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James Arthur: 'I've been a tortured soul'

From BBC - December 7, 2017

Up to now, James Arthur has built his career on ballads.

From his X Factor single, a cover of Shontelle's Impossible, to the global smash hit Say You Wo not Let Go, the singer has proved he can tug on your heartstrings like a puppy on a postman's trousers.

Those slow-tempo weepies are the perfect fit for his cracked and tortured voice. But the star would like it to be known he's got a few more tricks up his sleeve.

"I am starting to feel like people know what to expect from me," he says.

"If you come and see my shows, I am all over the stage. We do grunge, we do gospel, we do R&B - but the songs that make it on the radio are the acoustic, heartfelt ballads.

"I am starting to feel the urge to branch out and do some stuff that nobody would expect."

Although he took a brief detour into dance music on Rudimental's summer smash Sun Comes Up, the star's new single, Naked, cleaves pretty closely to his tried-and-tested template.

An impassioned appeal to a reluctant lover, Arthur's vocals are raw and vulnerable as he pleas: "I am trying to make it clear / That getting half of you just ai not enough."

The 29-year-old penned the song with Swedish pop kingpin Max Martin, who "floated in and out" of the studio, presumably in between making hit records for Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey.

In the way of modern music, though, the song was originally intended for pop star Zara Larsson before Arthur came aboard.

"They had a chorus that I think they were pitching to her at one point," says the singer.

"But then they played it to me and they thought, 'How nice would it be if it was a male singer doing a vulnerable thing like that?'"

"So we re-wrote it and made it suit me. I put the gospel middle eight in there. I was quite happy with that."

The song is primed to go into the Top 10 this week, adding another chapter to Arthur's remarkable tale of recovery and redemption.

Born in Redcar, Teesside, in 1988, he had a troubled childhood after his mother, a model and marketing professional, split up from his delivery driver father.

"I do not think I was the easiest child to look after," he later wrote in his autobiography. "I do not know if I actually had ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder] but let's just say I was very 'spirited'."

When he was nine, his mother remarried and the family moved to Bahrain. Here, the youngster flourished, making new friends and winning his first singing role in a school production of Pirates of Penzance.

Foster care

But life came crashing around his ears when his mother and step-father divorced.

After enjoying a life of luxury in the Middle East, he moved back to Redcar (he calls it a "rags-to-riches and back to rags tale") and ended up in a rough school where singing and performing were frowned upon.

Angry and frustrated, he started to skip classes, and ended up having major rows with his family - sometimes sleeping rough after being kicked out of the house.

Eventually, he took himself out of the picture and went voluntarily into foster care.

"It was a bit scary," he says. "I lived with a lady who'd taken up fostering children and they were always fairly troubled kids.

"There was a lot of tension because you'd be fighting a lot and looking over your shoulder. And I just wanted to be back with my sisters and my family.

"But it probably toughened me up in a good way. I learnt the value of family through that."

It was while he was in foster care that Arthur taught himself guitar and started to pour some of his frustrations into music.

"I have been a tortured soul," he says. "I have been through a lot of heartache so I definitely put that in my music. That's the thing I rely on the most."

He joined several bands - Traceless, Moonlight Drive, The Emerald Skye - and even recorded his own EP as The James Arthur Project in 2012. But it was The X Factor that made his name.

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