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Yorkshire lad James Toseland is beloved of sports fans everywhere as one of only two riders to have become a double Superbike World Champion on two motorbike brands – a Ducati in 2004 and a Honda in 2007.
Brands Hatch was the scene of a historic double race win on August 5, 2007, which set him up for that year’s title.
It was the last time that James, 33, set foot at the Kent circuit. Since then, he’s been forced to retire from professional racing due to a wrist injury sustained in a testing session in 2011.
Thankfully, the damage didn’t prevent him performing the second great love of his life – music.
A Grade 6 pianist, James turned his energy towards forming a band, Toseland, in which he is the lead singer. Its success has already seen him play the Download rock festival, release the album Renegade, and finally brings him back to Brands to headline the music stage at the MCE British Superbikes Championship on Saturday, July 19.
It was between retiring from motorsport and launching his music career that James met the third big love of his life – though not necessarily ranked in that order – wife Katie Melua.
The pair met when James took his mum to one of Katie’s concerts in April 2011 and were introduced by Katie’s pianist, who admired James’s playing. The happy couple married in September 2012.
Famed for hits Closest Thing to Crazy and Nine Million Bicycles, Katie could also be at Brands this weekend to watch Toseland perform, as James told What’s On.
What is your first musical memory?
“My gran played the piano and when I was younger I lived with my grandparents after my parents divorced, at four or five years old. When she would play at Christmas time it really fascinated me that she could bring everyone together. I got really excited about it and wanted to learn, and I went into having private lessons when I was about eight years old. I think it’s great that parents should introduce their kids to various different things to see what they are naturally talented at and might take on into their lives. I got to Grade 6 with my classical examinations but I also had rock and roll and blues lessons.”
Who were your musical heroes in your teen and motorcycling years?
“One of my first favourite bands was Queen, and I was always a massive fan of the bigger American rock bands like Gun N’ Roses, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, and Brian Adams, who’s Canadian. As I got older, the soundtrack to motorcycle racing is rock. But with piano players it was more like Jools Holland, Elton John, I love Jamie Cullum. I’ve got diverse musical tastes.”
How did motorbikes come into your life?
“My mum met a new boyfriend with a motorbike when I was about nine or 10 years old and that’s when my fascination started. He bought me one for Christmas and I started trials riding, then motorcross, then onto road racing after that. I was doing my GCSEs at school after I’d switched to road racing. For some reason at 16 I was going out there and beating all the established men from the UK and they changed the rules for me to compete with them at 16 instead of 18 because I was doing so well. So because I was a bit of a young hot-shot doing big things at an early age, that’s how I knew I’d really got a talent for something.”
Did music take a back seat?
“I still had music lessons even up until that point and was playing piano heavily, but the Honda corporation wanted to sign me for the world championships at 16 so it was almost mapped out for me that it was the career to be had. There were no opportunities for me musically on anywhere near that level, so I went with it.”
A wrist injury ended your professional motorsport career – did it also affect your piano playing?
“It did slightly, I have to sit to the left of the keyboard now because I can’t bend my wrist, but otherwise my fingers are fine and I can play pretty normally. Luckily I kept my finger speed, it would have been devastating to lose both of them. Music was my first love and was a catch-net for me when times were tough. The piano was the only thing that took me away from everything and stopped me from thinking about being a better motorcycle racer and I liked that release. So as soon as I had made the difficult decision to retire from racing I went headlong into music and moved to Scarborough for eight months and wrote the album [Renegade] with Toby Jepson from the Little Angels. It’s classic and edgy rock on the whole, there are a couple of power ballads but it’s mainly old-school, up-tempo rock and roll. I knew I loved that sound and I wanted to interpret that in my own way.”
What will performing at Brands Hatch mean to you?
“I haven’t been to Brands since I did the double in World Superbikes in 2007 and that was the highlight of my career as a whole weekend. There were over 100,000 people and I won both races that particular day, and the support was unbelievable. To come back to that place with such fond memories for me, and for it to accept me doing my new career – I’m really looking forward to it. It will be quite emotional to drive into those gates at Brands with the memories I have from 2007 – it feels like yesterday. It will be a real moment to stand on stage at Brands and think, ‘This is what I’m doing now.’”
How has your wife, Katie Melua, supported your move into music?
“I took my mum to her concert. I only went to that concert because I was injured, I was meant to be racing that weekend. I was already writing Renegade and I knew that was what I wanted to do, so Katie’s had no involvement with the music but she has been an amazing support in understanding the business side of things. Katie’s touring Spain this summer but if she’s at home she’ll be coming [to Brands Hatch]. I’m proud of her – she’s even better live than she is on a record, and that’s where you really see the talent of a musician. Katie’s younger brother, Zurab, is lead guitarist in my band who’s absolutely phenomenal.”
The traditional July MCE British Superbike Championship at Brands Hatch is one of the highlights of the motorsport season. Tens of thousands of fans are expected to watch the racing from some of the world’s best riders from Friday, July 18, to Sunday, July 20.
Sittingbourne’s Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne will be aiming for the top of the podium after dominating the BSB season so far – he currently leads the championship by 79 points.
James Toseland said of Shakey: “He’s a great guy. I was his team-mate in a sense in 2000 with Honda, and he was pushing me round most weekends. I have a lot of respect for him. I’ve always had a lot of respect for him. He’s one of the most naturally talented riders we’ve produced for a long time.”
James Toseland performs on the music stage on Saturday evening. Admission to the music stage is free to all valid MCE BSB ticket holders.
Weekend admission to the MCE British Superbike Championship is available online only for £33. Raceday admission gate price is £32, or book online to save £6. Camping is also available, as are various ticket upgrades.
For the full information of prices and the weekend’s programme, visit www.brandshatch.co.uk or call 0843 4539000.
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