James studied conducting at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland after studying music as organ scholar of Clare College, Cambridge. From 2005 he worked as Chorus Master and staff conductor at Scottish Opera, Director of Choral Music at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Director of Chapel Music at the University of Glasgow. In 2014, James was appointed Principal Chorus Master of Kungliga Operan (Royal Swedish Opera), one of Europe’s foremost full-time professional opera choruses, collaborating with many of Europe’s leading conductors. Whilst in Stockholm, James conducted the music for the Nobel Prize Banquet in 2018 to a global TV audience of half a billion viewers, and was conductor for the Royal Swedish Opera's flagship opera commissions, known as ‘Short Stories’, which are televised annually in Sweden.
As a choral and orchestral conductor, James has worked, amongst others, with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, The London Sinfonietta, The Paragon Ensemble, The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, The St Magnus Festival Chorus, The Royal Scottish National Orchestra Chorus and the Aberdeen Sinfonietta as well as the Hermitage Orchestra in St Petersburg, the Orchestra of Scottish Opera and the Royal Swedish Orchestra in Stockholm.
James returned to the UK in 2022 where he is now Chorus Director of the Belfast Philharmonic Choir and will also take up the post of Chorus Director of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus from September 2023.