James Shelley meets his namesakes for an off the cuff exchange
James seem simple, four men, single Jimone on Factory Records. They make nothing of it – James have no phoney philosophical policies, no heroic hyperbole, no dull boasts or grand exaggeration.
Their attitude is more one of the days of ATV and Swell Maps than the flashy NY remixes and glossy art design of Quando Quango or New Order. Fittingly, their record is low-key, harsh, humble, naturally bitter and almost wilfully rushed and messy with little or no production. With the homely folk-feel of fellow Mancunians, those sensitive Smiths, James could easily make their fortunes as the obvious meeting between The Fall and very early Bunnymen. But then, they’re not that simple.
In fact, James are a highly peculiar thing; despite the splendid incongruity, they regard the relationship with Factory as one of mere convenience. “We just want to play gigs, and you can’t get gigs without a single. It’s a means to that end. Factory liked our tape, gave us gigs at the Hacienda and supporting New Order and then asked us to do an album. Then they wanted a mini-album, then an EP, then a 12″ – anything but a plain 45. They offered us help with production, artwork, all of which we declined. They’ve been remarkably patient. They didn’t even know whaat the single was until the day we recorded it! If anything it’s us that’s been difficult, and they never asked us to sign anything, which is all we wanted from anyone.”
Jimone then, is just three songs from James – “No A-side, it’s insulting to tell people which song is better.” All have different productions and all were recorded live in the studio rather than “piece by piece on headphones” (they sneer well). The result from the snappy, slap-dash funk of ‘Fire So Close’ to the terse rumbling of ‘What’s The World’ and ‘Folklore’s unusual charm, is tentative; taut, almost disastrous, ultimately admirable, erratic and brilliant, with a concentrated anger and strange, rambling beauty that begins to prepare you for the fierce challenge of ‘Stutter’, a live highlight and their first moment of Greatness.
Although they’re clearly prepared to be bold and determined to be different, the James boys are softly-spoken, shyly nervous, modest and wisely-aware of their own possibilities. Too bashful to talk to my tape, reluctant to have their pictures taken or to lend me demos or offer up influences, they even resist my attempt to discover devious intentions behind their choice of sleeve (a scrappy green and red felt-pen design of an elongated ‘Jimone’). The idea was to do one drawing each, and then choose. (Laughter breaks loose) Jimmy was the only one who finished! But it’s only a sleeve, even if it is Factory (who, perhaps justifiably, hate it). We want to be judged by our music. As long as it keeps the record clean, it’s fine.”
With their past, their plans and motives, James remain strangely straightforward. “We just want to play live. We may stay with Factory, we may learn about production and change. We may learn to worry about sleeves. So far though we’ve done one single on Factory. We’re happy with that.”
So, for now, Fac 78 is by James. The name was “simple, unassuming, didn’t give any clues…” And James are Jimmy Glennie (bass), Tim Booth (vocals), Paul Gilbertson (guitar), Gavan Whelan (drums).
But you can believe it’s a great deal stranger than that. James. That’s it.