A return to his roots

Mention the name James Walbourne, and the response is likely to be: “Oh yeah, the guitarist with The Pretenders”. Or even: “And he was with The Pogues too.”

Mention the name James Walbourne, and the response is likely to be: “Oh yeah, the guitarist with The Pretenders”. Or even: “And he was with The Pogues too.”

Yet he’s now branched out with a solo album, The Hill, and is returning to Kilkenny this weekend for two gigs in the Smithwick’s Rhythm ‘n’ Roots Festival.

And rather than a break-away from his past experience, he says his current country-rock/ folk/ bluegrass style is a continuation of the music he’s played over the years.

“I think it’s a continuation with the folk element and the rock element really,” he says by phone from his native London.

When setting out to record the album, he says, “I went out there trying to keep it kind of English in a way – English-sounding – but we did it in LA so it didn’t really in the end.”

“The Kinks were my sort of point to style everything off from because they come from the same place as me, Muswell Hill (in North London),” he says, “so I feel like it’s got there in some parts.”

“And it’s kind of a bit Pogues-y in places, so the people who I’ve played with, I guess rubbed off.”

Having performed with various bands and musicians, he has now set off on his own solo run. He says it’s something he always wanted to do, but is also greatly appreciative of the experiences he’s had performing with other talented people.

Going solo has always been his intention, he says, but “it’s just taken me a long time be able to like what I’ve written, to like my songs enough to be able to perform them”.

He also has a solid footing on which to base his solo work.

“I’ve had some good teachers along the way,” he says. “I love playing with people, and I’ve been lucky enough to play with some of my favourite bands ever. The Pogues and Son Volt are two of my all-time favourites, and to be able to play with them was a real experience.”

He also played with Pete Bruntnell at one of the first Rhythm ‘n’ Roots festivals and has gigged in Kilkenny several times since.

“I love going back there. It’s a great music town and people have been brilliant, especially (festival director) John Cleere has been really good to me all this time.”

Speaking of going out, on the night of this interview, as an Arsenal fan he was having to miss his team’s match against Spurs to play a gig in London. Thankfully, his ’Roots gigs this weekend don’t clash with any of the Gunners’ fixtures. He might even get a break to watch them take on Manchester United.

James Walbourne is playing two gigs at the Rhythm ‘n’ Roots Festival: on Saturday at 3pm in Kyteler’s and on Sunday at 8pm in The Pumphouse. Tickets to each gig are e10 from 056 7763669, Rollercoaster Records or info@kilkennyroots.com.