Jamie T: Wimbledon calling

Jamie T is influenced by the Clash and the sounds of London but his songs resonate right across the UK, says Chris Mugan

If you believe The Rough Guide to Britain, Aberdonians joke that their Winter Gardens are popular because a visit to them saves on heating bills, but this can't explain why 200 music fans have packed the One Up record shop to hear a Londoner who is barely distinguishable from themselves.

With his unruly shock of hair and blue hoodie, Jamie T blends in with the local gelled-hair casuals and scruffy art students. The Wimbledon troubadour is ready to oblige, signing records and posing for camera phones long after his session was due to finish.

You would hardly believe that Jamie's tour bus had been trapped in snow storms to the south of Scotland and he has had no time to rest after soundchecking for the opening night of his current tour.

His instore gig, meanwhile, is a throwback to the 21-year-old's beginnings as a solo artist in the pubs of south-west London. His tales of rubbish New Year's Eves and falling asleep on the Underground had resonance there, but how do such stories translate so well to Scotland, given how his music and vocal style have such a sense of place?

Some commentators have hailed him as the definitive sound of the suburbs, in the manner of Woking's Paul Weller. But Jamie muses there is little difference between kids from the Highlands and south of the Thames.

"I haven't connected myself with Wimbledon, everyone else has picked up on it. I don't mind where I live, and music isn't made to be confined. Sometimes I listen to stuff because I don't know what people are talking about."

Having said that, Jamie is keen to point out that despite its connection with tennis, Wimbledon is not as suburban as people have made out.

"I don't have this alienation thing that a lot of kids do. I'm only 15 minutes from Waterloo, so I'm lucky in that way to be able to go out to the suburbs or into the city. I feel an affiliation with the suburbs because I know kids from there and I had it a lot better than they did, all the boredom and that."

It was in nearby Putney, though, that Jamie was most fond of going out. As an underage drinker, he and his mates befriended bar staff to gain entry, and its pubs have provided a rich source of characters for his songs, especially minor hit "Sheila".

"I've changed names and mixed people together to make them more interesting, but they are all things that have gone on. When I was writing songs, I didn't think this album is going to be true and from the heart. It is just a mix of things I thought were funny - or not funny at all."

In the song, Georgina dies from an overdose, possibly with drugs bought from a dealer known as "smack Jack the cracker man".

"He is part of a gang and decides they are really honest with him, but he doesn't realise they are high off their faces and everyone's true when they're like that," Jamie explains. "He doesn't realise they're leading him down a trail of dishonesty."

It is less a moralising tale, more a lesson learnt at some personal cost. He had his fun in a few packed, precocious years and is keen to draw inspiration from them, something he reveals as the anecdote proceeds.

"That's what's intriguing about drugs. You do your first pill and you think it's the best thing in the world, because you can talk to people, but it's not real. Some people can use the experience, but others can't."

Jamie has an ear for capturing shiny nuggets of conversation, such as "I ain't no abacus, but you can count on me" from album track "Operation". It suggests he is one of life's listeners, preferring to stand in the corner and watch the mayhem unfold around him.

"Depends on my mood, really. I tend to get quiet sometimes, but that's normally after I've been loud and had my fun."

Jamie writes lyrics every day, not whole songs, mind, but one- or two-line fragments that somehow coalesce into a slightly more meaningful whole, something that makes the album hard to follow.

"Being crap with music, everything's in the same key, so you can fit them all at the end. "Sheila" was three different parts put together, with the bit on Georgina something I'd had for ages. I wrote them all round the same period, when I was in Putney, so there is some connection." Elsewhere, he loses himself in a stream-of-consciousness writing style similar to freestyle rap, most notably on debut album Panic Prevention's epic closing track, "Alicia Quays', so named because he originally attempted to copy a piano part used by the R 'n' B star with a similar name.

"A lot of things have been freestyled and then rewritten, though for that track we went into the studio a little worse for wear and just ran it for 25 minutes. We had to cut a few verses out in the end [down to six-and-a-half minutes]. I've always got little lines going on in my head, so it's not quite off the cuff."

Rather than hip-hop artists, Jamie was inspired to freestyle by Tim Armstrong, vocalist in US 1990s punk revivalists Rancid. Through that scene, he was turned on to the the Clash, the Specials and the classic reggae of Jimmy Cliff and Desmond Dekker, from which he picked up some exotic turns of phrase ("a fickle way to tickle on a young man's ting", again, from "Sheila"). Nothing to be ashamed of, he shrugs, in his own south London idiom.

"I didn't know I was doing it, until a journalist said: 'You're singing in patois.' I mean, what's patois? I've watched The Harder They Come and I didn't understand a word of it. I have a bit of swing on certain words, because I'm influenced by what I hear."

Nowadays, he is excited by the compelling narratives of New York's Russian émigrée Regina Spektor, though as a teenager he picked up first the drumsticks and then bass guitar to emulate his punk heroes in school-age bands that barely lasted for a handful of rehearsals; but he made firm friendships with musicians who formed his new band and set the course for his own style. "I wanted to play the guitar, but found it too hard with the extra strings," he says. "I was hanging out in Putney and went to the acoustic nights because I liked a bit of quiet and it doesn't matter if you go on your own."

After a month, Jamie found the courage to perform solo himself, albeit with an electric bass rather than the more usual six-string guitar. From Putney, Jamie went on to play round London. It was only when he met folky indie outfit Larrikin Love that he came across the instrument he is most identified with, the acoustic four-string.

Now he performs with a backing band to fill out his home studio sound, but on Panic you can still hear glimpses of his solo roots in opening track "Brand New Bass Guitar" and "Back In The Game", so intimate it could have been recorded in the bathroom. From performing solo, it was an easy step to DIY recording. His current home studio, in a house he shares with his brother, is seen in all its messy glory on the album cover.

Jamie had kept a four-track system from his band days aged 15. With inheritance money from a distant relative, he could buy a computer and some basic studio software.

"I just wanted to make music that sounded slightly like things I liked, not because I wanted other people to listen to them. By that time, I was very into the Clash and all these other influences would come and go, so I would be happy staying in my room making a synth sound like Scratch Perry."

It is intriguing to imagine Jamie working a few roads away from the producers of a vibrant UK garage scene. I wonder if he picked up some tips from them, but Jamie only admits a fondness for drum and bass. You can hear echoes of this in the trip-hop bounce of "So Lonely Was The Ballad" and the more propulsive "Ike & Tina".

Just as the Clash were attuned to the sounds of London's melting pot, so Jamie opens his ears widely, perhaps even to primitive rock 'n' roll. Could his album's opener pay tribute to his heroes' cover of "Brand New Cadillac"? Is the reference to the United Nations on "Operation" a tribute to Eddie Cochran? And why name his band the Pacemakers after Gerry Marsden's group? Jamie rolls his eyes in exasperation. "Isn't he dead? Someone told me he was, but then another guy told me the other day: 'Actually, he might be alive', and I thought: 'Here we go', but that's not why I chose the name."

With a growing reputation on London's indie circuit, Jamie was encouraged to make his own mixtapes, a combination of his own songs and tracks by favourite artists. He set up his own club night at the tiny 12 Bar Club, where A&R men flocked and the singer was able to find a sympathetic label. Jamie called his club night Panic Prevention, named after a self-help CD given to him by his mum. Sampled on the album, it hints that his journey was not entirely smooth, as high living at a young age came at a cost.

"It was high anxiety rather than panic attacks," he admits. "I got agoraphobic and ended up in hospital after I had an attack in the street. I have this thing nowadays where I get overanxious and complicate things, but it's all in your mind and you can calm yourself down."

Past emotional problems don't prevent him from wooing an exuberant Aberdeen crowd, as he and the Pacemakers speed up the tempo and give his songs more punk edge. The Jamie T bandwagon is off to a flying start.

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin