Out of his Box

David Hennessy chats to Dublin singer-songwriter Gavin James about this week’s London Irish Centre fundraiser, his latest single which is about not letting people put you down and his drive-in gigs that he hopes can help revive the live industry hit so hard by Covid-19.

“It’s going to be great craic,” Dublin singer-songwriter Gavin James says of this week’s fundraiser for the London Irish Centre where he joins a bill that also boasts huge names such as Niall Horan, Dermot O’Leary, Laura Whitmore and Robert Sheehan as well as Irish World Award winners Dara O Briain and Imelda May among others. The event that can be streamed on the centre’s YouTube and Facebook pages hopes to raise £100,000 to allow the centre to continue their work through the crisis.

Gavin played at the centre’s fundraiser last September when Imelda May and Maverick Sabre were also on the bill raising more than £50,000 for the centre

“I lived in London for two years. The first one I did was before this whole pandemic happened and it was great craic.

“It’s going to be class craic. When I did it before, it was great hanging out with all the boys there last time. Foy Vance was there last time, Liam O Maonlaí was there last time as well. He’s an absolute genius. I love him. It’s just great seeing all the artists together having the banter. It’s one of those kind of gigs- When it’s on the internet, hopefully it’s similar- It’s very relaxed. People are just doing it for the craic really, having a party and celebrating the Irishness in London.

“The London Irish Centre is class and for me it’s the only pint of Guinness I’ve ever had of any relevance.
“I loved it, Gary (Dunne, Director of Culture at London Irish Centre) got me onto it last time and what they’ve been doing over the years has been amazing.

“I moved back late September. I was in London two and a half years. It was a great time to live there because it was getting everything ready for my second album, felt like a nice time to move there. I wasn’t actually intending to live there for a long time but I ended up loving London in general.

“My sister’s been there for nearly ten years now. She loves it over there. I was in Dalston for a while and then I moved down the road to Hackney. I was in West Brompton for a little bit. I’ve always been back and forth to London.”

From gigging in Temple Bar, Gavin would go onto sign his record deal when he was still only 21, he is still only 28.

His debut album, Bitter Pill was released in 2016 and reached number five in the Irish charts and his 2018 follow-up Only Ticket Home reached number two. The singer-songwriter’s latest single Boxes is the first from his forthcoming third album and has a positive message about not letting people tell you you can’t do something.

It starts with the lines, ‘Went to the wrong school wearing the wrong shoes’.

Gavin explains: “The first lyric came out of when I went to Deco’s (St. Declan’s) in Cabra and you used to have to wear slippers.

“If you wore brown shoes or Nikes or something like that, you had to go to the principal’s office and wear slippers for the rest of the day which is actually class. It was very comfy but they never had my size, 11.5.

“Obviously music is a tough profession to do but when I was sixth year, I was doing gigs in Temple Bar. I think I was doing six or seven gigs a week when I was doing my Leaving Cert.

“Even then people were like, ‘Would you not do something a bit more feasible, that you could make a career out of?’ I was like, ‘But this is class, I love playing gigs’.

“It’s nobody’s business what you do really at the end of the day. If you want to do something, just do it. If it makes you happy, go for it one hundred per cent. Don’t have any plan B, just focus on plan A.

“I always did that and I always got bored when people told me to look at something else. My mam and dad never did that, they always wanted me to do music. They always supported me. I wrote the song about that aspect, Follow your dream. Don’t take any notice of what other people are saying.

“There’s no point putting down someone else when they want to do something. It never made any sense to me. If someone wants to be an astronaut, grand. Let them be an astronaut.”

In the spirit of the song, the lockdown has seen Gavin turn his hand to some new things.

“I’ve been making bread. I can’t make bread. Nobody told me to not try and make bread. I said, ‘F**k it, I’m gonna try and make some bread because I’m bored out of my mind’.

“Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t make bread. To be honest I cannot make bread for the life of me. My oven looks like a tip. The fact of the matter was nobody said I couldn’t do it,” he laughs.

Next month will see Gavin start to play some drive-in dates around Ireland in his bid to get Ireland’s live industry back to work while keeping people safe.

“I was trying to think of an idea of what we could do. All the people who have been working with me for the last ten years, most of my mates who are working as front of house and security and stuff obviously haven’t worked since the middle of March.

“Doing the drive-in gigs, it’s a little foot back in the door. I’m hoping everyone else jumps on board with it, it’s a little tiny bump in the right direction, I think while we can’t go and do proper gigs or festivals at the moment. It’s nice to get everybody back to work in this way. Also, families can come and get out of their house and enjoy the whole festival vibe even if they’re in their car. It’s going to be very different from a normal gig but this will be a learning curve for everybody. I’m hoping loads of other bands follow suit.

“I’ve no idea what to expect. I mean someone who absolutely hates me could buy a ticket and beep the horn for the whole thing, you never know. You never know but I have this idea to make it more of a show.

“Sitting in your car is not the same as standing shoulder to shoulder with thousands of people that you don’t know which is the fun of going to a gig really. It’s going to be a totally different gig from anything I’ve ever done.

“It’s a little step in the right direction. There’s no other option. I was trying to think of other ways of doing it and I think the idea of a drive-in gig is cool. It’s weird, nobody has really done it before. I was trying to think of other ways of doing it. It’s nearly impossible to try and do a gig without it being a drive-in, unless people bring bubbles to sit in.”

Although Gavin had his next album ready to go, lockdown has given him the chance to write and revise his next collection.

“I’d say I have the guts of about 70,000 albums written so far,” he jokes. “The album was pretty much finished and Boxes was the first release. It’s going to be rejigged a lot, I think and have a good few songs that wouldn’t have been on the third album but now will be.

“I think everyone now has a lot of time to think and a lot of time to reflect on everything now so the album’s about that: What was I doing before this? What am I going to do after this?

“We’ve got to treat each other better. I can’t wait to go to me ma and da’s, give them a proper hug. At the start of this, everyone was missing the pubs. It’s more important that you have your mates. The outlook on life is going to be a lot different after all this.”

Gavin plays the London Irish Centre’s Big Night In fundraiser on Thursday 11 June.

The single Boxes is out now.

For more information, click here.

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