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‘Beyond the Comfort Zone’ epic journey of Madchester musician

John Nuttall traces the path of James M Turner from south Manchester via Bros to South East Asia

Published on July 9th 2010.

‘Beyond the Comfort Zone’ epic journey of Madchester musician

There’s an old Chinese curse which goes, 'May you live in interesting times'. If someone hexed James M Turner, it certainly worked.

“I had to face up to the fact that my normal rules of behaviour no longer applied and I might well have to kill to survive.”

Turner is currently in the movie business, involved in a film production company, G Productions, based on the Universal lot in Los Angeles. This is a far cry from the days during the eighties when he was one of many struggling musicians on the Manchester music scene.

Thanks to X Factor the phrase ‘amazing journey’ is now bandied around every time some teenage shop assistant gets their Simon Cowell sanctioned fifteen minutes of fame.

Turner’s autobiography, ‘Beyond the Comfort Zone’, is the opposite of that. It documents what genuinely has been an ‘amazing journey’ from a stint in one of the world’s biggest pop groups through to life threatening experiences battling human trafficking in South East Asia. Of course you never know, maybe JLS will have a similar career path.

Born in Northwich, Turner took off for the bright lights of Madchester to become a sax player. During the early eighties he reached the dizzy heights of supporting the then largely unknown Simply Red, with a group called Live for the Weekend.

Then he acquired a London agent and became part of Bros. Shortly after their number one single ‘I owe you nothing’ went huge all over the globe.

In 2002, wearying of the music business, Turner re-located to Thailand. What had seemed like a move to live a more relaxed lifestyle turned out differently when he became aware of the child trafficking industry between Burma and Thailand. He decided to do something about it.

‘Beyond the Comfort Zone’ documents the incredible story of how Turner literally risked his life to help the fight against this loathsome trade.

I caught up with Turner on one of his visits to his old stomping grounds in Manchester and we chatted in the relaxed surroundings of The Kitchen at the Circle in the Barton Arcade - just about as far as possible as one can imagine from the jungles of South East Asia.

I asked what had possessed him to leave what many people would perceive as a dream existence in the music business to move to Thailand.

“I’d just had enough of the music business,” he said. “I was producing a singer from Liverpool, who would routinely turn up at my studio two or three days late and I suddenly realised that I’d had enough of that world.”

In the book, the logistics of his operation against the child traffickers are handled by a shadowy American called ‘Jack’, who was supposedly a former police officer from the deep South of America.

So how did Turner know he could trust Jack?

“I knew some people in the intelligence community and had him checked out. Also living in an environment like that you get a feeling for people and I felt that he was genuine.”

Instinct is a wonderful thing. At the culmination of the operation, James was snatched by the Thai police along with the traffickers that he had entrapped. The fact that 'Jack' was genuine helped sort the mistake.

Turner’s book reads more like a novel than an autobiography. I asked if he himself had felt he was living in the pages of an unrealistic adventure story.

“It had the effect of detaching me from, not only my normal life, but also from my feelings,” says Turner. “I had to face up to the fact that my usual rules of behaviour no longer applied and I might well have to kill to survive.”

While it’s very easy for Westerners to be appalled by the fact that parents in South East Asia sell their children into a life of exploitation, James is very careful to point out that you need to look at the alternatives.

Families are often faced with threats from the drugs trade or with being conscripted into an army that is constantly at war. It’s an unknowable existence for many of us, way beyond the pressures we experience, and admirably recounted in Turner’s book.

‘Beyond the Comfort Zone’ is a remarkable story, check out James M. Turner’s website here: www.jamesmturner.com

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