Toseland: It’s biker rock, Jim, but not as we know it
Since his forced retirement from racing following a wrist injury sustained in March 2011, James Toseland has pursued a full-time rock career with the same kind of passion that saw him crowned World Superbike Champion in 2004 and 2007.
Words: Eric Mackinnon
Toseland is one of only two men, the other being Troy Corser, to have won the championship for two different manufacturers – Ducati and Honda.
But now having hung up his helmet his career has taken a different track after turning his hand to rock’n'roll with his five-piece combo named simply Toseland.
The likeable Yorkshireman’s band sound like a ballsy Reef, twinned with a hint of Bon Jovi and topped off with the swagger of a polished Airbourne. And they’re revving their way to a town near you right now…
Although fronting his own band is a new venture for Toseland, it was something he feels he was always destined to do – and could have earlier but for a twist of fate.
“It was my mum’s new boyfriend when I was only nine or ten years old who changed everything,” he recalls. “I studied the piano for years before motorcycles and we didn’t know anything about bikes until he came along.
“I was a professional motorcycle rider when I was 15 so my whole life was mapped out ahead of me. If my mum had never met him then my life could have been very different.”
On two wheels there was little his track rivals could do to halt him blazing a trail to the top of the motorcycle world until a career-ending wrist injury plunged him into the depths of despair for a time before his first love lured him back out.
“It was very lonely,” reflected Toseland sombrely. “It was very tough but during those times I was playing the piano a lot and that seemed to take my mind off it.
“I realised then this is what I wanted to do. It had also been the first dream of my life and when I sat down to record with Toby [Jepson] it felt like a homecoming of sorts.”
Little Angels mainman Jepson co-wrote with Toseland on the as-yet untitled debut album which saw the pair holed up together for over eight-months after sparking up a tight friendship.
“I didn’t know him at all actually,” he laughed. “It was a chance meeting through a vocal coach I know in London. We were chatting and he asked what I was doing now I had retired from racing and I said I wanted to make a rock album. He then said he knew the man to speak to and put me in touch with Toby.
“In the end I spent eight-months living in Scarborough and working with Toby at his studio and we became really good friends. I didn’t know much about Toby or the Little Angels before that and he didn’t know anything about motorcycle racing either. So it was great for us both to discover each other’s successes and develop a mutual respect.”
When recruiting for his new career path Toseland didn’t have to look far for the first cog in his new rock wheel as he kept it in the family.
“My lead guitarist is actually my wife’s [pop star Katie Melua] younger brother and I had heard him playing in his bedroom at my mother-in-law’s house,” he explains on the process of building a new band.
“I asked if he was interested in being in the band and then, as he was a student at Guildford ACM, I asked if he knew four other musicians of similar ability to join the band and he did that.
“I have a great connection to my brother-in-law and he wrote a lot of the riffs on the record – including the Renegade one. He has a huge influence on us.”
The album has been described as a monster slab of classic rock style cuts with a sprinkling of power ballads the album will do well if their preceding singles are any kind of yard stick.
Both the band’s initial two singles, Renegade and Life Is Beautiful, have charged onto the A list on national radio stations which surely bodes well for the impending album release.
As remarkable as it is now when you hear the unmistakable swagger of the track on the radio he says Renegade didn’t immediately strike the band as a single – until they hit the studio.
“Renegade was a bit of a curveball actually as it hadn’t really raised its head in the demo until we actually recorded it in the studio,” he picks up. “Sometimes demo versions can be better than final versions but this was the opposite. Once it was recorded the riff, which is really catch, came through.
“The song is also the most personal on the album and it was important for me to have a personal song on my debut album.
“The album has niche rockers, classic rockers and a few ballads on it but the best thing is there is not a single song the band and I are unsure of. We all love each of the songs and are very proud of them.”
With the album still without a name the singer explains with time against the band now they may offer fans the chance to offer up suggestions.
“The album is due out in March but as of yet we don’t have a title for it or any artwork. The pre-sale starts soon so we do need to hurry a bit. We are going out on tour next week and we have been thinking about getting suggestions for the album title from our crowds at the shows.”
Inspired by a deep-seeded love for rock music, and especially Queen, and fuelled by a burning desire to return to the top of his profession James Toseland is enjoying the ride and he is certain they can get to where they want to go.
“I have the same desire for music,” he concludes. “It was tough standing at the bottom of the ladder having been at the top for so long but listening back to the music we produced made me very, very proud. I knew something was happening and we had something.
“The feedback we have had from our shows has also been terrific and to have 200 fans sing Life Is Beautiful back to us at the Download Festival gives you the inkling you are doing something right.”
Sunday 10th – Liverpool Academy 2
Monday 11th – Newcastle Think Tank (Support: Chrome Molly)
Tuesday 12th - Sheffield Corporation
Thursday 14th – Bristol O2 Academy (with Reef)
Friday 15th - Glasgow O2 ABC (with Reef)
Saturday 16th - Birmingham Institute (with Reef)
Monday 18th - Manchester Ritz (with Reef)
Tuesday 19th - Truro Hall For Cornwall (with Reef)
Wednesday 20th - London Koko (with Reef)
Wednesday 4th – Wolverhampton Slade Rooms
Thursday 5th – Leeds Brudenell Social Club
Friday 6th – Norfolk Planet Rockstock
Saturday 7th – Kendal Bootleggers
Monday 9th – Cambridge Portland Arms (Support: Chrome Molly)
Tuesday 10th – Bournemouth Old Fire Station
Wednesday 11th – London Islington Academy (Support: Chrome Molly)