UK Soul Great Jimmy James Has Died

A cult soul figure...

Jamaican-born soul singer Jimmy James has died.

News of the singer’s passing was confirmed by Jamaica Observer overnight (May 15th). Jimmy James was 83 years old, and had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and a heart condition in 2021. He died at Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow, London, with news being confirmed by his daughter Lauren Mercurius-Mascoll.

Jimmy James was born in Brown’s Town, Jamaica, travelling to the UK on the cusp of the 60s. Although his first released recording was ska – a then-nascent genre – soul and R&B became his true love.

Forming a backing band, Jimmy James and the Vagabonds became an indispensable part of British music in the 60s. The group helped launch countless careers, while his own take on soul added Caribbean and British inflections.

A formative driver during the first wave of northern soul clubs, cuts such as ‘Now Is The Time’ were dearly loved by fans. 1966 album ‘The New Religion’ is perhaps his defining record – fuelled by sweat, endless long nights, and van drives across the UK.

Splitting the band in 1970, Jimmy James returned with a new line-up in 1973, before embarking on a disco diversion. Touring almost to the last, he led a truly unique life – friends with Jimi Hendrix, he was the funky, soulful heart of swinging London and a true soul inspiration.

Northern Soul DJ Ian Levine worked extensively with Jimmy James, and commented on Twitter / x:

I’m just devastated at the loss of my singer, my lifelong friend, Jimmy James. I recorded over 15 songs with him and knew him since 1974 in Blackpool This wonderful song, which I wrote with him, displays all of his Northern Soul brilliance. I miss him

Songwriter David Brewis adds on Twitter / x:

So sad to hear that we lost Jimmy James yesterday. I was lucky enough to play bass as one of his Vagabonds for a whole month in 2013. What a great soul singer and lovely man. The record is his very first single, recorded in Jamaica.

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