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British Singer Has Rock Name And Soul Sound

Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

New British pop/R&B singer James Morrison knew he was tempting fate with his name -- and its similarity to the iconic late Doors' singer Jim Morrison.

But he just couldn't hack performing under his given surname, Catchpole.

"It's crap for a stage name," explains the 22-year-old artist, who's using his real first and middle names. "I worried about it a little bit. I did think that maybe people, especially in the world we're in of marketing and all that bollocks, would think I was trying to use his name as my own to kind of promote myself.

"What I really wanted was to come up with something like a band name, like Jay Kay and Jamiroquai, but I couldn't think of anything. So I just used my middle name and figured I'd see what happened."

And quite a bit has.

Morrison's debut album, "Undiscovered," opened its own doors when it debuted at No. 1 on the U.K. charts last year and sold more than two million copies worldwide before its March release in the U.S.. He's notched four hit singles overseas -- including "You Give Me Something," which is his first single on these shores -- and won the Brit Award for Best British Male Solo Artist.

"I've just been taken aback by all of it," Morrison notes. But he also has every intention of replicating his success in America.

"I definitely wanted to come to the States and see what would happen," he acknowledges. "I just kind of said to myself, 'Well, if we're going over there then I'll try my best to win everyone over. But if not, if it won't happen, it won't happen.

"But it's going pretty well so far. All the gigs have been great. All the crowds have been really, really warm and enthusiastic about it all, so it's been great."

Music for Morrison was "just a way for me to escape" a childhood of poverty near the English seaside. While there wasn't much money, there was music, and his parents' record collection -- his father favored American rock and blues while his mother preferred singer-songwriters such as Van Morrison and Joan Armatrading -- provided indelible influences.

Morrison began playing guitar when he was 13, learning songs by ear and eventually writing "little rocky pop songs" for his teenage band. He also busked on the street, which he says "was good training for playing in front of people and getting over that initial shyness."

He worked a series of day jobs, but the same week he was fired from a gig cleaning vans he met a former record company executive who let Morrison record demos in a home studio. Those led to a recording contract, as well as an opening slot on a Corinne Bailey Rae tour and a booking on England's V Festival, where the crowd was so large trying into the tent where Morrison was performing that organizers put him on the main stage for a 10-minute set to accommodate the fan interest.

Morrison expects to stay on the road for the rest of the year, including more festivals in the U.K. and Europe and a swing opening for John Mayer in North America this summer. He wants to keep giving "Undiscovered" a good ride, but Morrison hasn't forgotten about its followup, either.

"Every spare minute I'm trying to write new stuff," he reports. "It's taking a long time for me to get back in it, to be honest, purely from being too busy or not being in the right frame of mind or whatever.

"But I definitely feel in the last couple months I've been more creative than I've been since I wrote the album. That's a good sign, I think."

James Morrison and Jessie Baylin perform Wednesday (April 4) at the Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Doors open at 8 p.m. Admission is $9.39. Call (248) 544-3030 or visit www.themagicbag.com. Morrison will also play a free acoustic set and autograph signing at 12:30 today at Border's Books and Music, 34300 Woodward Ave., Birmingham. Call (248) 203-0005.

Web Site: www.themagicbag.com

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