Young British songwriter rises 

For a guy who released his debut disc a few days earlier, James Morrison had amassed quite a long line of female fans, all craning their necks to hear every note of a recent afternoon sound check in San Francisco.

But the buzz on the 22-year-old Brit is already deafening — propelled by the bluesy acoustic single "You Give Me Something," off "Undiscovered," which has gone triple platinum overseas. Toss in his sandpapery R&B singing voice and scruffy good looks and you’ve got the makings of another James-Blunt-huge phenomenon.

Morrison is somewhat baffled by the hubbub, marveling over his music’s connection with so many kids. "I just wrote about what I know," he says. "But I didn’t want to set the tone too sad. I wanted to write an album where people would know that I’d been through a hard time, but no matter. You can come out of it."

The material’s truth may be toned down, but it still reads like a Horatio Alger tale. Only two years ago, he was cleaning vans for a living, six days a week, struggling to book gigs, even open-mic nights, in his scant time off.

Fired from that dead-end job, he was ready slink home to his mother’s home in Cornwall. Not an attractive option, as he sings in "This Boy."

Morrison had moved out at 17, with no regrets. His family didn’t have a lot of money. He says, "So we used to go to this bar where — if I’d play and sing — they’d give us food, square meals and stuff. I was 15 at the time, and I’d sit on a pub table and go ‘Mom, I don’t like this,’ but she’d say ‘Shut up and sing!’ And I’d do the Steve Miller Band, Van Morrison, old Beatles. I always loved playing, but I hated the fact that I was forced into it. So I ended up not wanting to play around my mom — I was always more comfortable on my own."

His childhood had already been a Dickensian blur, he adds: "I wanted to go out and be with my mates and be a kid, but I knew all about debts instead. I knew that we were in debt, because my mom couldn’t handle it on her own. So I had all the worries of a 40-year-old when I was 10."

Solo, it wasn’t much easier. While his girlfriend of five years, Jill, paid the rent, Morrison fought to be heard. As he was about to pack it in, he bumped into an old open-mic buddy, Ken Andrews, a guitarist who liked the youngster’s old-school style so much he offered to record him.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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