James Ryan was born in Surrey, England and raised in Cape Town, South Africa. In 1974, He returned to the grit of Canvey Island on the Thames where an introduction to the local rock and blues bands of the area led to a fascination with guitar-based music. An injury to his left hand as a child did not deter his determination to play guitar, and in 1996, James recorded his first studio album Ghost of the Wind, a collection of rock, blues, and Americana-influenced songs that drift from mellow, to verging on raucous, and back again. With its commercial appeal, the album received international radio play and captured the imagination of TV producers who used tracks as backing for sports programmes.
Following the publicity, a record deal from a Spanish label was close, but evaded him at the last, and though public reaction to the album was positive, the critical reception within the industry players was mixed at a time when guitar bands were on the wane. Nevertheless, Ghost of the Wind was signed to Turmic Records of Malmö (Sweden) and continued to gain airplay worldwide.
With realities creeping in, James shelved the idea of a professional music career, though the songwriting continued, as did sporadic pub gigs and recording sessions.
“I was in a strange wilderness. Songwriting and playing guitar at night, with a job in the computer business in the day – the two didn’t mix well. I spent a lot of time surfing, and hanging out on the beach as well. I became a kind of gypsy, living out of my car.”
Breaking away from the computer world, James moved into the media business, a new path started by directing promos and music videos, and then documentaries. The career break was rocky, with financial worries and a worsening outlook in the recession of 2007. But more comfortable in the creative world, he recorded Cocktail of Blues in 2011, a work of entirely acoustic solo tracks. A unique and gritty project away from any commercial ideals, the songs were recorded with one guitar via a multi-tracked machine on a boat in Andalucía.
“I guess I ran away from the pressure of my life in the UK at the time. I escaped to my father’s old boat, which was undergoing refurbishment in a marina near Almería. It was a crazy idea, but actually peaceful and inspirational in terms of writing new music.”
Using his knowledge of film-making, this unique project was captured in the documentary, Money Now, Glory Later!, which went on to be selected for Barcelona’s In-Edit film festival market and broadcast on television networks throughout the Caribbean and USA.
Cocktail of Blues marked a distinct change in playing and vocal style. Without the ‘produced’ studio sound, and nowhere to hide, the semi-improvisational nature of the songs comes through in a gritty, uncompromising tone.
For The James Ryan Project, it seems nothing has been, or will ever be, conventional. The next stage is set to be film-related, and will no doubt be a progressive and unusual work, and definitely worth the wait.