Sometimes, album cover images have meaning to only musicians or bands, but the image for The Stars Beneath My Feet (2004-2021), the debut greatest hits collection by James Blunt, tells a highly significant story. We see Blunt strumming a guitar while wearing a soldier’s helmet, which is scored and scrawled upon. Long before the 47-year-old songwriter became a multi-million selling artist, he served in the British Army, rising to the rank of Captain, and deployed with Nato to Kosovo, where, in 1999, he led a Nato peacekeeping force from the North Macedonia border towards Pristina International Airport.
“I was a solider for six years and then a musician,” says Blunt, over Zoom. “The fact that the helmet on the album cover has been graffitied on, drawn on, shows that someone has shed the uniform and escaped the uniform, and found themselves instead. I really appreciate the many lessons I learned from being in the army. You realise there are always two sides to an argument.”
Blunt was still in the army when dreams of becoming a full-time musician, successful or not, were filtering through his mind. During his assignment throughout his time at Kosovo, he would perform for his troops, and it was while on duty there that he wrote one of his best-known songs, No Bravery.
From the age of 14, he says, he had been telling anyone who would listen that he wanted to write songs, sing them on stage and record them. “Of course, I had many dead ends in trying to find my path and a way into the music business, but when you’re just starting out you don’t really know which direction to go in. I remember inviting record labels to come down to many early gigs in London, but I was doing it the wrong way.
“I realised I needed a manager who could show me how to get through the shark-infested waters of the music business, while I could then at least focus on the music. I had a really naive conviction that this is what I would do. I think that confidence, that naive confidence, however, is important because otherwise you’d realise how insanely difficult it is.”
He admits the early days were a challenge. “I absolutely struggled, but I was lucky enough to find the right kind of manager, someone who is still my manager today. I was very fortunate, and since then I’ve been cared for and looked after incredibly well within the music business.”
Spending extended time in that environment was new to me, my house was robbed three times and we went through Brexit, didn’t we. So there was lots to write about
Like the rest of us, Blunt is cautiously settling back into life after Covid. When the pandemic enveloped us, he was halfway through the European leg of a world tour. His band and crew returned home and the pub he had just opened in London (“the Fox & Pheasant in Chelsea, and all of you are now welcome”) had to close down.
“I went back home to Ibiza, where I hadn’t really spent much time because I’d been on tour, almost full-time, for about 17 years, and I discovered I had children I never knew about. Spending extended time in that environment was new to me, my house was robbed three times and we went through Brexit, didn’t we. So there was lots to write about.”
Of the songs collected on The Stars Beneath My Feet, four new originals are a taster of what’s to come for the avid Blunt fan. For now, the remainder, he says, represent the best of his six studio albums to date. “The fantastic thing about a greatest hits collection,” he concludes, “is that you can pick the songs you’re most proud of. In many ways, an album such as this is the one I’m most excited by.”
His music – and some peopl