Having had limited success in persuading the college authorities to adopt his philosophy that ‘parties are more fun than attending lectures’, James left the Royal College of Music where he had been studying the organ, piano, flute and composition.
Taking a post-college gap year, he fell on good times and travelled the world playing the piano and performing in clubs, bars, hotels – and the casino in Monte Carlo.
Returning to England James met Kit Hesketh-Harvey, who, as luck would have it, was searching for a composer to collaborate with him on an adaptation of the Virginia Woolf novel, Orlando, for the musical stage.
Orlando won the 1988 Vivian Ellis Prize for young theatrical writers and was subsequently produced at the Barbican and Bridewell Theatres. Soon afterwards, the pair were invited to study Musical Theatre at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, with Stephen Sondheim. Their second musical, Yusupov, the story of the man who killed Rasputin, was premièred at Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s 1994 Sydmonton Festival, with further productions at the Old Fire Station (Oxford) and Bridewell theatres.
In 2000 they wrote New Edna in collaboration with Barry Humphries, and starring Dame Edna Everage, which, after a National Tour, settled in at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London.
James has also written three other stage musicals, Inkle and Yarico (Edinburgh Festival, Sadlers Wells, Holders Season Barbados and Crampton Theatre, Washington DC),
Dr. Livingstone, I Presume… (Riverside Studios, London) with lyrics by Paul Leigh and The Canterville Ghost (Lyrics by Anthony Drewe) and has contributed songs to The Mercury Workshop Review (Jermyn St Theatre) and The Challenge (Shaw Theatre).
Other theatre work includes incidental music for A Doll’s House (Salisbury Playhouse), Blue Remembered Hills, The Merchant of Venice (Crucible, Sheffield) and All In The Timing (Nottingham Playhouse). He has performed cabaret extensively with Issy van Randwyck, Larry Adler, Bertice Reading and Janie Dee.
James has written the scores for over 150 television documentaries and dramas, including the Emmy Award winning Ten Days To D-Day, as well as two feature films: Another Life (starring Ioan Gruffudd and Tom Wilkinson) and Detention (starring David Carradine in his final role).
In 2004 James wrote and presented the Channel 4 documentary What Made Mozart Tic which explored the possibility that the great composer may have had Tourette’s Syndrome.
Like Kit, James lives in Norfolk. He has a daughter and a bright green grand piano, which was painted such by a dotty Great Aunt who had suffered from shell shock during the Great War. In 1917 a large, ornamental clam shell tumbled off the bathroom shelf and onto her head. Apparently she was never the same thereafter.