James Cole, British racing driver and guitarist with The Classic Rock Show chats with Kevin Cooper about his success with the British Touring Car Championship, being asked to perform at The Classic Rock Show, what his favourite guitar riffs are and how he likes to drive Tom Paxton around the UK.

James Cole is a British racing driver from Southport, who made his British Touring Car Championship debut in 2013. After taking part in BRSCC North West Formula Ford in 2007 he moved to the main British Formula Ford Championship in 2008. He won the 2009 championship, taking seven wins and fifteen podiums in the twenty-four races and was nominated for the 2009 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award.

Having changed to the British Formula Three National Class for the 2010 season, he moved to Formula Two for the start of the 2011 season with British Formula Three teammate Brundle. For the 2014 British Touring Car Championship season, Cole joined United Autosports who made their debut in the series.

Because of his knowledge and clear passion for music, he was asked to join The Classic Rock Show, which is returning in 2015 to tour the UK; performing the Top 20 Greatest Guitar Riffs Of All Time.

Having just put racing on the back burner for the winter, he is now preparing to tour with The Classic Rock Show. Taking time out from his hectic rehearsal schedule, he had a chat with Kevin Cooper, and this is what he had to say.


Hi James how is life treating you?

I am very well Kevin, thanks for asking. Life is good at the moment. It’s been a very busy year with the motorsport; I was racing in the British Touring Car Championship and to finish that and then go straight into organising the tour, then rehearsing, and then getting out on the road with the show; it’s going to be very busy but it’s a great opportunity and I am really looking forward to it.

So what came first, the motorsport or the music?

I have always grown up with the music; I have always been surrounded by music, and I started doing a degree in music at LIPA (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts) at the time when I had just started in motor sport. The motor sport took off very quickly; I won the British Formula Ford Championship in 2009 and then progressed into Formula Three and Formula Two racing. When you find yourself at the high end of single-seater racing cars, trying to get into the Formula One world, the music had to take a back seat as there just wasn’t the time for me to focus on it properly. This year I have completed a full season in the British Touring Car Championship which is the UK’s largest motor racing championship but now that the winter is here with us, I have been given the opportunity to get back into my music which is something that I have always wanted to do. I didn’t want to waste all of the time and effort that I had spent on music as a kid. To have this opportunity is great, and I hope that the tour goes really well (laughter).

So just how did you come to join The Classic Rock Show?

I have known Damian (Darlington) for years, since before he became the Musical Director, guitar, lapsteel and vocals with Brit Floyd, and even before his time spent with The Australian Pink Floyd. We all know how good Damian is at getting everything right and the quality which he insists upon, and so it all came about after a few conversations. Brit Floyd are getting bigger and are playing more and more shows; between 150 to 200 shows per year, and he no longer has the time to focus on what he wants to within The Classic Rock Show. Damian knew what I had done in the past; he knew of my musical ability and so he asked me if I would like to get involved with the show and I naturally said that I would love too (laughter).

What can you tell me about the show?

Well Kevin, The Classic Rock Show has been touring for a few years but this year we are making things a little different. We all know just how good the show already is, so we have now changed it to the top twenty guitar riffs of all time. It will be a totally different look at classic rock. Whilst there are a lot of songs that you would expect to be in that show; Whole Lotta Love, We Will Rock You, Back In Black, there are a few other little gems that we found as well which we are really looking forward to playing.

Despite the pressure of organising the tour, rehearsing, and then touring, do you find it therapeutic to get out of the cars and back out onto the stage?

Oh completely, it’s a different mind-set completely (laughter). Whilst the pressure is still there and the focus is still there, it’s more of an enjoyable focus because even though in racing you are part of a team, and it’s not just you that makes the whole thing happen, you are one of many and on stage you are also one of many; you are part of a team. It’s a totally different feeling, and on some levels I would say that it is more nervous standing on the stage but the motor sport is a different type of pressure. Being live on TV with 30 cars surrounding you is a different feeling from when you have got 1000 people watching you perform with the lights on you. It’s a different pressure but we all thrive on pressure and adrenalin don’t we Kevin (laughter).

But some of you handle that pressure better than the rest of us (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) I have no doubt that the first gig will be quite nerve-wracking for us all but it’s like everything, when you get into the new rhythm of it by half way through the first show I am sure that it will change from nerves to enjoyment.

Speaking of pressure I have been looking at some of the previous drivers connected with the British Touring Car Championship; Martin Brundle, Mark Blundell and Johnny Herbert. There are some big shoes there to follow.

Absolutely Kevin, absolutely. It’s good because they all still have some involvement with the team on a small level, so if I ever want to get any advice Johnny is always great to speak to and these people have got years and years of experience. I have only done one year in the British Touring Car Championship, and whilst I have been successful in other championships, the British Touring Car Championship is a whole new bag. When you find yourself racing against the likes of Jason Plato and Matt Neal who have been doing it for twenty years, you can’t expect to be out at the front with those drivers in the first year as a team and in the first year with me as the driver. So there is a lot of work to be done on both sides; myself as the driver and the team have got to do a lot of development over the winter. But having said that we are all very positive and for a first year we have had some really good qualifying sessions and I now feel as though I have gained my place with the Championship and that I should be there. Now all that we need to do is to make the car quicker and try to get to the front (laughter).

Now, playing devil’s advocate, if you could only do one which one would you chose, the music or the racing?

Don’t do that Kevin (laughter). That’s a difficult one. Motor sport is something that I have always loved, yet I have grown up with music. I have to say that I couldn’t chose Kevin to be brutally honest (laughter).

It’s my turn now Kevin and turning the tables on you. You have seen the set list, so what would you perceive as the top twenty greatest guitar riffs. Would you be looking to go and see the usual stand-alone guitar riffs or would you be looking for something a little different. When you hear this show, what do you most look forward to?

James, many thanks for that (laughter). Sitting on the fence I would have to say that any show that included Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and AC/DC would work just fine for me.

That is interesting Kevin because when I was developing this show there were two different views on this. You have to look at this from an audience perspective because the songs that the muso’s like, would not necessarily be popular to the masses, so you are left with the problem of finding which songs are the best to play. Everyone always has their favourite songs, but it is difficult to find a set that can suit everybody and that is what has been the difficulty with this. I am hoping that we have done that.

Another problem which you could be faced with is, you being a guitarist and enjoying the music so much, it could be very easy for you to become self-indulgent.

Oh yes Kevin, when we were choosing the set list I was choosing the songs that I liked (laughter). You go through a process of considering what do I like; what would the audience like, and so we all sat down together and came up with a set list. The problem is that classic rock is such a broad thing now. Classic rock was always songs from the late 60’s to the mid 70’s but it’s not anymore, it also includes the 80’s. You speak to some people and classic rock is Guns N’ Roses or Aerosmith; is that classic rock? That is the whole argument now, what is classic rock? (laughter).

And everyone that you speak to has their own opinion of what classic rock is. And that is the joy of music.

Absolutely Kevin, and hopefully with this set list we have got two and a half hours of live classic rock music and I am hoping that there is a variant of genres within classic rock and I am hoping that we have covered everything. That’s my plan and I hope that at the end of the night, everyone has had a good time.

Just throwing something into the mix; if you listen to the early Kinks and Dave Davies guitar playing, there are some classic riffs there but 9 out of 10 people would say that The Kinks are not rock.

Absolutely, are The Beatles classic rock? (laughter)

Exactly James, how far can you go back?

These are the discussions that we have been having for the past three months (laughter). I would mention a song and the others would say that we can’t do that, but then on the other hand if we are doing this then why can’t we do that. The set list as it is now, compared to how it started is very, very different (laughter). When we had our first set list we actually timed it and it was well over three hours and so we thought that we had better chill out (hysterical laughter).

Having recently seen Paul Rodgers in concert, I automatically think of Paul Kossoff’s playing in All Right Now. Where do you stop? You could be picking songs forever and a day and still not have all of the songs that you wanted to have in the set list.

That’s the thing as well, when you have only got two to two and a half hours’ worth of music, how do you try to get the history into that time space. How do you know when you have got everything covered? What’s great about this show is that Damian is still involved and is in charge of the quality control side of things. Obviously there is a pressure to ensure that everything sounds great, but with Damian involved, I have a feeling that it will sound every bit as good if not better. I am really looking forward to having his involvement. He won’t allow anything to go out that he doesn’t think is not good enough.

Without giving anything away, will there be songs which will make the audience say “wow, I never thought of that?”

Yes (laughter).

How did music start for you?

My dad, Chas Cole, is CMP Promotions and so I have always been surrounded by the musical side of things. He has never pushed me to do anything, and it was always my decision. Music was always my favourite thing at school which then developed into me enrolling at LIPA, and I have been going to gigs since as long as I can remember (laughter). I grew up with The Australian Pink Floyd show and then Brit Floyd where my relationship and friendship with Damian grew. It was a natural progression for me when Damian said that The Classic Rock Show needed to change slightly. I had played some shows with Brit Floyd over in America where I played some of the rhythm acoustic parts. So I am new to it but not completely new to it (laughter). It was the next thing for me to do; to help Damian with the Classic Rock Show. We are doing this as the first tour to see how it goes, but obviously my racing in the British Touring Car Championship is the main goal at the moment as that is my job. But anytime when there are gaps and when I can come and join The Classic Rock Show, then that’s the next thing that I want to be doing.

Who were you listening to when you were growing up?

I sort of got bombarded with Pink Floyd (laughter). They are one of my favourite bands of all time, and I think that I would have come to that conclusion anyway (laughter). I also grew up listening to Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Led Zeppelin, and Dire Straits. I actually grew up listening to a hell of a lot of stuff which is on this set list to be brutally honest Kevin (laughter). I did have to learn a lot of material for the show but it’s a lot of stuff that everyone is familiar with and has known for years. Being surrounded by CMP I always liked people like Nils Lofgren from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. I even like the folk artist, Tom Paxton together with Paul Carrack. It is all people who I have grown up with really because I have been to see their shows. When you do some research into their backgrounds and listen to their music, you soon realise just how good they are.

What was the first record that you bought?

Oh no because that is going to be really embarrassing (laughter). The first CD that I bought would have been The Beatles Number 1 album in 2000 because I remember going into Woolworths in Southport and buying it. That is my first memory of buying a CD. My dad was always playing Harry Chapin or Jackson Browne in the car. They were the first two cassettes I grew up with and listening to. I also remember that my mum had Cat Stevens (laughter).

Who did you first see live in concert?

That would have to be Tom Paxton in Preston. I can remember going to see him when I was very young, and I would have been around five years old. That is probably my earliest memory of going to a show. When Tom tours the UK if I have the time I drive him to the gigs. It’s great, just three of us in a car; he is a very, very interesting man. He is like a grand-dad to me as I have known him since I was a baby.

James, I’ll let you get back to work, thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

Thank you Kevin. Make sure that you come over and say hello in Birmingham and we will have another chat. Bye.