‘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.
BBC defends ‘misjudged’ Saltburn BAFTA red carpet question to Andrew Scott
The BBC has apologised for a “misjudged” question to Andrew Scott in an awkward red carpet interview at the BAFTA film awards last week.
After chatting to Scott, 47, about his film All Of Us Strangers, BBC entertainment correspondent Colin Paterson moved onto the popularity of other Irish performers, including Saltburn star Keoghan.
Paterson asked: “Do you know Barry well?”
To which Scott replied: “I know Barry, yeah.”
Paterson then asked Scott: “Can I ask your reaction when you first saw the naked dance scene at the end of Saltburn?”
Deflecting the question Scott replied: “Oh gees, I won’t spoil it for anybody.”
Not letting it drop, Paterson persisted: “There is a lot of talk about the prosthetics… how well do you know him?” at which point Scott pulled a face and awkwardly walked away.
Paterson then asked: “Too much? Too much?”
The interview led to complaints, some of which expressed concern that the line of questioning was homophobic, due to Scott being a high-profile gay actor.
In response, the corporation issued a statement, which read: “Saltburn is a film which has had cultural impact, with Barry Keoghan’s scene at the end gaining a lot of attention in particular – something the actor has addressed himself.
“Our question to Andrew Scott was meant to be a light-hearted reflection of the discussion around the scene and was not intended to cause offence”.
The BBC said Saltburn director Emerald Fennell and singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor – whose song Murder on the Dancefloor features in the scene and who performed at the BAFTA ceremony – also faced the same line of questioning.
The statement added: “We do, however, accept that the specific question asked to Andrew Scott was misjudged.
“After speaking with Andrew on the carpet, our reporter acknowledged on air that his questioning may have gone too far and that he was sorry if this was the case.”
All Of Us Strangers received six BAFTA nominations, including outstanding British film, best supporting actor for Paul Mescal, best supporting actress for Claire Foy and best director for Andrew Haigh.
Despite a widely praised lead performance, Scott did not receive a nomination for best actor in a leading role. He did however, present the animated film award on the night alongside co-star Mescal.
Saltburn had five BAFTA nods including outstanding British film, best supporting actor for Jacob Elordi, best supporting actress for Rosamund Pike, and best actor in a leading role for Keoghan.
Both films left empty handed.
Scottish reporter Paterson, 50, first began reporting on The Big Breakfast, before writing for the Guardian and later presenting on Liquid News on BBC Three.
He has covered the BAFTAs, Oscars and Glastonbury Festival multiple times.
Ellie Goulding confirms split from husband Caspar Jopling
Ellie Goulding has announced that she has split from her husband Caspar Jopling.
They welcomed a son, Arthur, in 2021.
Posting a statement in an Instagram story, Goulding said she had been left with “no choice” but to publicly announce that they have been separated for “some time”.
The Hertfordshire-born singer wrote: “In light of recent stories, I feel I have been left with no choice but to let you all know that Caspar and I privately separated some time ago.
“We remain the closest of friends and have been successfully co-parenting with our son’s best interests at heart.
“We are committed to protecting our family privacy and thank people in advance for respecting our wishes – we won’t be commenting further.”
She also shared a story which Jopling had posted on his Instagram account, also confirming their separation.
It read: “Hi people – hope you’re having a good day.
“I feel (sadly) that I need to say something on mine and Ellie’s current relationship… that I hope more than anything will make any final tabloid speculation disappear.
“Ellie and I made the decision to separate some time ago.
“Our immediate family and close friends have known for some time – otherwise we chose to do what we could to keep this private.
“Ellie and I remain the closest of friends, most importantly ‘co-parents’ to the best kiddo in the world, Arthur.
“This is the last I want to say on this – and please ask that you respect mine and Ellie’s privacy. Thanks a lot. Caspar.”
Their glamorous wedding ceremony at York Minster in 2019, featured an impressive guest list ranging from pop stars to royalty.
Celebrities including Katy Perry, Orlando Bloom, James Blunt, Sienna Miller, Jimmy Carr and artist Tracey Emin were in attendance.
Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice were also guests along with their mother Sarah, Duchess of York and Eugenie’s husband Jack Brooksbank, who was one of the groomsmen.
The ceremony was followed by a lavish reception at Castle Howard, a stately home near Malton, North Yorkshire.
The couple first became an item in early 2017, getting engaged the following year.
Goulding had previously been in relationships with McFly star Dougie Poynter, radio presenter Greg James, DJ Skrillex and actor Jeremy Irvine, and is also rumoured to have dated singer Ed Sheeran.
She has had four chart-topping albums in the UK, including her most recent collection, Higher Than Heaven, released in 2023.
Goulding toured the UK and Europe late last year with songs from the new album.
Rod Stewart labels Vladimir Putin an ‘a******e’ and urges support for Ukraine ‘right to the end’
Sir Rod Stewart has lashed out at Vladimir Putin on the eve of the second anniversary of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
The music veteran branded the Russian president an “arsehole” in an interview with Sky News on Friday night.
And he said revealed his fears about the consequences of the US “pulling money away from Ukraine” as the conflict enters its third year.
“And we’ll have to join the army,” he added.
“We have to support Ukraine right to the end,” he continued, adding: “Peace in the Middle East as well.”
Sir Rod appeared on Sky News alongside friend and fellow musician, Jools Holland to discuss their new album, Swing Fever.
“We need joy, we live in very dark times,” he told Sky News.
Sir Rod described how the album “brought them together”, while pianist and composer Holland revealed how, when Sir Rod first called him to discuss the project, he believed it was a crank call.
Sir Rod is no stranger to speaking his mind.
In January last year, he called into Sky News to donate for medical scans after hearing NHS crisis stories.
He said it was ridiculous people had to wait long periods for essential treatment and called for a change in government.
Sir Rod said: “I personally have been a Tory for a long time but I think this government should stand down now and give the Labour Party a go, this is heartbreaking.
“In all my years in this country I’ve never seen it so bad… change the bloody government.”
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