A knee injury looked as if it might end his Navy job. Then he began singing… How Jay's music career kicked off with a twist

By
Rachel Reilly

PUBLISHED:

21:23 GMT, 22 September 2012

|

UPDATED:

21:23 GMT, 22 September 2012


Shipshape again: Jay James Picton has earned a record deal with Decca

Shipshape again: Jay James Picton has earned a record deal with Decca

Listening to Jay James Picton singing, one could be forgiven for thinking he had spent his whole life honing his talent. The rich, soulful tones of his voice suggest an artist with experience and a long-standing grounding in music.

In fact, Jay, 27, has been singing for only five years – before that his only experience of music was from the jukebox at his local pub.

It took a knee injury sustained during his career in the Royal Navy for him to change direction from the military to musical fame.

‘Until then I’d only ever been interested in sport,’ says Jay, originally from Saundersfoot, West Wales.

‘All my family had been very active – I’d won a sport scholarship at school and played rugby for Tenby.

'My dad, Terry, played football for Liverpool, my mum ran sea cadets and my grandad was an Olympic diver.’

It was this sporting prowess that led Jay to join the Royal Navy at HMS Nelson in Portsmouth at 16, hoping to become a physical training instructor (PTI) – one of the most gruelling courses in the Services – and travel the world.

During the early years of his career, every report card he received was an A and he was a star footballer for the Navy’s under-19s and under-21s.

Within a few years of becoming a PTI, he had been nominated for an award for his outstanding contribution. ‘Everything seemed to be going well for me – they were exciting times,’ he says.

But it all changed in March 2007. Jay was training for a rugby match against the RAF and, as he chased the ball, he side-stepped, hyper-extended his leg and fell to the ground. ‘I immediately knew something was wrong because I couldn’t bend my leg – it was stuck. The joint began to swell and I was in excruciating pain,’ he recalls.

Navy days: Jay being presented with his medal after winning the Field Gunner of the Year award

Navy days: Jay being presented with his medal after winning the Field Gunner of the Year award

An X-ray revealed he had a ‘bucket
handle’ tear around the rim of the meniscus – a curved pad of cartilage
in the knee.

‘The central portion of the cartilage had displaced into
the open joint, meaning it became wedged in place and could not move,’
says David Sweetnam, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at The Wellington
Hospital Knee Unit in London.

‘It
is a common but very painful injury that should really get immediate
attention. Until it is fixed, many people find it very difficult to walk
or get involved in day-to-day activities.’

Jay
was placed on a waiting list for an operation and put on sick leave for
three weeks. A new PTI was drafted in, which made Jay anxious he would
never get his job back, and he sank into a spiral of anxiety and
depression.

'I thought the injury was going to be the end of my life… It was in many ways, but for the better'

But little did Jay realise that a bet
he had made on drunken night out three months before was about to
provide him with a key to an entirely new career.

‘It was New Year’s Eve
and, as you might expect, my crewmates and I were a bit jolly,’ laughs
Jay. ‘I offered to help train my mate who had put on weight, but he said
he’d only take me up on the offer if I made a New Year’s resolution
too.’

By chance, Jay and his friends were
passing a music shop where he caught sight of a guitar.

‘On a whim I
promised that if he got fit, I’d learn the guitar, so I walked into the
shop and bought it,’ he recalls.

Three
months later, the guitar stood in a corner of Jay’s bedroom, unplayed.
But one day, with nothing to do, he decided to give it a go – and
started learning to play through lessons on YouTube. Suddenly, he had a
focus and an outlet for his emotions. ‘I started by copying songs as a
bit of fun,’ says Jay.

Three-and-a-half months after his accident, Jay had surgery. The procedure involves an arthroscopy (keyhole surgery in a joint) to pull the misplaced cartilage back into place.

'Bucket handle' tear to the knee

Usually, the cartilage is simply put
back into place, but in some cases the torn piece is removed. Because
this can lead to the joint being prone to osteoarthritis in later life,
the smallest amount possible is taken away.

The
operation was successful but Jay’s leg muscles were very weak because
he had not used them for so long. It took four months of physiotherapy
before he was well enough to be working again as a PTI at HMS Nelson.

But by now Jay had the music bug. ‘I became addicted to playing and singing,’ he says. Within months, he had started to go to open-mic nights and in 2008, when he was stationed in Norway as an instructor training Royal Marines in cold-weather survival, he started to write his own songs.

He says: ‘I was really isolated. I was going through some tough times with a relationship back at home and the loneliness gave me a reason to write for the first time.’

When he returned home, he was ready to perform live. ‘By this point I felt back on track mentally because I was able to exercise again, although I’ve not played rugby since the injury. I focused on going to the gym and jogging instead. I really do believe that to be healthy in mind, you have to be healthy in body.’

It was during a gig in London in the summer of 2009 that he caught the attention of talent scouts.

Two days later he was discussing terms with Universal Music Group, which runs the Decca label to which he is now signed. His debut album, Play It By Heart, is out now.

In April he decided to leave the Navy to pursue his music career. ‘I thought the injury was going to be the end of my life,’ says Jay. ‘It was in many ways, but for the better – I like to think it’s fate.’

SHIPSHAPE AGAIN: Jay James Picton, top, has earned a record deal with Decca. Above: Winning the Field Gunner of the Year award in his Navy days. Right: A ‘bucket handle’ tear to the knee