James Morrison on his rapid rise to success

AT just 24, singer songwriter James Morrison is very much one of the youngest performers playing at this season s Kenwood concerts. His breakthrough success was the debut single You Give Me Something, which was released in 2006 and became a hit in Europe,

AT just 24, singer songwriter James Morrison is very much one of the youngest performers playing at this season's Kenwood concerts.

His breakthrough success was the debut single You Give Me Something, which was released in 2006 and became a hit in Europe, Australia, and Japan, peaking in the top five in the UK and New Zealand.

His debut album, Undiscovered, entered the UK Albums Chart at the top spot and in 2007 he won the Best British Male Solo Artist category at the BRIT awards.

On the day of our interview he is still shaken by the morning's breaking news that Michael Jackson has died after suffering a heart attack.

"Sorry - I'm still a bit knocked back by the news about Michael Jackson," he says. "I can't believe it. He's the first guy I ever loved - he's a legend. In the beginning it was him that made me want to sing - those albums Thriller, Bad and Dangerous.

"I just tried to be him basically - it was the only thing I ever listened to."

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With his own distinctive - some would say sexy - gruff voice, Mr Morrison does not sound that similar in his vocal style to the departed king of pop.

There is a rumour that his hoarse delivery is the result of a severe bout of whooping cough that almost killed him as a baby, and he is happy to confirm it.

He was born six weeks' premature and developed the illness two weeks after he was born, spending the first six months of his life in hospital.

He says: "At first it used to piss me off when I was at primary school because it sounded like I had phlegm in my throat."

But the husky voice it has left him with is a crucial part of his sound, and makes him stand out from the other acts on the scene.

"I sometimes wish I had a smooth, normal voice but then again there are a lot of great artists with smooth, clean voices and there's enough of that about. It's nice to put of bit of gruff out there."

He is looking forward to making his debut appearance at Kenwood, although he is not terribly familiar with the territory of Hampstead and Highgate.

"I'm not really into hanging around Hampstead Heath too much," he says, hinting at some of the activities rumoured to take place on certain parts of the Heath.

"I'm looking forward to Kenwood - I always look forward to playing. I've been doing a lot of different gigs and it's good to keep the kind of performances varied, so something like Kenwood is good - it's quite a change.

"I'm going to do something lively, but I really don't know what songs I'm going to be playing - some of the old ones and some new ones and a couple of covers put in there, spliced among the others as well.

"I don't want to say too much though or it would give it all away. The concert is a bit bigger than what I'd normally do so you've got to big it up a bit - you've got to explore a bit more."

And his current backing band are, by his reckoning, the best he has ever played with - in his own words they are "f*cking smoking".

He is developing a growing list of artists with whom he has collaborated including Nelly Furtado, the Sugababes' Keisha Buchanan and perhaps most notably Yusuf Islam - otherwise known as Cat Stevens.

"Nelly Furtado is one of my favourites," he says. "I never thought I'd get to work with her. She's quite different to me in terms of the style of music she plays but it worked out really well.

"Keisha was great - she's got such a brilliant voice. But the ultimate has got to be Cat Stevens. I sang backing vocals on his new album. It's great - like the old Cat Stevens, great songs, beautiful singing."

In 2008 his second album Songs for You, Truths for Me was released and the second single, Broken Strings, which featured his collaboration with Nelly Furtado, became a slow-burning chart-climber.

It was only following a performance of the song with Girls Aloud - the girl band that includes X-Factor judge Cheryl Cole, that it broke into the top ten at number six, giving Mr Morrison his fourth top ten hit.

"They were fun girls," he says. "They were brilliant to work with. Their vocals live are a lot better than I thought they would be. They can sing - they were great, funny, sexy."

One of the less shining moments in his career was during an interview with the presenter of a little-known radio show. She had mistaken him for the singer songwriter James Blunt, and it was only after they were well into the meat of the interview that she realised her error.

"She was just a dozy cow," he says, clearly still a bit affronted by the episode. "I think the confusion came from a mixture of her knowing I was a singer-songwriter, that my name was James and that I had straggly hair.

"I saw the funny side of it. I went along with it at first. I just thought, 'You silly cow - you don't even know who's on your own show'.

"It was this little reggae station in the middle of nowhere and she was more interested in whether her hair looked nice than about her guests."

She asked him what it was like to have had such great success with the single You're Beautiful, which is by James Blunt. He went along with it for a time, saying it was fantastic before eventually explaining to her who he really was.

"I said, 'I'm not James Blunt - I'm James Morrison'."

He hit the big time after being spotted at an open mic night in Derby, but his skills were honed by many performances prior to that moment.

"I was doing gigs a long time before that but it did all start with the open mic night," he says. "I got picked up by this guy at the pub who had been in the record business in the past."

On the subject of television talent contests, he says they are not a realistic way of making the big time for most people and that there are other, more feasible ways of getting yourself 'out there' as a performer.

"It depends on the acts, though," he says. "On something like Britain's Got Talent you will get something amazing on there at times that you wouldn't get on a normal singing show."

But he is scathing about the freak show aspects of such entertainment.

"Part of it is definitely just a novelty appeal," he says. "It's like, when are we going to see a guy pull a truck with his ear?"

The one thing he has decided on as a certainty for his appearance at Kenwood it what to do if it rains.

"If it rains then it rains. I'll have to pull out my single Please Don't Stop the Rain. I was playing at a gig in Denmark and it started raining. I played that song and it went down a storm. The rain didn't stop - it just kept on falling which was just what I wanted.

"Sometimes depending on the mood of the people if it's raining you've got to dig a little bit deeper. That's a good thing because it means you're with the people to the end.