from the L.A. Times mistook him for Morrison and panned the performance.

The easy-going Morrison took the whole thing in stride however, laughingly telling Pollstar, “I was like ‘Fuckin’ hell! Whenever I see whoever it is that played, I’m gonna tell him to play better next time, so that I don’t get a bad review.’”

In actuality, bad reviews are something Morrison hasn’t really had to worry much about. The 22-year-old singer’s smoky, soulful voice and blues-tinged tunes have earned him legions of fans, praise from critics, a Brit Award, and a No. 1 album and pair of Top 5 singles on the U.K. charts. Now his sights are set on the U.S.

Morrison said he’s been singing as long as he can remember, often using music to help him cope with his poverty-stricken upbringing, even “singing myself to sleep sometimes.” His passion for music took off after he got a guitar when he was 13 and he set to work learning to play his favorite songs.

He credits his musical education to his parents’ record collection, which was filled with artists “like Stevie Wonder and all the old Motown singers, anybody from Otis Redding to Marvin Gaye to Sam Cooke, and then there was Van Morrison, Cat Stevens, the Eagles, and Bob Dylan.”

Morrison busked a lot and worked odd jobs over the next few years. His break came when he was wandering around London after being fired from a job washing vans.

James Morrison

He bumped into a guitar player he knew who invited him to record some demos at his home studio and put him in touch with Spencer Wells, a former band scout for David Gray’s label.

Wells liked what he heard and passed the demos on to some contacts at Universal. Wells also decided he wanted to take a shot at managing Morrison, even though he’d never done it before.

Morrison agreed and the pair started drawing up a contract. Wells decided they needed “a proper business head” and brought in Paul McDonald to co-manage.

It’s an arrangement that seems to work well. Chris Dalston and Jon Pleeter, Morrison’s agents at CAA, have as much praise for Wells and McDonald as they do for Morrison.

Pleeter told Pollstar all three are great to work with, and said Morrison is not only “an amazing musician, he’s a great human being.”

“I think part of that comes from Spencer and Paul,” Dalston said. “They keep him very grounded. They remind him where he’s from.”

Morrison tries hard to keep everything in perspective.

“I just try to keep my feet on the ground and enjoy it. I know that I’m not a cocky artist – I’m just James and he’s been lucky.”

He does admit the rapid success has been a little unnerving, but playing live has helped him come to terms with it.

“I felt like I’d just been plunked into a roller coaster ride, and I had to just grip on and grin,” he said. “It was quite scary at first, whereas now I’m kind of enjoying it a lot more.

“I feel more confident about my singin’ – when people sing your songs back to you, it does make you feel a little more confident.”

Working with a close-knit band on the road has also helped. Morrison said he was lucky enough to work with keyboard player Nikolaj Torp on his album. Torp pulled the band together, drafting the drummer from a group he was in and a guitarist and bass player he’d known since he lived in Denmark.

“They were really tight as people anyway – and as musicians,” Morrison said. “That was one thing. I was always like, ‘If I don’t have a band that I get on with – I don’t care how fuckin’ good they are – I’m not hangin’ around with a load of dicks.’”

Dalston and Pleeter say it’s Morrison’s live show that’s really going to take him to the next level in the States, and they’ve already got a plan in place to make sure it happens.

“His live show very much speaks for itself,” Pleeter said. “He’s just amazing live and we have a great record as well, so it’s a matter of bringing him back as often as possible.”

“Right now, he’s playing in a duo setup,” Dalston said. “I saw the show in Europe recently with a full band, and it’s to a different degree. It’s incredible actually. The full band is mind blowing.”

Morrison is currently playing a handful of dates in the U.S. before heading to Australia and New Zealand in May. He’ll hit the European festival circuit this summer, and return to the States to open for John Mayer in July. He’s expecting to head out either on his own or as part of a package tour in September.