James McLaren, who worked as a journalist and assistant producer on the BBC Wales website, passed away yesterday at the age of 34.
He was enormously talented, hugely driven and an endlessly enthusiastic supporter of Welsh music, who will be well known to readers of this blog. This is a personal tribute from a colleague, manager and friend for over 15 years.
I first met James at Cardiff University in 1996. He was a rather earnest long-haired young fresher and I was in the year above, and we found a shared love of music which bordered on obsessiveness. His knowledge of music seemed to begin in 1990 and end in 1994, but boy could he remember the chart positions of those early Pearl Jam singles.
We spent many hours working on the student newspaper Gair Rhydd, which led to nascent careers in journalism. He went on to work for Big Issue Cymru and the Welsh Music Foundation (WMF) before joining the BBC in 2006.
At the WMF he edited Sound Nation, a free monthly magazine containing music industry news and advice for musicians, labels, gig promoters and fans. Wales' only national music magazine was an important source of information, and his energy and passion for his subject was authentic and relentless. He was a well-known figure in the Welsh music scene who forged close and enduring friendships with many local musicians.
When Sound Nation closed in December 2005 he was made redundant from the WMF. He spent just one day out of work before I called to offer him some freelance work. I knew that he had the skills and talent to really make a difference in our online team. He adapted quickly to moving from print to digital despite being a self-confessed technical dunce. He enjoyed reminding me that he had been the first person to show me how to use the web, in the days when AltaVista and Yahoo! were at the cutting edge of technology.
He worked across a broad range of websites, including history and nature, but music was his real passion. He took over the BBC Wales Music website and gave it new life, and worked with news and radio to find the best way to break stories or inform readers and listeners. He was bold and tenacious and never afraid to give his all in pursuit of a story, all admirable qualities in any journalist.
Outside of work his main passions were rock music, good food and fine wine. He lived in Cardiff with his girlfriend Cazz, and Juno and Ella, their two beloved Flat-Coated Retrievers.
Writing about James in the past tense is an odd experience, and the shock of losing him is still raw. Right now there's a desk to my left full of the detritus of modern office life: half-drunk coffee mugs, discarded newspapers, CDs and scrawled-upon Post-it notes. And it's filled with James' presence and spirit, which will outlast any physical memento. He will be greatly missed.