He’s a big man with a big voice and big dreams. Standing six-feet-two, with a mane of blond hair, 28-year-old Nathan James cuts an imposing figure. As the leader of rising British band Inglorious, he sings in the style of David Coverdale and has a roar like Bruce Dickinson. And with this band, he dreams of emulating the great rock acts of the 70s and 80s.
Sitting in a Mexican restaurant in London’s Soho, sipping an espresso martini, James says he believes that Inglorious can fill the void when those old rock legends are no longer around. “I want this to be an arena band,” he states. “And I think that rock needs a band like us. In ten years you’re not going to be seeing Deep Purple or Black Sabbath or Aerosmith or Whitesnake. But we’ll still be here.”
James is not alone in proclaiming Inglorious as the future of rock. Famously, Queen guitarist Brian May described them as “a potent young Deep Purple”. And Kevin Shirley, producer of Iron Maiden and Joe Bonamassa, among others, said after mixing their new album Inglorious II: “This is the best British band since… well, I could say The Darkness, but I really mean Led Zeppelin.”
What is certain is that James has an unshakable confidence and fierce determination. As he says, “I’m doing what I love and there’s nobody telling me what I can and can’t do”.
Born in Reading on July 26, 1988, James was a prepubescent schoolboy when he first discovered he could sing. He was a member of the Berkshire Boys Choir. “I thought classical music was going to be my thing,” he says, “but that changed when my balls dropped.”
It was at the age of 16, when he took a job as a Bluecoat at a holiday camp, that he fell in love with rock music. He sang in a Queen show five nights a week, in an era before smoking was prohibited in public places. “All that smoke is what gave me the voice I’ve got,” he says.
It was the start of an apprenticeship that was unconventional by accepted rock’n’roll standards. He worked on a cruise ship, the Royal Caribbean, out of Miami. “I was singing two shows a week and getting six hundred cash a week. I felt like a king.”
In 2010, James starred in the Michael Jackson tribute show Thriller Live on a European arena tour. “I sang Dirty Diana, Beat It, all the rocky numbers,” he says. “I was the only white guy in the show.”
In 2012, at the age of 23, he appeared on TV talent show The Voice. The song he performed, Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On A Prayer, was chosen for him. “I squealed my arse off,” he remembers. “I couldn’t have done it any better. But the judges in their chairs – none of them turned around.”
With that, James was eliminated. Undaunted, he immediately applied for a similar show, Superstar, in which Andrew Lloyd Webber (writer of the stage musicals Cats, Evita, The Phantom Of The Opera and more) sought a new singer for the lead role in a revival of his rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar – a role that was played on the original 1970 album by Ian Gillan shortly after he joined Deep Purple.
Before Superstar began, James got a break when he was asked to audition for American progressive metal band Trans-Siberian Orchestra, whose festive albums and concerts have made them a multimillion-dollar enterprise. “I had no idea who they were,” James admits, “so I got on YouTube and realised they were fucking enormous.”
He was flown to Miami to audition, and promptly signed up for a huge US tour.
On Superstar, he was installed as favourite, with The Sun declaring: “The Voice reject Nathan James is set to become a superstar – after blowing away Andrew Lloyd Webber in his search for a new Jesus.” James says that Lloyd Webber told him: “You’re the best singer in the competition – the best rock singer I’ve heard since Ian Gillan.”
But in the final, he lost out to Ben Forster – a result, James claims, of a personality clash between himself and Lloyd Webber. “In the end I think Andrew really disliked me,” he says.
After that defeat, he went out drinking with friends in London. He managed to get up early the next day for a TV interview with Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford on This Morning.
“I was stinking of booze and looking like shit,” he says. “Ruth said to me: ‘You must be gutted.’ And I said: ‘Actually, I’m off to America to do a fifty-date arena tour. So I’m all right.’”
Touring with Trans-Siberian Orchestra was a turning point in James’s career. Performing to audiences of 10,000 every night boosted his self-belief. He was well paid, and his increased profile led to work with former Scorpions guitarist Uli Jon Roth. “Uli is like a wonderful old wizard and the loudest guitar player on the planet,” James says. “Glenn Hughes calls him ‘the Yoda of rock’, and it couldn’t be more true.”
With the money he earned from Trans-Siberian Orchestra, James paid for the recording of a solo album that was written by Neil Fairclough, the touring bassist for Queen, and which featured two star guitarists: Micky Moody, ex-Whitesnake, and Gus G, latterly of Ozzy Osbourne’s band.
“It was rock,” James says, “and quite theatrical. But when the album was done, I thought it sounded too nice. What I love is real rock’n’roll – Whitesnake, Zeppelin, Purple. So I decided to scrap the album – thirty grand down the Swanee – and form a band.”
He brought in drummer Phil Beaver, bassist Colin Parkinson and rhythm guitarist Wil Taylor (who left recently and was replaced by Drew Lowe), and then set about writing songs. “That,” he says, “was a bit scary. Up till that point I’d never written. I was a singer, a gun for hire. But I wrote a whole album, every lyric and melody.”
All he needed was the right lead guitarist, whom he found in Andreas Eriksson, poached from a Swedish band. Two weeks after Eriksson joined, the group’s debut album, Inglorious, was recorded. A classically styled heavy rock record with shades of Whitesnake circa 1987, it was released in 2016.
Inglorious II follows suit. Opening track I Don’t Need Your Loving is an anthem, Faraway the album’s grandiose epic. And in the tongue-in-cheek closer High Class Woman, James gives a nod to his hero David Coverdale with a cry of ‘Ow! Ow! Ow!’
James is realistic in his assessment of Inglorious II (“It’s not perfect – we made it in fifteen days!”), but his confidence is never far from the surface. There’s steel in his smile when he says: “The key is, we’re good. They can play, I can sing. I know what I want. And I think it’s working.”
The ultimate goal, he says, is to make “my Hysteria, my Appetite For Destruction, and to sing my songs for people for the next twenty years”.
While James accepts that some rock fans might consider him “a twat” for entering TV talent shows, he has no regrets. On the contrary, he says, The Voice “gave me three things. One, I have really thick skin. Two, it got me Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Three, honestly, it got me loads of money. And the bottom line is that I just wanted people to know I can sing. I never wanted to win those shows.
“And,” he adds, “I really didn’t want to be Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus. You have to die on stage every night. And that hasn’t happened to me yet.”
Inglorious II is released on May 12 via Frontiers.