James Blades OBE was a largely self-taught musician who played all styles of music; he taught percussion at the Royal Academy of Music for many years.

Blades provided the sound, but not the image, of the Rank Organisation's 'Gongman', who introduced films for many years. He also provided the rhythm of the Morse code for 'V', which the BBC used as a call sign during the Second World War.

Blades worked closely with Benjamin Britten to produce the precise sounds that were needed in many of his compositions, researching percussion instruments from many musical traditions, constructing his own instruments and experimenting with the sounds produced by unusual items. Many of these instruments form part of the Academy’s museum collections.