Jay James Picton

Five years ago Welsh born Jay James Picton had never sung or played a note in his life. Today, Booker T Jones, Roger Daltrey, Hal David and John Legend are among admirers of his unique soul voice – a voice he discovered entirely by accident.

“My entire life had been about sport,” says Jay James, who joined the Royal Navy at 16, worked as a Physical Training Instructor, and played representative rugby and football.

It was a typical night out with the lads that prompted a drunken bet as Jay and some mates walked past a music shop in Southsea, Portsmouth. Five minutes and £30 later, Jay was walking the streets with an acoustic guitar. For months it sat unplayed in his living room until a rugby injury found him home alone on sick leave. With his flatmate posted overseas on active duty, feeling low, and awaiting an operation on his ruptured knee cartilage, he Googled guitar tutorials and began to teach himself to play.

Jay James’s musical education began. He had discovered his voice – albeit by chance. His song-writing emerged soon after, as a long term relationship began to fall apart.

Now, with a clear knack for translating his hard-hitting, fiery heart into song, the result is Play It By Heart, the debut album by a rare and raw talent.

Jay James’s startling vocal range and power conjures up ghosts of soul legends like Donny Hathaway, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Al Green as he puts his heart and – yes – soul into a series of self-penned songs that chart the ups and downs of a turbulent relationship and celebrate the start of a new one.

Play It By Heart – out in 2012 – was recorded between Brooklyn (NYC) and LA with a stellar group of session musicians from the hip hop & soul scenes, co-produced by Jay James, Mike Peden and Malay.

The album features guest appearances by two greats from different ends of the soul spectrum. Soul veteran Booker T. Jones co-wrote, plays and sings on Heads vs Hearts, and current star John Legend co-wrote and plays piano on Oh There She Goes.

The studio band includes Legendary Roots Crew players James Poyser, Jef Lee Johnson (Prince) and Raymond Angry, bass player Jack Daley (Lenny Kravitz, Beyonce, Jay-Z), drummer Stephen Wolf (Alicia Keys, Kanye West, Katy Perry) and veterans Clifford Carter (James Taylor, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin).

In a musical era of Brit School graduates and X Factor contestants, self-taught, self-trained Jay James Picton is that rarest of discoveries – he’s the real thing.