The percussionist James Blades OBE was born in Peterborough, England, on 9 September 1901. He had a diverse early career - joining a circus when he was fourteen and playing cymbals and a bass drum, performing in local brass bands, being an engineering apprentice, and working in a cinema creating sound effects for silent films. In 1932 though, he joined the London Film Society orchestra and he was famous for playing the gong which began the films made by J. Arthur Rank studios (the Rank Organisation) though the film recording of this was mimed by Bombardier Billy Wells, a boxer. In 1940, Blades joined the London Symphony Orchestra.
During the Second World War, BBC broadcasts to resistance movements in Europe were begun with a recording of Morse code for V-for-Victory played by Blades with a tympany mallet striking an African membrane drum. After the war he worked with operas, symphonies, and chamber music, and he was invited to participate in the Coronation Orchestra in Westminster Abbey 1953 for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
In 1954 Blades became Professor of Percussion at the Royal Academy of Music. He lectured and also worked with physically and mentally handicapped children. He wrote Orchestral percussion technique (1961), Percussion instruments and their history (1970), and A Check-List of the Percussion Instruments in the Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments (1982). With Jeremy Montagu he wrote Early percussion instruments: from the Middle Ages to the Baroque (1976), and with Johnny Dean How to play drums (1985), and, with a foreword by Evelyn Glennie, he wrote These I have met...: reminiscences (1998).
James Blades OBE died on 19 May 1999 in Cheam, Surrey, in England.