If Gavin James needs a reminder that his life has changed radically in recent years, then the setting for this year’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations should do it. The popular singer co-headlines a big Irish bash at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre on Friday, a destination that would have sounded very distant when he started out, as a teenager in Dublin, performing traditional songs for tourists. Now, with experience, he fully expects this show to feel very familiar.
“I played in Abu Dhabi and Dubai last year, and there were so many Irish people, they were singing all the words,” he says. “So Paddy’s Day should be fun. Usually when I do a gig in a different country I have to talk really slow, because usually I talk really fast. But this will be like doing a gig in Dublin.”
His cheery speaking voice can become a bit of a blur, indeed, but it is in marked contrast to the gloriously soulful sound that emerges when he sings. That talent was honed in the Irish capital’s famously music-focused Temple Bar area, where he clearly stood out.
One holidaying couple were so impressed that they flew him over to sing at their wedding: “In Vegas!” he says. “That was a gas.”
Now his own songs are having a major effect, too, notably the single Nervous, which recently achieved a remarkable milestone: 100 million listens on the streaming service Spotify. Sadly, streaming does not offer quite the same rewards as selling 100 million records.
“No, but the great thing about Spotify is it brought loads of random people to my gigs. I did an American tour and Spotify is massive there, we did these small dates and didn’t sell many tickets at the start, then Spotify went crazy and I started booking bigger and bigger venues.”
James also achieved a live landmark back home in December: his biggest solo gig so far saw 15,000 people at Dublin’s 3Arena. You can see some impressive footage from that show on his new video, I Don’t Know Why.
“I was actually really nervous after the gig; it was a delayed response, I think. My sister’s a singer as well, and she said she never gets nervous before gigs, only afterwards. It was surreal. The whole gig went by in about two seconds for me.”
Life as a travelling troubadour clearly appeals. Follow James’s Twitter feed and he seems to be constantly flying off to perform on James Corden’s huge US talk show, or recording a new cover version in a hotel room (City of Stars, from the movie La La Land, is his latest, hugely popular effort). It’s a punishing schedule, but those early gigs proved invaluable training.
“I sang in Temple Bar for four years, after I left school, seven nights a week,” he says.
“It was mad but it really helped, because I’d do three gigs on a Saturday, all three-hour sets: it stops you being scared. Doing a few songs for the radio doesn’t seem such a big deal after that.”
This Dubai show should be a homecoming-from-home, as he knows several other performers on the bill.
“The Coronas brought me out on tour for the first time, they got me loads of shows in Dublin,” he says. “It’s cool with Irish bands. Everyone helps each other out.”
And back home now, do friends still ask him to sing at their weddings?
“Oh yeah, loads,” he laughs. “I actually did one recently, at an Irish festival on the coast, it was amazing. I ended up singing for their first dance. At four in the morning.”