Gig of the week: Gavin James in Dublin

The signature singer-songwriter has mastered the art of touching a few nerves, if not gripping them and not letting go

Over one billion streams on Spotify, songs that are in the Top 100 Shazam lists, touring with the likes of Sam Smith, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran – you could say without any degree of doubt that the difference in Gavin James's life from now to ten years ago is unimaginable.

Back in 2010, as a regular performer in Dublin’s gig circuit, as well as in the more touristy pubs in Temple Bar, James would mostly play cover versions of well-known hit songs. Working on original material during the day, at his nightly gigs he would warily throw one or two of them into his set to see what the reactions would be, whether they would pass the test of snagging people’s attention or fail by being completely ignored.

One of James's songs, in particular – Two Hearts – picked up noticeable traction when pub regulars began to sing along to it

“The work rate was awful,” the singer told this writer several years ago. “I’d play for about three-to-four hours per night, almost seven nights a week for about three years – but they were a good way to get a feel for audiences. I didn’t necessarily want to get my name out, but to get better as a singer and musician. I had always thought it was best just to dive into it, and from that I started to write my own songs. It was the old school way of just playing in front of people, from which I gathered up a following.”

At first, the fanbase was difficult to come by, but one of James’s songs, in particular – Two Hearts – picked up noticeable traction when pub regulars began to sing along to it whenever he performed it. Gradually, James inched his way out of singing chart hits to filling his shows with self-written material. Established Irish bands such as The Coronas and Kodaline brought him as a support act on their shows and tours, progressively introducing his songs and his well-honed stagecraft to a wider audience.

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'I just wanted to play in front of people. I felt that if people clung onto that then great, and if they didn't, I'd just continue regardless'

In parallel with such onstage exposure came a series of exceptionally well-made videos that matched cinematic storytelling with James’s uber-emotive song lyrics. One such video (made five years ago, and which features an early appearance by actor Barry Keoghan as a feckless, faithless boyfriend) accompanied the song, For You, and has achieved over 4 million views – comparatively a small enough figure, but the die had been cast and a template of sorts had been set. Subsequent videos for mostly ballad-style songs racked up the anguish/drama quotient – they didn’t pluck at the heartstrings but tore them out and ripped them into pieces.

And so it has continued, with James quickly gaining ground on streaming services and in live shows at increasingly bigger venues. A personable musician who has, arguably, been an influence on the likes of Lewis Capaldi and Dermot Kennedy – each of whom epitomises the confessional-songwriter-with-a-pained-expression-and-a-piano/guitar-style – such is the emotive force of many of James's songs that we have witnessed, at close proximity, adults openly wiping tears away during them. In many ways, Gavin James is a proven signature singer-songwriter who has mastered the art of touching a few nerves, if not gripping them and not letting go.

“I’m super laid back,” he says, “so I go with the flow, and that’s what I’ve done from the beginning. There was no master plan, let alone any plan – I just wanted to play in front of people. I felt that if people clung onto that then great, and if they didn’t, I’d just continue regardless.”

Gavin James plays 3Arena, Dublin, tonight, Saturday, February 29th. Special guest is Cork singer, Lyra.