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James Kennedy - Noise Damage

I’m an avid reader, especially when it comes to music-based biographies. The insight to the creative process and the world that producing music inherits can be an eye opener, especially if the God-like pedestal that many artists are placed upon is brought down to a more normal Earth level by the revelations they talk about. Of course they are all human after all. In recent times I’ve read Peter Hook’s Substance: Inside Joy Division, Gary Numan’s (R)evolution, Paul Brannigan’s work on the Dave Grohl This Is A Call, I Was A Robot by Wolfgang Flur of Kraftwerk and Matthew Wright’s biography on Seasick Steve Ramblin’ Man. I’ve also read works by John Peel, Mark E.Smith of The Fall, Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and the late Stuart Cable’s book Demons And Cocktails, about his life in the Stereophonics, which I then went on to interview him about (one of the last interviews he did before his death). Some books are good, some not so, being more cash-ins on fame with little to say, while some books made me change my whole perspective on the artist whose music I had learned to love. As I said, no more than simply bringing them down from those lofty heights.

One artist, David Bowie refused to be involved in this biographical process, though there are thousands of books out there about him. Still, Peter & Leni Gillman’s work Alias David Bowie, was a brilliant piece of writing. I’m sure Bowie understood that breaking his enigma status and talking about himself outside of an interview context would damage the position he’d created for himself. Of course, I can’t ask him if this was true and he would never have deemed to have told me anyway. That’s an enigma for you.

All that said, I like to think that I can regard myself as someone who has a healthy knowledge about the musician’s biography as an art form. Which brings me to James Kennedy and his work Noise Damage. You may ask, “Who is James Kennedy?” and that precisely is the point. Yes, who is he?

Well I must start by saying James Kennedy is a friend. We became friendly when I still ran the Welsh Music Magazine/Educational Experience Project Plugged In with my wife, Gail, in which we set out to promote what we always believed to be one of the most creative hubs for music that the UK had to offer – artists from Wales. And top of this pile of bubbling talent was the band Kyshera, the band fronted by James Kennedy, and the band that always…and I mean always…blew every other band off the stage. To say they were powerful would be to say they needed electricity to feed them…no, not Kyshera, they were like their own self-induced nuclear-powered explosion, creating their own unique energy force, never disappointing every time I saw them play.

So when James recently contacted me to see how we all were surviving and to ask if he could he send me copies of both his new solo album Make Anger Great Again and his book Noise Damage, I was only too thrilled to know they were winging their way to me.

Now I’ve told you all this because when you read what you are about to read you may think, ‘Oh he’s a mate. He must be biased.’ But I promise you that what I’m about to tell you is unaffected by friendship. I learned years ago that positive constructive criticism is the way forward and I would never lead people down the wrong path. This is what made Plugged In Magazine, throughout its short six-year place in history, so popular worldwide. So here we go with my opening line…

James Kennedy’s Noise Damage is one of the best books I’ve ever read about the music industry. It isn’t a ‘Let’s make out I’m a Rock God’ book, it’s not an airy fairy ‘Then I got a number one hit, took drugs, shagged the world and died in my mansion’ type of book either. This is the reality of the music business with all the damage, grief and suffering that it throws at you, alongside the trampoline-style highs and lows that a musician has to survive and endure. Because it’s written by someone who has only been within shouting distance of those great heights of dizzy stardom, it is as real as it can be. The opening doors that were suddenly slammed in his face, the constant strive to survive while being creative as his world collapses around him, the bodies left behind as people came and went, relationships that were destroyed and the toll that it has had on him both physically and more so, mentally. It’s all there in its soiled glory and it’s as personal as it gets.

Add to this a view of the music industry that comes from such a intelligent level of perception, both from the destructive nature on music by big record labels to the ruination of the creative spirit when profit is put before artistry, that you don’t just find yourself wrapped in James’s world but thrown into the deep end with every artist or band you’ve seen play those small venues that are suffering constantly, both doing their best to survive. This is the music business from all angles.

James knows when things went right, but he also tells you about when things went wrong – opening himself up to the harshest critic of all, himself. He doesn’t want your adoration, he doesn’t even want you to care, because often he becomes the creator of his own doom-laden paths. He knows at times he was a ‘prick.’ He just wants you to know about the true realities that one might face.

The book starts by talking about his childhood, but like he says he’ll skip through this quickly because he knows you want to get to the juicy parts. Again, honesty. When we get to the first album ‘Made In China’ (reissued later) and the formation of Kyshera, you feel like you’ve already been on a rollercoaster of a ride. But that’s the baby ride of little twists and turns before the real ups and downs start to happen.

Some might say that this book is just an ego trip, but that would be a mistake. James does give his opinions on many things, record companies, managers, PR companies, band members, other bands, politicians (especially Tony Blair), the BBC, but that’s just a cathartic process he needs to go through to highlight the way music has controlled his life. He also gives ‘Tips’ throughout the book that can be taken as gospel or just disregarded, but they are his viewpoints and not to be seen as a ‘How to…’ type of antidote to your own woes. While we are eventually pulled towards an inevitable point of implosion that creates, in his mind, a better person, we must remember one thing – that person was always there. It was just the drug of creativity that changed its character, sometimes not for the better. And that drug is a mighty powerful one.

At times, not an easy read. Not because of the language or the writing style, because that is way above the normal standard. It’s because it’s so real, human, unbelievable. At times I had tears in my eyes, because I was reading about a friend who was genuinely suffering and I never had a clue. The demise of Kyshera was especially hard to read about, having known Matt as well.

Towards the end of his story, James reflects on the music industry as it stands now, with its online instant access approach to music, saying, “I don’t want to live in a world run by people who are ‘doing it for the money’. I want to listen to records made by people with passion, doing it against all odds, not sitting by the side of their pool. I want records with grit, struggle, pain and resistance in them – not impotent, sugar coated, dollar-shaped conformity.” The positivity that shouts from those lines tells you where James’s heart really belongs. Well, other than with Cat that is! He wants you to believe in the music you listen to and basically is telling those stalwarts with their big names but no real hits anymore to stop getting comfortable and conforming to what the money men want. Music that comes from the heart, shines. And of course, the revolution that the internet has brought to the music scene means that the days of Rock God longevity has flown out of the window, for all but a few artists, as most are doing it for the love first, money second. So James hasn’t just written this book for himself, he has written it for all those people trying to get a break playing their music. A spokesperson for a musical revolution.

Gritty, scary, funny, heart wrenchingly disturbing, James Kennedy may have just written what one must say is the best account of the music industry ever. His realization that takes years of hardship to discover comes as a beautiful, utopian breath of fresh air – which isn’t the happy, skip off into the sunset rom-com finale you may be expecting.

And James’s journey doesn’t end with this book. He is still there doing whatever it takes to bring his music to your ears. Like I said, the book arrived with his latest album ‘Make Anger Great Again,’ so it’s not over…it’ll never be over for James Kennedy.

James Kennedy – Noise Damage: My Life As A Rock ’n’ Roll Underdog (published by Lightning Books Ltd) is available via most book sellers and Amazon.

All James Kennedy/Kyshera albums are available via Konic Records and most independent music stores, iTunes and Amazon including:

Kyshera – Paradigm (2010)

James Kennedy – 9 i.P. (2012)

Kyshera – Made In China (2012)

James Kennedy – The National Health Service (2013)

Kyshera – Circles (2015)

James Kennedy – Home (2017)

James Kennedy – Make Anger Great Again (2021)

James Kennedy will be headlining our After Midnight festival premiering tonight! Performing three songs from 'Make Anger Great Again', it's not a show to miss. Make sure you tune in at 7pm on our YouTube channel to see the full show. If you are reading this after the date, the show will still be up on our YouTube channel for you to watch and donate to Music Venue Trust - see you there!

Until then...

Buy Noise Damage from Eye Books here.

Listen to Make Anger Great Again on Spotify here.

Go to James Kennedy's website here.

Follow James Kennedy on Instagram here.

All After Midnight links here.

Link to the After Midnight Festival here.

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