James comes alive with originals


It’s been quite a journey from Mozart’s Violin Concerto in G to No Scrubs by TLC, musician Graeme James says.

In his talk at Queenstown’s TEDx event earlier this year, the talented multi-instrumentalist charted his unusual path from training in classical violin to becoming one of the best buskers in the country.

Now he’s taken another step, swapping his electrifying loop-pedalling covers for original music.

He’s on a mini-tour to launch his first original single Alive, and comes to The Sherwood tomorrow night.

“I wrote it about a time in my life where I was trying to work out what I was going to do with my existence,” the 29-year-old Wellingtonian says.

“I’d just turned 25 and spent a lot of time walking in the Manawatu countryside – going for three-hour walks at 1am.

“The song’s really about musing through those ideas.”

James was training as an electrical engineer at the time, but jacked that in in 2012 and took to the road as a full-time musician, often sleeping in his car.

“The song itself I wrote on a baritone ukulele that was lying around the house.

“I came up with the arrangement while busking – the riffs and those things were all created spontaneously while busking.”

His busking is renowned across the country. He uses a combination of instruments – violin, baritone ukulele, guitar, bass – along with percussion, vocals and beat-boxing to layer inspiring arrangements of popular songs through a loop pedal.

It’s so good it sometimes creates impromptu street parties.

“I love improvising and really enjoy good hooks, riffs and melodies. I find them quite easy to create – it’s the lyrics that are hard.

“So every time I do a cover and change something up in a significant way, often not the original but the cover will inspire something that I do in the original side of things.”

James has played more than 60 gigs in Queenstown and recorded two covers albums.

And he has written more than 50 original songs which he hopes to distil into an album later this year.

But first it’s his gig at The Sherwood, a venue he says has become a champion of original music in Queenstown.

“It’ll be mostly original, a bit more of an intimate vibe, but I’ll throw in a couple of covers here and there. ”

James will be supported by Fairlie, his wife Zoe’s band in which he also plays.

Graeme James plays at The Sherwood tomorrow, 8.30pm. Tickets $15.