As a child growing up in Southampton, James Heather’s Grandad on one side of the family taught him composition and how to manipulate the tuning of piano strings, whilst his Granny on the other used to dabble with dreamy improvisations on the instrument. His own early compositions came soon after around the age of 11, also inspired by a love of Beethoven and Debussy and his older neighbours pirate radio station and have steadily evolved ever since with his Grandparent’s spirit somewhere within. Heather spent many years honing composition before stepping out, to be able to bring a fresh take to solo piano music, taking influence as much from electronic music in structure, ambience and melody with a classical and jazz grounding.
Recently Heather started to release music officially via Ahead Of Our Time - Ninja Tune founders Coldcut’s resurrected first label and playground for free expression/experimentation. First came “Modulations: EP1”, seven tracks which were written and recorded at different times and in various headspaces. Next came his debut album “Stories From Far Away On Piano” in August 2017, a more unified conceptual piece of work. The album concept centres on Heather’s interpretations of real world news stories. The pieces ebb and flow, slowly enveloping the listener in a subtly subliminal fashion. These tracks have gone on to receive nearly 20 million plays on Spotify as well as millions on Apple and other services. In May 2018 the record is to be released on vinyl for the first time.
“The album is an appeal to emotion, a way of bringing the listener in, to evoke an empathetic response, this is my interpretation of stories I discovered. The stories themselves are not the focus, but the piano assimilation is, as the album is about viewpoint, opinion and perspective.”
Perspective is something Heather has in abundance; he nearly died in a traumatic road traffic accident, leaving him in a coma in intensive care and then off work for an extended time. One permanent injury was his finger, which became skewed in the crash. He was initially unsure if he’d ever be able to play to the same standard again. “When I eventually started to recover I began taking my musical sketches more seriously. I found solitude channeling my feelings into compositions.”
The embryonic unofficial releases ‘The Accidental Sessions’ and ‘Water Sonatas’, helped hone his production skills and compositional technique and received warm reactions, with the experiences being fed into his official debut album.
His communications job since 2003 at Ninja Tune may have cut in to his own composition time, but has also proved a positive formative effect on his mindset, exposing him to successful campaigns for talent like Wiley, Kamasi Washington, Actress, Cinematic Orchestra, Thundercat, Young Fathers, Kate Tempest, Bicep, The Bug and Bonobo, which have become a grounding anchor. “I’ve always liked to step out of myself and to become immersed in and help other people’s artistic visions, I’m blessed to be able to do that as a job. I can then meditate in my own music in periods of downtime away from the noise of the industry. This push and pull has worked for me till this point.” he explains.
Heather’s music has featured on many Spotify playlists such as Peaceful Piano, Lucid Dreamer and Most Beautiful Songs In The World. Whilst on Apple, Heather has been featured on playlists such as Headspace and Meditative Moments and reached number 2 on the UK classical charts in iTunes. Coverage in the media has included interviews at Quietus and Loud & Quiet as well as glowing reviews at Arts Desk, Line Of Best Fit, Mojo, DJ and many more. Heather has also completed DJ mixes on Solid Steel, Vinyl Factory (which received Resident Advisor mix of the day status) and Headphone Commute. His first ever live performance was at Glastonbury 2017 and has since played on bills supporting Laura Marling, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Lubomyr Melnyk (Erased Tapes) Heather is currently composing a score for Iskra Strings (Radiohead, The xx & Ólafur Arnalds) for his headline show at St Pancras Old Church in London on the 9th May 2018. and starting work on new music.
Heather is one of the new school set of ‘post classical’ artists flourishing in the wake of the long, steady but recently accelerated success of figureheads like Max Richter and Nils Frahm, and the wider public’s overdue but now burgeoning relationship with this varied genre.
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