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News at Cowboymod

Thursday, 01 October 2009

An interview with James by Alexander Lister (c)2009

He has had tea with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, toured with Oasis and Damien Rice. He is a photographer, musician, hairdresser and, most recently, a husband and father. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, you may have seen that man walking down Walton Street in full cowboy regalia or wandered passed the window at No. 33 and wondered how it seems to rotate seamlessly from salon to gallery to recording studio to general emporium of quirkiness…and at some point you probably wondered why. Alexandra Lister meets a local mystery.

It is Saturday afternoon. James is cutting the hair of a client to the dulcet tones of his new album. ‘It was thirteen years ago that I first came to see this shop, and she came with me’, he says, nodding to his client in the mirror and slicing into her edgy bob with alarming nonchalance. The ‘shop’, arranged over three floors, is crammed with surprising objects; cowboy hats and boots, framed photographs, guitars, superhero figures, a batman lighter, photos of his wedding day and his newborn baby boy, vintage sunglasses. Downstairs I find poetry, sculpture, ethnic jewellery, leather cuffs and Gladstone bags. I check out James’ literary persuasions, books on Mario Testino and the Beatles - and nestled between them - Daniel Defoe’s ‘A General History of the Pyrates’.

A.L: So I’ve heard that you are a lottery winner indulging yourself and that you once had a one hit wonder! Are these rumours true?
J.B.S: No. I did run music nights at the Jericho Tavern though!

A.L: Why ‘Cowboymod’?
J.B.S: As a kid I always wore jeans and cowboy boots to school, before the eighties, before the cowboy thing became fashion. Cowboymod was originally just a password for something. When I first opened the shop, my image was all about black, very Italian and sleek. Being a mod back then I should have got a scooter but I got a Harley instead. A cowboy is someone who’s really bad at something, so it’s self-deprecating rather than an arrogance thing. I’m a bad mod. In 97’ I ditched the black and put my cowboy boots and my jeans back on.

A.L: When and why did you develop your fascination with superheroes?
J.B.S: I wish I could have been superman, so that I could have saved my sister. She died we were kids in a terrorist bomb in Singapore. I should have died too, but I didn’t. I’ve always been into Pop Art imagery. I used to watch Batman on TV when I was a kid. I used to live above the shop, and when Toy Story came out, I put a figure of Buzz Lightyear in the window. Kids would look in and I’d move the figure around the shop. I loved children’s joy looking in and watching how the adults would respond too. Some people wanted to buy them, so I started procuring more.

A.L: Where does the music come in?
J.B.S: I was first into Californian music- the Mamas and the Papas and late Beatles stuff. I suppose my musical identity would have been punk. I got into The Jam, and then Paul Weller became an icon. I’ve always written poetry and lyrics to songs.

A.L: And your photography? What’s the story behind that?
J.B.S: I just want to show you what I am seeing and trying to capture a moment.

A.L: Tell us about Noel Gallagher.
J.B.S: I met Noel in a pub. He showed me his guitars and took me to their studio. I ended up photographing them and going with them to America on tour. Then I toured with Damien Rice.

A.L: How did it feel to meet your icon Paul Weller?
J.B.S: I met Paul Weller many times as a fan. This particular day I’d been in London all day. I remember I had my cowboy hat on, this enormous white hat, and really bad hat hair! I ended up going to the BBC studios with Noel Gallagher to see Paul recording on Later with Jools Holland. I was backstage and I didn’t dare take my hat off! Sometimes heroes should stay people you never meet, there’s not enough time to ask them everything you want to!

A.L: If you could be a superhero, who would you be?
J.B.S: (Long silence) Batman. Spiderman. Superman - in that order.

A.L: What did you want to be when you were little?
J.B.S: Someone who could make people get on. I went through a period of wanting to be a priest. At school it was the usual: policeman, footballer, pop star.

A.L: Can you lasso cattle?
J.B.S: No. I’ve always been into horse riding, but not English style horse riding.

A.L: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
J.B.S: California. It’s my spiritual home.

A.L: When was the happiest day of your life?
J.B.S: My wedding day was the happiest. The most amazing day of my life was when my son was born.

A.L: Whose hair would you like to cut?
J.B.S: For a challenge I’d say Simon Cowell. Oh, and I’d like to thin Noel’s out!

A.L: Tell me about the road-trip you most enjoyed.
J.B.S: The most memorable trip would have to be the journey I did recently, driving from Arizona to California with my wife and baby. It’s a journey I have done many times before, but driving through the desert and mountains was special this time because I was with Becky and Alfie.

A.L: Why do you live in Oxford?
J.B.S: I can’t get away from Oxford! Something always happens to make me stay. Oxford is a great centre; it’s compact, beautiful. I really like Jericho, there’s such an eclectic group of people here. You can always be surprised by Oxford. For whatever reason, I’m glad I’m here.

A.L: What do you think about the Jericho boatyard development:
J.B.S: I think way more care should be taken. You can’t destroy history all the time.

A.L: The modern term ‘cowboy’ has intrinsically negative connotations. Would you regard yourself as a reckless person?
J.B.S: Definitely.

A.L: What is your favourite western movie?
J.B.S: Tombstone.

A.L: What are your weaknesses?
J.B.S: Being moody, cantankerous and over-zealous.

A.L: You are many things rolled into one, and in addition to all this, you still manage to be a devoted husband and father. How do you do it?
J.B.S: I am very stressed! There is so much I want to do; I want to do everything.

A.L: Where are you off to on your next trip?
J.B.S: The journey of life with Becky and Alfie.

A.L: Tell me about your latest project:
J.B.S: It’s called The Walls Of Jericho Mural. On the exterior of the shop on the corner of Walton Street and Little Clarendon Street (which has been derelict for 12 years), I got the owners permission to create a massive ‘Welcome to Jericho’ mural, featuring all the shops, cafes, restaurants and synagogues. It will be a gateway into all that Jericho has to offer as a community. Each window will have a different fitted panel to represent an area of Jericho. The Mayor is going to open it and there’ll be a street party. I’ve asked all the shops to contribute £100. If everyone can get involved and feel part of the community it will be a real achievement.

A.L: What is your life mantra / motto?
J.B.S: If everything that I do can make just one person happy, then it’s worth it for me.


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