Acoustic rock blasts Leicester

James Cull, a musician, discusses his life and music with Emily Paget

There is no better feeling than the rush of adrenaline from getting on stage to perform in front of a crowd of lively rock fans. James Cull, a musician from Leicester, is all too familiar with this feeling.

“I come from a very musical family on my dad’s side, so it was kind of encouraged,” James explained. “I mean I always sang from a young age, and then I picked up a guitar about seven.”

James’ passion for music started at a young age with his father playing 70’s and 80’s rock in his home. But it was another family member, James’ great uncle that would spur him on to learn the guitar.

“I was just kind of in awe that he played guitar.” James said. “I thought it was amazing, and I wanted to be able to do that.”

When James first started to learn guitar, starting out with an acoustic before moving on to electric, proved to be a long and frustrating task; the acoustic tested James’ hands with its thicker neck, which made changing chords a challenge.

James Cull PICTURE: Rob Gurney

James Cull
PICTURE: Rob Gurney

But after a visit with his great uncle, he left feeling more positive about his future with a guitar in his hands.

“He sat down with me for a couple of hours and taught me a song,” James said. “Had he not spent that time with me, I probably would have put the guitar down because it’s hard when you’re starting out.”

This wasn’t the only challenge that James faced when playing guitar; after only being taught the basics, James decided to become self-taught.

“The positive to teaching yourself is that you go at your own pace, there’s less pressure,” James explained. “I did attempt to have guitar lessons when I was in college, but I’d been self-taught for so long, I didn’t deal well with being taught.

“You kind of find your own way of doing things but then your guitar teacher would say you’re doing it wrong,” he said. “But I did the same thing, just in a different way.”

Since leaving those lessons behind him, James has had to rely on his musical ear to learn his covers, which differs from his brother.

“He will learn the sheet, whereas, I’ll just listen to it and play it in my own way, I put my own spin on it,” he explained. “He likes to play it exactly as it was, so we’re polar opposites!”

Despite their shared love of music, and guitars, James’ career looked different as he entered university, as he studied Performing Arts at De Montfort University.

“I was more of an actor back then,” James said. “I didn’t even think about a music degree because I did so well academically with drama.”

But James did not hang up his guitar, as he continued playing music outside of his course, and it was whilst he was still playing music he realised how supportive his local music scene was.

“The music industry’s less cutthroat than in the acting industry,” he pointed out. “There’s space for so many different types of music in this industry.

“You might get successful but someone else might get successful too, in different ways. With acting, you’ll have 50 actors going for one role, and that’s it, at the end of the day. You’re in competition with people to get what you want.”

Over time, James steered away from his acting career to a musical one. But his time as an actor, did help him as a musician.

“It helped in a lot of ways with stage presence and confidence,” he explained. “I also know how to project my voice because I did Musical Theatre as a BTEC in college, and I’m also a classically trained vocalist.”

These skills have helped James develop as a musician but they could not prepare him for the challenges he faced as a newcomer onto the music scene.

“It’s a really hard industry to get into, breaking through is really difficult,” James said. “People have become disillusioned due to X Factor and think they can step into a massive opportunity.

“It doesn’t work like that, you have to build yourself up. It’s about setting yourself realistic goals, if you expect to achieve too much too soon, and it doesn’t happen, you can get pretty down about it and end up giving up.”

As well as these challenges of breaking out into the scene, James also had a personal demon to battle alongside it.

“I have a personality disorder so one day to the next can be completely different for me,” he explained. “If I’m having a bad day, and I have a gig, it can be difficult for me to get on stage.

“It can be very hard for me to push through it, and not back out, and cancel it. I’ve never cancelled a gig and I’m quite proud of that.”

Instead of letting his mental health hold him back, James uses it to channel his emotions through his music.

“Music for me is a big part of my life, it’s a part of who I am and it’s therapeutic for me as I channel a lot through my music,” James said. “I think that’s a real positive so if that was to go away, then things would be really tough.”

But life as a musician for James is going from strength to strength as he’s playing the GlastonBudget festival in Leicester this year.

“I put in my application to audition, had it at the end of November and got my confirmation in December,” he explained. “I’m hoping it’s going to be a really good weekend. It’s nice to play at something that is really supportive of the music scene.

“They really do support those local acts, so it’s nice for there to be a platform for people to play at.”

However, fans won’t have to wait until May to hear from James, as he’s planning on releasing a new EP early this year.

“It’s being recorded with a chap called Matthew Hicken, a guitarist from the band Alpha State,” he said. “He knows the sound I want to create, so working with him is best to get the right sound.

“No title for it as of yet but its three or four songs of my favourite tracks and ones that have had good feedback live.”

Despite his recent success with recording his music, and landing a festival gig, James is still grateful towards his family who helped make music a big part of his life.

“My dad is a big part of me getting into music,” he said. “We’d get the vinyl out and listen to stuff and that made a big difference.

“That’s why I went into the rock scene, if it wasn’t for that I may not have become a musician.”

For more information about James’ music check out his Facebook, James Cull and The Black Storm Nation, and his band’s Facebook, English Guns.

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