British Soul Phenomenon James Morrison Was a Postman and a Carpet Fitter before David Gray's Manager Plucked Him out of a Derby Pub, Says Annabel Rivkin; Annabel Rivkin Meets James Morrison, a Very Different Face of British Pop

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Byline: ANNABEL RIVKIN

For such a young man, James Morrison's face, like his heralded voice, has a lived-in quality. The 22-year-old is whipping up a rollie while making a pint of lager last a couple of hours. He's slight and bruised-looking with clear blue eyes; a scar from falling on to a radiator key as a child is stretched below one of them. 'I'm real clumsy, you see, so I've got loads,' he rasps in an unidentifiable accent which is the result of a peripatetic childhood.

Morrison, whose debut album Undiscovered reached number one in July, has been fiercely marketed as an authentic, grassroots singersongwriter, and although his phenomenally successful album has been slightly slated for its 'mum rock' easiness, even the most twisted of critics have lauded his remarkable voice. The huskiness gives his sound a sense of commitment and he's even been compared to Otis Redding. 'I had whooping cough when I was newborn,' he says. 'They said that I was going to be brain-damaged because I was coughing so much that I stopped breathing and I died four times. Well, I didn't die because I'm here, but technically I died. They told my mum there was a 70 per cent chance I'd be a vegetable, but I worked out all right.'

James has a heartbreaking quality to him; a sort of battered honesty, and much has been made of his father's abandonment of his family. Born in Rugby, he has an older sister and a younger brother.

When his parents - who never married - split up, James was four. 'All this abandonment stuff is so silly,' he says. 'My dad didn't abandon us and I'm having to set people straight on this all the time.' I imagine it rather suits his publicists to have him painted as some kind of little match boy, busking for his dinner. 'My dada [a painter/decorator] left because he was drinking and he and my mum [a nurse] fell out. He's still a drinker but not a fulltime drinker.' When James was 13, after years of moving around and never settling, he and his mother and siblings finally arrived in Porth, Cornwall which he now regards as home. To help with the bills, James's mother would take in lodgers and, when James was 16, a 22-year-old nurse called Gill moved in. 'I kind of got to know her over time,' says James of his girlfriend of five years. 'I was staying well clear, I didn't even flirt with her. But after a while I started to think, "What if she moves out? I'll never see her again and I really like her." In the end we got together - I was just turning 17.' His mother, who had only just got her children settled and was trying to grow some roots, must have been horrified. 'Oh, she was,' he says. 'It was her worst nightmare scenario and it took her a good couple of years to forgive Gill.' Soon afterwards, Gill began to pine for her hometown of Derby.

At least, that's the way the story goes. If I had been in her position I'm sure I might have developed all kinds of sentimentalities in order to escape the disapproving gaze of my boyfriend's mother. So the couple moved north.

James had been busking since he was 14, had fronted the school band and had started writing and gigging in Cornwall. …