Born in Manchester in 1954 and schooled in a Quaker Boarding school in Yorkshire, James moved to London in 1974. In 1977, at the beginning of the punk explosion, James became the last guitarist for the Nipple Erectors, the London-based punk band fronted by Shane MacGowan. In August 1982, knowing he could play the piano, Shane invited Fearnley to be the accordion-player for his latest project: a group to play Irish traditional songs fuelled by the punk ethos, called Pogue Mahone. In their tumultuous, twelve-year career, the Pogues released six studio albums and gained international renown. James left the band in 1993 and moved to California to form the critically acclaimed Low and Sweet Orchestra, who recorded ‘Goodbye To All That’, released on Interscope Records in 1995. In 1996, he composed the soundtrack for the Sundance Festival entrant, ‘God’s Lonely Man’.
Having taken part in writers’ programs such as the Arvon Foundation in Great Britain, in the United States he has been a Fellow at both the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Hambidge Artists’ Residency Program. In addition, for the last fifteen years James has studied/mentored with Leonard Cohen collaborator and writing teacher, Nancy Bacal. James is currently working on a second book, his first work of fiction, together with music composing and production. In 2001, the Pogues reunified and continue to perform throughout the world.