LUCKY 7 is the feature where we ask artists to name their 6 favourite songs by others, and a lucky 7th song of their own…

Today it’s a long time hero of Velvet Sheep, the leader of Gallon Drunk, some time Bad Seed and most recently one of PJ Harvey‘s band for her opus “The Hope 6 Demolition Project”: it’s James Johnston who has an outstanding (and surprisingly debut) solo album called “The Starless Room” out tomorrow (Friday 17th November) on Cloud Hills.

James Johnston. Photograph by Steve Gullick

James Johnston. Photograph by Steve Gullick

Last time I heard James solo was on the excellent Jeffrey Lee Pierce tribute record, but hearing the “Starless Room” it makes me wonder why he waited for so long to go full length. It’s not like he went missing like when there was “a call for Joe Byfield”, he’s just been way too busy being a “grizzled henchman” (as one ace review of the PJ Harvey had it about Polly’s band of black suited men including James, our old mucker Terry Edwards and the ace ex-Bad Seed Mick Harvey).

I have played the opening song “I’d Give you Anything” so many times already. Not since I heard the Thin White Rope cover of Gene Pitney’s “Town Without Pity” have I heard a song with as much emotional clout and (unpretentious) bombast. It is a beautiful thing. The album as a whole is as captivating as Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “The Boatman’s Call” (one of Cave’s best), being full of mostly piano led balladry, and yet it’s way more optimistic.

James’ voice is familiar yet now it’s exposed, it’s even more arresting. I already know that “The Starless Room” is going to be one I’ll return to, and given that the last two GD albums have also been total tour de forces, James is maturing like a vintage drop of plonk.

Last time James was here he chose Iggy as his “song for ewe”, so I was both chuffed to have him back and intrigued to what he’d pick, so without further ado, it’s over to James with his Lucky 7!

1. The Banana Splits – Doin’ the Banana Split
I’ve chosen most of these for the video versions, I’m on tour and have been entertaining myself with youtube. This is just so mad, thrilling and lovely. I adore everything about it, I grew up watching this lot. Music written by Barry White apparently! Even more to like. It’s like a kids’ version of the club scene in Point Blank where someone gets beaten senseless along to a demented live soul song.


2. Bo Diddley -Bo Diddley-itis
This is just so wild and ridiculous. Utterly fantastic and manic, he’s arguably the source of everything from the Velvets to The Fall, Lou Reed was certainly a fan, as was Mo Tucker. I really like The Doors version of Who Do You Love too, the one on Absolutely Live. This is so totally raw. I love all the split screen stuff too, the colour…what a track. Off a good album too, with an excellently silly cover.

3. John Cale – Heartbreak Hotel
Talking of raw, this just goes to the very edge, and then over. Unbelievable performance from what seems a very troubled man. Theatre of pain. The studio version is incredible too. I love his solo albums, in particular Paris 1919, and the Animal Justice E.P. Paris 1919 was a huge influence on my new album.

4. Ramones – It’s Alive (any song off this)
I was talking to Mick Harvey about our shared love of Joey Ramone’s incredible voice recently while we were on the tour bus, and it led me back to this. I listened to this record incessantly when I was young, every track a gem of melody and energy. Adore it all, you get the whole double album here. What an incredible performance. “I met her at the Burger King…

5. The Modern Lovers – Roadrunner
Killer organ sound. Such a perfect record, and I really like the video that’s been posted with it too, works perfectly, it’s driving music – in both senses of the word. And a Cale connection too as he produced it. Such a fantastic album.

6. Nina Simone -feelings 
This live version from Montreux is just a heart laid bare. Spellbinding, could be my favourite live performance on film, by anyone. Things don’t get much better than Nina Simone, and this performance is towering.


7. James Johnston – When The Wolf Calls 
This is the only video available so far for my record. It’s a live take of the closing track of the record. Shot in front of an audience in the studio where I recorded it, Clouds Hill in Hamburg, a beautiful studio where I feel totally at home. The same lovely piano too. This was done partway through the actual recording and mixing of the record.