‘I had to learn to speak again’: How deafness helped singer James Vickery find his sound
Behind James Vickery’s left ear is a tiny tattoo, barely noticeable until he turns to point it out.
The inking is of a mute icon, a small speaker with a cross next to it, as you would see on a computer or a phone when switching the volume off; a simple image that neatly symbolises the 27-year-old’s story.
In and out of hospital with ear infections as a child, he was eventually, at the age of eight, diagnosed with a growth of abnormal skin cells called a cholesteatoma. While the tumour wasn’t cancerous his case was severe, doctors said, and it was growing towards his brain; his parents were told that without treatment to remove his eardrum he might only have two months to live.
Surgery went well, but inevitably left Vickery completely deaf in that ear. Unable to distinguish the volume and pitch of his voice, he struggled with his speech and a vocal coach was brought in to help. It was through these sessions he found his voice; not just in conversation, but the distinctive, soulful singing voice that has now seen him hailed as a new face of UK R’n’B.
“[My parents] took me to a vocal coach and they wanted me to learn how to basically speak again,” he tells Sky News. “A good way is actually by singing because it engages your diaphragm. So we did that and my singing teacher was like, ‘you can sing, you can actually sing well’. I’d always loved singing but because of the trauma of the operation I could never do it.
“I spoke so softly. I’m still quite softly spoken…” He pauses and grins. “Actually, no, I’m a bit gobby now, but I was quite softly spoken when I was a child. I was really unconfident because no one could ever hear me speak and so credit to my vocal coach, she really taught me how to not only speak louder, but become a bigger person, you know, really fill the room with your voice. That’s something I try and have now in my songs. All the singers I looked up to as a kid had big voices because I always wished I had one.”
Vickery’s coach was a trained opera singer so, perhaps unusually, that’s where he started. “As, like, an 11-year-old boy living in south London, that kind of wasn’t for me,” he laughs. He met brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence, better known as electronic duo Disclosure, while he was in college and began writing songs with them, before moving into R’n’B, which felt like the right fit.
Upbeat and constantly smiling, there’s a sense of positivity and happiness that exudes from Vickery that even the often soulless Zoom can’t dampen. It’s hard not to smile back in his company. Going through such a traumatic experience at an early age has “100%, for sure” made him the person and the artist he is now, he says.
“I would have died,” he says, matter-of-factly. “It’s lucky they found it [when they did].” He goes on to explain the surgery. “I haven’t even got an ear drum in this ear, like, it’s just a black crater inside the left-hand side,” he says, swirling his hand around the area. “But that’s why I’ve got the tattoo, because I was like, not ashamed of it, but I don’t like people treating me different, I don’t like it to become this sob story. But at the end of the day, the older I get the more I think, you would not be the man you are today and it’s shaped me so much as a singer and a writer as well.”
The fact Vickery is “able to be a singer with one less ear than everyone else”, as he puts it, “is quite a mad thing”. And so the symbol has become a staple of all the artwork for his music. “I really try and own it, you know.”
Influenced by everyone from his mum’s favourites of soul, Motown, disco and R’n’B – artists such as Luther Vandross, Boyz II Men and Babyface – to his dad’s preferred rock and blues – Eric Clapton, The Doors, The Who, Jimi Hendrix – and his own love of attempting the Mariah Carey high notes, Vickery found his sound.
In 2018, he performed his song Until Morning for the COLORS music platform, which has now amassed more than 25 million views. In 2018 he signed a record deals with TH3RD BRAIN, followed by a publishing deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation in 2019.
His debut album, Songs That Made Me Feel, aims to do just that. “The way that people consume music is so passive now,” he says. “It’s so easily accessible but I think not enough people just sit down and let the music take over. That’s really what I tried to do… I just want to make a body of work that’s going to outlive me. I think I’ve done that.”
The record is “the journey of the last two years, for me”, he says. “I wanted to call it Songs That Made Me Feel is because I feel like, as a man growing up, men are taught not to show emotion, I think. You’re taught ‘man up’.” Men don’t talk about their feelings enough, he says. “I managed to be able to do that through song, luckily.”
Save You, the closing track on the album, might sound like a love song but is actually about a friend who died. “I left it quite open because I want people to interpret it in the way that they feel, I love doing that with songs. But the song is about a friend who died when I was younger and it was the first time I had someone that wasn’t like a family member die, who was close to me.”
Vickery has also written about struggling during the pandemic. Somewhere Out There was created during the first lockdown, when he was “living alone and really lonely… I was single and hoping that someone out there was feeling the same”. You Comfort Me was born from the “dark time” of the winter lockdown, when “I was just craving something to make me happy”.
Of all the industries that have been hit by the pandemic, he believes the live entertainment business is among the worst affected. Vickery is not “completely fresh” to making music but is in that “awkward” spot where he’s “by no means up there”, he says, gesturing above his head. He moves his hand down. “I’m hovering here somewhere.”
Which means it’s not been easy. “The way that the music industry runs now is that [live shows] are kind of the main source of income, no one makes that much money from streaming songs; unless you’re streaming hundreds of millions, then you’re going to make good money, but other than that, no. Thank God I signed a record deal the year before because otherwise I would have been really struggling.”
Fortunately, the deal was in place and the album is out now. Vickery says he hopes he adds another voice to highlight the UK’s new resurging R’n’B scene, which he feels is overlooked.
“The thing is the UK RnB scene is so, so good,” he says. “But God forbid you can ever turn on a radio and find an R’n’B song on in the daytime, you know. I feel like that’s going to change, though. There’s plenty of people like Jorja Smith and Mahalia who are really, really flying the flag for UK R’n’B, and I think that’s going to change hopefully in the future.”
With Vickery too, that change is surely closer. That tattoo behind his ear is just a small reminder of how much he can achieve.
Phillip Schofield dropped as ambassador for The Prince’s Trust charity
Phillip Schofield has been dropped as an ambassador for The Prince’s Trust after his admission of an affair with a younger male colleague.
The charity, founded by the King, said it was “no longer appropriate” for it to work with the presenter.
Schofield left ITV’s This Morning last week after two decades as host.
A spokesperson for The Prince’s Trust said: “In light of Phillip’s recent admissions, we have agreed with him that it is no longer appropriate to work together.”
The announcement comes after Schofield admitted to having an “unwise, but not illegal” affair with a younger male colleague on the show.
His admission saw him quit all his duties for ITV and be dropped by his talent agency, YMU.
It comes as ITV bosses will soon be quizzed by MPs over their handling of the situation at This Morning.
The network’s executives are due to appear before the Commons Culture, Media and Sports Committee next Tuesday.
They had been scheduled to appear before the committee anyway, to discuss the draft Media Bill.
However, it is understood the committee has informed them they will also face questions over public concern regarding the revelations the axed presenter had an affair with a much younger male colleague.
Schofield quit This Morning on 20 May after more than 20 years.
The 61-year-old originally said he was stepping down from the show because he had “become the story”, following reports of a feud between him and co-host Holly Willoughby.
It came after his brother was recently jailed for 12 years over child sex offences.
Willoughby, 41, is due to return next Monday (5 June), having gone on an early half-term holiday on 22 May.
Since his departure several people who have been involved in the show have criticised the way it was run.
A timeline of the This Morning controversy
ITV responds to rumours around show’s future
Why Schofield’s admission could kill off his career
Eamonn Holmes, who has regularly presented This Morning over the years, claimed that there was a “total cover-up” in relation to Schofield’s affair with a younger man while he was still married.
The veteran TV presenter told GB News: “Those in authority had to know what was going on and they thought they would dodge a bullet with this which they do and they do constantly.”
Separately This Morning’s ex-resident doctor Ranj Singh branded the show’s culture “toxic” claiming he raised concerns about “bullying and discrimination”.
ITV said that there had been an investigation “rumours of a relationship between Phillip Schofield and an employee” in early 2020, but said it didn’t find any evidence.
A statement from the broadcaster released on 27 May said: “Both parties were questioned and both categorically and repeatedly denied the rumours as did Phillip’s then agency YMU.
“In addition, ITV spoke to a number of people who worked on This Morning and were not provided with, and did not find, any evidence of a relationship beyond hearsay and rumour… He lied to people at ITV, from senior management to fellow presenters, to YMU, to the media and to others over this relationship.”
Who are The ChurnUps? Glastonbury announces mystery act for prime Pyramid Stage slot – as full-line up revealed
Glastonbury has revealed the full line-up for this year’s festival – with a mysterious act set to play a prime-time slot on the main Pyramid Stage.
Names including Rick Astley, Queens Of The Stone Age, Skepta and Sophie Ellis-Bextor have all been added to the bill, alongside previously announced headliners Elton John, Arctic Monkeys and Guns N’ Roses, and stars including Lizzo, Lana Del Rey and Blondie.
But it’s an unknown act that has got everyone talking following the announcement from Glastonbury organisers – The ChurnUps will play on the Pyramid Stage in the sunset slot on Friday evening, third on the line-up behind Royal Blood and Arctic Monkeys.
While Glastonbury is no stranger to hosting secret acts that turn out to be headline-worthy names – Pulp, Radiohead, The Killers, Biffy Clyro and The Libertines have previously “surprised” fans – most of the performances have taken place on smaller stages.
They don’t always give clues, either – or not this early at least – so the announcement has led to much searching and speculation from fans trying to find out who The ChurnUps – an act with no apparent online footprint – could actually be.
And The ChurnUps are not the only surprise, with two TBA slots also announced for the Woodsies Stage (formerly John Peel).
Fans on social media have turned to the definition of “churn up” for answers – with many coming to the conclusion that Pulp could be back for another secret set.
“When something is churned it becomes Pulp,” one Twitter user wrote.
The band, famous for hits including Common People, Disco 2000 and Do You Remember The First Time? in the 1990s, headlined Glastonbury in 2005, debuting the single Sorted for Es & Wizz on stage at the festival. In 2011, they drew what was then the biggest crowd ever to the Park Stage when they performed a surprise set.
In 2022, they announced a reunion, playing shows across the UK this summer.
However, Pulp drummer Nick Banks has denied they will be making an appearance at Glastonbury, writing on Twitter: “Though it’s very tempting to tease you lot again. I know nothing of the ‘Churnups’ band. Ok?”
The Foo Fighters and Blur are other acts being speculated about.
This year’s Glastonbury festival in Somerset runs from 21 to 25 June.
Succession review: The end is revealed at last… but of course, as always there’s a twist – contains spoilers
This review contains spoilers for the final episode of Succession, which is already available to stream on Now TV.
We’ll warn you again – stop now if you don’t want to know what happens.
Final warning. After the picture below all will be revealed.
You have been warned. Again.
We finally have a successor to founder and CEO of Waystar Royco, Logan Roy (Brian Cox)… but it’s none of his children.
In the end it was Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) who came out on top – the desperate outsider and social climber, described as an “empty suit” by his wife, Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook).
But it was Shiv’s lack of faith in her elder brother, Kendall (Jeremy Strong), that led to Tom’s crowning as CEO – and the finale rightly focused on the siblings’ complicated relationship after four seasons of exhausting backstabbing.
There’s no big fanfare in the last episode, With Open Eyes, with most of the plot taking place in the Roy children’s mother’s house, their father’s flat, then finally, the boardroom.
It’s unnerving to watch the siblings getting along during most of the episode; united in wanting to defeat the billionaire GoJo CEO Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgard) from buying Waystar Royco, the company their father built.
Humiliated Shiv has been betrayed by Matsson, who had promised her US CEO but has been interviewing other candidates – including her husband Tom unbeknown to her.
And a feeble Roman (Kieran Culkin) is sporting stitches and being looked after by his mother, seemingly on the verge of a mental breakdown.
They’ve decided between themselves, after four series of fighting it out, that Kendall should be CEO. And at the end of a season where he’s shown himself to step in with a calm head, culminating in his spectacular speech at his father’s funeral, viewers are almost convinced, too.
But it almost feels too good to be true, and when it comes down to the board vote – between Kendall or a GoJo takeover – Shiv changes her mind at the last minute.
“I love you but I cannot stomach you,” she tells her brother.
“I’m the eldest boy”, he yells back. And just like that, we’re reminded that he never really has been good enough to fill Logan’s shoes.
Succession star lands Bond villain role
Kendall Roy’s Succession penthouse up for sale for $29m
Meanwhile, Tom has listened to Matsson backstabbing Shiv – who is pregnant with their first child – describing how he doesn’t want her as CEO because he feels that they “clickety click”.
“What if I hired the guy who put the baby inside her,” he asks Tom, “instead of the baby lady?”
And Tom, never one to miss a climb up the ladder, doesn’t hesitate to tell him: “I’m your man.”
It was never going to be one of the children.
They acknowledged it themselves – they were all promised the top job by their father at different points. Kendall even references his father promising it to him when he was seven years old at an ice cream parlour.
But Shiv points out what we knew all along: “I don’t think he wanted to give it to any of us.”
We’re left without knowing their fates.
Roman looks almost relieved to be rid of the burden. Shiv appears despondent to be settling as second fiddle to her now more powerful husband.
And Kendall, the almost-King, is left with only his father’s loyal bodyguard for company, seemingly without the will to even contemplate his next move.
In the end, they all lost – even Tom looks discouraged at being tied to maverick Matsson as his “pain sponge” rather than “partner”.
And somehow you’re left feeling slightly heartbroken for these characters who have few to no redeeming features – so perhaps it’s the most satisfying end it could ever have been.
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