TWO talented North-East music students are in wonderland after teaming up with one of the world’s best drummers.

James Hughes and Maria Winter have collaborated with Keith Carlock on their new song “Alice”, which has just been released on Spotify and Apple Music.

Carlock – world-famous for his work with Steely Dan, James Taylor, Sting, Michael Buble, Toto, John Mayer and other artists – sent out a message on Twitter, saying: “Need drums for your music? I’m available for anyone interested. Let’s talk.”

James and Maria, who are both studying music at Newcastle University, decided to try their luck, and were amazed when Carlock replied.

James, 20, of Darlington, said: “I’m a real Steely Dan fan, and Keith Carlock is one of my musical heroes, so I couldn’t believe it when he got back in touch, and the collaboration happened. I didn’t think we’d hear back but he was incredibly supportive.”

Maria, also 20, of York added: “Believing anything is possible, we messaged him, asking if he’d be interested in playing on our Steely Dan inspired song. To our amazement, he replied within 24 hours and said he’d love to collaborate.”

James, who is studying a Bachelor of Arts degree in music, and Maria, who is studying for a BA in pop and contemporary music, had their second year at university cut short when the Covid-19 crisis began.

They had been building a fan base at open-mic nights across Newcastle, but lockdown meant they had to find new ways of reaching audiences, so they created a YouTube channel – entitled “Maria and James” – featuring covers of popular songs.

That led to them writing their own songs together, with two of their compositions featuring on BBC Introducing before they wrote “Alice”, which was inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

James said: “We were greatly humbled by Keith’s talent, but also incredibly taken aback by his professionalism and kind-heartedness, seeing as though we are two students starting out.”

Carlock’s support continued during the mixing process and the track was released this month.

James met Carlock four years ago after a gig at Ronnie Scott’s in London. “At the time, I couldn’t get the words out,” he recalled. “Now, here I am, collaborating with him – it’s unbelievable. However well the record does, it will be a story we take with us throughout our lives.”