The Wokingham Paper

WATCH: James Neilson wins prestigious music contest Open Mic UK


A HOLIDAY in Portugal 12 years ago has led to the chance meeting of two lads winning a national music competition.

Former Emmbrook schoolboy James Neilson and his performing partner Jack Higgins scooped top prize in the 2017 Open Mic UK contest at Birmingham’s NEC late last month – and he hasn’t stopped since.

Playing his own compositions, the duo wowed the crowd, judges and music moguls to scoop the title.

“It was a pretty good day,” Mr Neilson modestly said. “We had a really good turn out, we brought 45 people down from the Reading and Wokingham area.

“We didn’t think too much about the record label representatives in the audience, we focused on the crowd liking us. We put everything else to the back of our minds and the opportunity was amazing.”

And the duo’s blend of indie rock helped them get crowned, but Mr Neilson said he wasn’t expecting to win.

“It was a pretty big shock. Our friends made a bit of a noise, and we were cheering and celebrating on stage,” he explained.

Mr Neilson’s eye for a good original song turned the head of the judging panel.

Head judge and director of Future Music Chris Grayston said: “James Neilson has been an outstanding act of the competition in every round throughout, with his unique style.

“James has used his music and skill to impress our judges and keep us interested in his original songs from the Regional finals to the Grand final. He is a worthy winner of Open Mic UK 2017.”

James Neilson won the Open Mic UK contestJames Neilson won the Open Mic UK contestJames Neilson won the Open Mic UK contestJames Neilson won the Open Mic UK contestJames Neilson won the Open Mic UK contest

Mr Neilson and Mr Higgins, who lives in Watford, became friends thanks to annual holidays from Portugal – their parents had a timeshare for the same two weeks every year. Their friendship bloomed and, as they grew older, they started to meet up regularly. As a result, they have formed a tight musical bond, being able to know how to play together and also explore their styles.

“We’re both open to trying things,” Mr Neilson said.

Since winning the contest, things have moved quickly for the duo, taking part in a series of radio interviews and making time to talk to his favourite local paper.

They’ve also been signed up for a gig at the O2 on March 24, and will be working on new songs for an album they hope to release by the end of the year.

“We’re performing strictly original stuff, we’re trying to make a name for ourselves,” Mr Neilson said. “We want to be known for original music.”

With the duo rehearsing hard over the past few months for the Open Mic UK contest, it should come as little surprise that their parents had one request: turn the music down.

Mr Neilson laughed: “Yeah, they asked us to do that quite a bit. We practiced most weekends. But they’ve been supportive on the whole.”

You can hear Already Gone, their very first song, on music streaming service Spotify.

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