Samui Wining & Dining
Mark James – musician extraordinaire.

Mark James – musician extraordinaire.Unless you have the abilities of Mozart from the womb, then learning musical skills can only come through hard work, and a lot of it. Not just a question of strumming some strings in the garage, it’s a life-long business. Grit to start off with, glamour – if it comes at all – a lot later.


Singer and guitarist Mark James, well-known on Samui and far further afield, sat down for a chat and told us how he managed to survive in an industry notorious for dashing the dreams of even the most ardent. The fact that he never gave up and showed great persistence has shaped his destiny in some fairly quirky ways. The first thing you tend to notice about Mark is that he mixes both a laid-back demeanour with a thoughtfulness that makes a winning combination. He strolls up casually dressed, yet with a disarming alertness about him. Just the right kind of person who can check out a crowd, judge the vibe then play the music that’s most likely to please them. If he makes everything look effortless, it wasn’t always the case!


Mark was raised in Doncaster, a hardscrabble town in the north of England, where art wasn’t usually encouraged. But he showed musical aptitude from an early age; his father encouraged him to pursue his dreams and to learn the guitar to the highest level possible. That meant the Royal Northern College of Music, and he had the talent to be accepted as a student. He became a classical guitarist, and though his studies brought him many benefits, the Academy could be quite stifling at times. “It’s changed since then,” says Mark “but I’m grateful that I was able to go; if I hadn’t, I don’t think anything much would have become of me musically. It gave me a great deal of impetus.”


He was 22 when he left, had enough motivation to keep on learning by himself, and at the same time he became a music teacher at a grammar school. He was looking for a fresh challenge, and thought that doing a post-grad in music would provide him with that. But something wilder and better came along: Mark James –  musician extraordinaire.the chance to be in a musical. He jumped at the chance; this was Elvis the Musical, a highly popular extravaganza where he played Elvis’ guitarist. So began an unexpected rock-and-roll life, a shock at first, yet always fun. Touring with the musical meant eight performances a week. Sunday was a day off. It had to be, because a day was needed to travel to the next town and get everything set up there.


Afterwards he gravitated to working in Torquay, a place he’d fallen in love with – “my first ever glimpse of palm trees” – and played in an afterhours bar, teaching himself to sing as well. It was there that he took the stage name of Mark James, which he’s kept ever since. His real name, in case you’re wondering, is Mark Jones.


Fast forward a few years and he left England for Thailand, after spending a holiday in Phuket. He performed Beatles’ shows there, regularly impersonated Elvis and basically thoroughly enjoyed living and working in Patong. “It was just a village back then,” he recalls. “Everyone knew everyone and life was quite simple.”


No doubt he would have stayed but the entire coast was destroyed by the tsunami in December 2004. The club he played in was gone, so was any chance of earning a living, at least for a few years. He came to visit friends on Samui, and soon started living and playing here. He knew people; they gave him work; he loved Fisherman’s Village and got gigs there. Fairly quickly, he became better known and started enjoying a completely new life here. Nowadays, he’s no stranger to the many resorts and restaurants where music is played,Mark James – musician  extraordinaire. and thanks to his talent is extremely popular. Mark brightens an entire arsenal of songs with his know-how.


You can catch him at any of the places where he regularly sings and plays guitar. He performs Monday nights at SALA Samui Choeng Mon Beach Resort; Wednesday at SALA Samui Chaweng Beach Resort; Thursday at Emerald Irish Pub; Friday at The Shack Bar and Grill; Saturday at Dr Frogs, then on the last Sunday of the month, you’ll find Mark at Smudgers Beach Bar, along with music pal Jody Stoddart. It’s a fairly full schedule but he also makes time for playing at weddings,birthdays and various events, corporate and otherwise. He also occasionally appears at the Secret Garden Sunday Sessions.


With lay-offs as grimly inevitable as melting ice-bergs, it pays to have a creative endeavour that keeps you feeling alive as well as pays for the rent. In our conversation we didn’t touch much upon the future, but Mark James looks set to keep on doing what he loves. And under the palms of Samui seems a fair enough place to do it.


Dimitri Waring


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