Steven Alexander “Alex” James FRSA (born 21 November 1968) is an English musician and songwriter, as well as a journalist and cheesemaker. Best known as the bassist of the band Blur, he has also played with temporary bands Fat Les, Me Me Me, WigWam and Bad Lieutenant.
James was born in Boscombe, Bournemouth and attended the state grammar school Bournemouth School for boys, where he started playing in bands. In 1988, James met future bandmate Graham Coxon at Goldsmiths College, where James studied French. Introductions with Coxon’s old school friend Damon Albarn and Dave Rowntree soon took place; at the time Albarn and Rowntree were part of a band called Circus. In 1989, James joined Coxon, Albarn and Rowntree’s new band, Seymour, which would later be renamed Blur. While he has been in the band ever since, he now describes the experience as “a past-life”. Despite this, Blur got together with returning bandmate Graham Coxon to perform at Glastonbury Festival, Hyde Park, Oxegen and T in the Park during the summer of 2009. They also played shows at Goldsmiths College, Essex Museum and other venues around the UK and mainland Europe. Blur headlined a show at Hyde Park for the 2012 Summer Olympics closing ceremony. In 2013, the band performed at the Rock Werchter in Belgium, the Spanish and Portuguese dates of the Primavera Sound Festival, and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in the United States.
Alex James in 2009
Unlike Albarn and Coxon, James has not released any solo material, although he has been involved in other collaborative side projects. In 1998, James formed Fat Les with actor Keith Allen and artist Damien Hirst, releasing (excluding three others) the unofficial theme song “Vindaloo” for the 1998 FIFA World Cup, which reached number 2 in the UK Singles Chart. He also worked on side project Me Me Me with Stephen Duffy, co-wrote songs for Marianne Faithfull (appearing in drag playing a double bass in the music video for her single “Sex With Strangers”) and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and worked with Florence and the Machine and KT Tunstall. James worked with Ellis-Bextor on her solo debut Read My Lips, co-writing and co-producing “Move This Mountain”, and co-producing “I Believe” with Ellis-Bextor and producer Ben Hillier. He also played bass on both tracks. Ellis-Bextor’s 2003 album, Shoot from the Hip also featured James as bass player and co-writer on the track “Love Is It Love”. He also joined his friend and singer-songwriter Betty Boo in a band called WigWam in 2005. In 2009, James appeared as bass player on debut Bad Lieutenant record Never Cry Another Tear. The band consists of New Order lead singer Bernard Sumner and guitarist Phil Cunningham, along with Jake Evans of Rambo And Leroy.
In 2013, James co-wrote the song “Did I Lose You?” performed by Giorgia and Olly Murs.
Alex James is a food writer for The Sun and has a weekly column, ‘Alex James on All Things Food’;] as well as a regular column on farm and family life in The Sunday Telegraph titled ‘Mucking In’.He also writes a monthly column on cheese for Esquire Magazine. Alex contributes to a number of other British newspapers including The Independent,] The Observer,] The Times,[ and The Sunday Times, as well as Q magazine, The Spectator and The Idler. An autobiography of James’s experience with Blur, Bit of a Blur, was released in June 2007 by Little, Brown & Company. It has since been described as “the definitive guide to Britpop”. James published a follow-up entitled ‘All Cheeses Great and Small: A Life Less Blurry’ in September 2011, charting his transformation from rock star to cheesemaker as he moves to a farm in Oxfordshire.
In 2001, James and Graham Coxon appeared in the Channel 4 Pixies documentary “Gouge”. James represented The Idler on BBC Two’s University Challenge: The Professionals in 2005 with John Moore of Black Box Recorder. They secured a heavy win over the Financial Times in their heat, but did not score highly enough to return for the tournament’s later stages. In 2007, James was a judge on the Channel 4 show Mobile Acts Unsigned and, in November 2007, appeared as a panelist on the BBC One satirical news quiz, Have I Got News for You. In August 2008, James appeared in reality TV series, Maestro on BBC Two. He was voted out in the fourth episode of the series.
In September 2008, a documentary television series called Cocaine Diaries: Alex James in Colombia premiered on BBC America, in conjunction with the BBC America Reveals program. As the documentary progresses, James – who admits to having used cocaine extensively during Blur’s Britpop heyday – learns about Colombia’s violent drug export trade. In October 2009, James presented an episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks and, in January 2010, he participated in the ITV1 reality television programme Popstar to Operastar. On 4 March 2012, James appeared on Top Gear as a guest for their ‘star in a reasonably priced car’ segment, clocking in at 1:45.2. On 3 December 2011, he appeared on The Chase with Sara Cox, Ann Widdecombe and Eamonn Holmes against chaser Anne Hegerty, but he was caught by the chaser. On 16 March 2012, James appeared on The Bank Job and made the final, where he was beaten by Rachel Riley. He is also the first Bank Job contestant to find two “bankrupts” in a single game. James has been a participant in BBC One program 10 Things You Need to Know About Losing Weight. On 26 December 2014, he appeared as one of the celebrity homeowners on Through the Keyhole with Keith Lemon. In August 2015, he won the Channel 4 programme [Celebrity Fifteen to One].
In 2007, James was featured on the BBC Radio 4 programme On Your Farm and became a regular presenter opposite Elinor Goodman and Adam Henson. James presents Alex James’s Date Night on Classic FM every Saturday at 7pm.[ James has also presented the The A-Z of Classic FM Music. The show was named Commercial Radio Programme of the Year at the Arqiva Commercial Radio Awards on 5 June 2009.] He has also contributed to the show’s accompanying memorabilia, writing the foreword to both the book and CD box set, published by Reader’s Digest in 2010.
- Artisan cheeses
James has become notable for his production of cheese. After his runaway success with Blur, he moved to the Cotswolds, purchasing a farmhouse and renovating it into a burgeoning cheese farm. The 200-acre cheese farm in Kingham, Oxfordshire, now produces award-winning cheeses including ‘Alex James Presents’ – a range of British artisan cheeses – ‘Good Queen Maude’, ‘Blue Monday’, ‘Little Wallop’, ‘Farleigh Wallop’, and most recently ‘Goddess’. All are distinct in their flavour: “Blue Monday” (named after his favourite New Order song) is a creamy Shropshire Blue, sharp with a very faint sourness; “Little Wallop” is a soft goats’ milk cheese, washed in Somerset cider brandy and wrapped in vine leaves; and “Farleigh Wallop” is a goats cheese made with sprigs of thyme. The latter was voted Best Goats’ Cheese at the 2008 British Cheese Awards, where James himself was a judge in 2010.
- Everyday cheeses
James’ range of everyday cheeses hit the shelves of Asda in 2011. The flavour combinations include ‘cheddar and tomato ketchup’, ‘cheddar and salad cream’, and ‘cheddar and tikka masala’. Tim Chester, writing in The Guardian, accused James of ‘releasing bizarre flavour mash-ups in sliced, processed, plasticky form’. Jeremy Bowen of cheese sellers Paxton and Whitfield said “They are cheeky price points, they are yummy, they are not difficult to understand. He wants to introduce the great and the good”.
Music & food festivals
James announced he would open up his Oxfordshire farm to host an annual food and music festival. The event, entitled ‘Alex James Presents Harvest’, took place from 9–12 September 2011, in conjunction with promoter Big Wheel Promotions. Combining the best of the British food scene with a live music soundtrack, the first collaborators to confirm included KT Tunstall, The Feeling, Richard Corrigan, Mark Hix, Rachel Allen, Jay Rayner, Monty Don and Sarah Don and Stevie Parle.
However, the event got off to a shaky start when Big Wheel Promotions went bankrupt leaving the ticketing company out of pocket and stallholders and performers unpaid.[The local primary school, Kingham Primary, were also owed £7000 for the entertainment they organised,[ with the headteacher telling the Guardian that “We are either going to have to lose the music teacher or take it from other budgets which will reduce other parts of the curriculum”. Then, in December 2011, a concert was staged locally to settle the debt. “I pledged to match the funds raised from my own pocket…I was very happy to do that” said James. Big Wheel Promotions, the company behind ‘Harvest’, then abuptly ceased trading even though it has already taken ticket fees for 2012. ‘Alex James Presents Harvest’ will also be remembered for a photograph of Alex James with David Cameron and Jeremy Clarkson. ‘ Since 2012, James – along with Jamie Oliver – has hosted an annual food and music festival “The Big Feastival” on his Oxfordshire farm. On joining forces with James, Oliver said “‘The Big Feastival’ was a great success in South London last year and I cannot wait to take this celebration of the greatest chefs, the best local produce and suppliers and some fantastic entertainment to a more rural location at Alex’s.] The festival’s musical line-up over the years has included Paloma Faith, the Noisettes, Fatboy slim, Kelis, De La Soul, Jamie Cullum, Razorlight and Guillemots. Along with live musical performances, there has been cooking demonstrations and masterclasses, Q&As and book signings with a host of well-known chefs including Valentine Warner, Mark Hix, Gennaro Contaldo and Simon Rogan; as well as family entertainment from Peppa Pig, Slow Food Kids’ Taste Adventure and Chipping Norton Theatre. ‘The Big Feastival’ returned to James’ farm on 31 August and 1 September 2013 with a line-up including KT Tunstall, The Feeling, Rizzle Kicks and Basement Jaxx. The festival attracted over 30,000 attendees last year is expected to return to Alex’s farm in September 2015.
James has confessed he has “always loved looking up at the stars.” His subsequent space fascination led him to involve Blur in the Beagle 2 project pioneered set up by English planetary scientist Colin Pillinger, whom James met back in 2002. Blur produced a call sign that will transmit back to earth once Beagle 2 hit the surface. After vanishing without a trace for over 12 years, On 16 January 2015 Beagle 2 has been finally found on Mars. In an interview with BBC Radio 4 after hearing the news, James said: “I am euphoric… I wish Colin was around to hear the news.” In addition to the band producing the Mars probe’s call-sign, James was also personally part of the campaign to get the project funded. His interest with space is further bookmarked by the track “Far Out” on the Blur album Parklife, on which James sings a list of moons and stars. On 25 January 2007 James became “Artist in Residence” in the Astrophysics department at the University of Oxford. He also joined the British Astronomical Association while Blur were still touring. James has urged the general public to stop light pollution in a bid to make it easier to see the stars at night, urging “there is nothing like staring at a star-lit sky to remind you what an amazing miracle the universe really is.”
James was voted eighth in GQ magazine’s ‘Annual Best Dressed List 2011’] He has worked with Aubin & Wills as both a designer and model designing selected limited edition pieces. His first collaboration – the Galileo jacket – sold out.
Bournemouth University presented James with an Honorary Doctorate in November 2010. He also received an Honorary Doctorate of Arts from the University of Gloucestershire in November 2013
James’ father, Jason, was sales director of a company selling waste compactors and baling machines. James married Claire Neate, a music video producer, in April 2003 in Cheltenham. They have five children: three boys, Geronimo and twins Artemis and Galileo, and two daughters, Sable and Beatrix. The family live in Kingham in Oxfordshire on a 200-acre (0.81 km2) cheese farm, where James is considered a member of the Chipping Norton set.
In his book, James describes a long period of decadent lifestyle. To celebrate his birthday in São Paulo one year, he got the tour manager to find him a balthazar of champagne, which he shared with the five prettiest groupies who were at the hotel door. James estimated that he spent about a million pounds on champagne and cocaine; in 2015, however, he claimed that this story wasn’t true.[He mentions a long list of favourite bars, including the Groucho Club and The Colony Room.
- Gibson Thunderbird bass (Used during live performances during the Leisure era)
- Fender Precision Bass (Used for all albums until The Great Escape and for all live performances)
- Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay (Used for albums Blur and 13 and live for the period 1997 – 2000)
- Gibson Les Paul Studio (Used for Think Tank and live performances in 2003)
- Epiphone El Capitan Semi-Acoustic Bass (Used for some live performances in 2003, notably “Out of Time”)