Local indie pop band James return to the fray on record and live – they appear at The Green Room on August 9 and 10, CRAIG FERGUSON (words) and IAN TILTON (photo) meet the foursome.
One moment you’re there, ‘flavour of the month’ taking the slaps on the back, and the next moment you’ve disappeared; a vanishing act, voluntary or otherwise. This, of course, is the very nature of the crazy world of popular music, God bless it. Ups and Downs, Booms and Slumps – it’s very much a cut-price cut-throat market. Suffice to say, nothing’s guaranteed, certainly not success, nor it seems mere activity.
Take James, one of the better bands to emerge from Manchester over the past five years. Having built up a reputation as a superb live band, and with two fine singles on Factory to their credit, James were bound for a major label. They signed to Sire (American-based and part of the WEA empire) providing them with the debut LP Stutter back in the summer of ’86.
For my money, it was a disappointing record While it featured familiar songs of considerable quality, it neither committed the live James sound to vinyl, nor established a parallel studio sound worthy of those songs. But this all seems by the by – the group have been firmly stuck in a frustrating lull since the L.P.
As Gavan puts it. “Last summer? You’re going back a bit there mate!”
A year is a long time – they must have been doing something.
“We played in Europe, worked on lots of new songs and went into the studio, eventually” The tone of Tim’s voice says it all; they could have done so much more. It becomes immediately obvious where the blame lies. James are not happy with the treatment they’ve received from their record company and they make no bones about it.
“It was a mistake not going on tour after the LP came out,” says Tim.
It certainly doesn’t make good business sense to publicise the product before it’s available rather than after. Add to that the lack of funds for advertising in the press, and their more recent awkward stance with regard to the new LP and you can see that this particular band-label relationship isn’t all that it should be. It almost reached the divorce court before Sire relented and gave the band the money they needed for recording.
Tim goes as far to say: “In the last year we’ve had a hell of a lot of business problems – it’s an area none of us want to be bothered with, but we’ve had it forced on us.”
At the risk of labouring the point, the past year has not been a very happy one for James – “the only thing that has kept up going is the music.”
At the mention of music, the room becomes charged with extreme enthusiasm. They’ve just had a month’s break and their thirst for a return to playing is overwhelming:
“You start rehearsing again and sooner or later this thing starts, circling in the middle of the room, and the song starts playing you.”
When Gavan says this, it sounds weird but you know what he means. They all nod in agreement and the passionate feeling is unanimous. Live, James rarely fail to excite, but as everyone knows, getting that excitement onto vinyl is another matter. The first L.P. didn’t work in that respect -“it wasn’t put together very well,” says Jim – and we agree that live sound and recorded sound have to be regarded as two separate ‘mediums’.
Larry: “Hugh Jones who produced the new L.P really slagged us off about Stutter: He said we’d lost so much between the last Factory single and the L.P.”
Gavin: “The sound quality mainly. And I think we were a little more professional about it, working to the principle that ‘less is more’ – there’s more space and thought.”
I take that to mean that they’ve held back at times where usually they’d give it the full James treatment. Gavan doesn’t hold back “It’s a classic! I wouldn’t have bought the first L.P. -I’d have taped it off a mate -I’d definitely buy this one though.” Given that so much was expected of the first L.P., are they not a little apprehensive about this one?
“We’ve had quite a cynical approach towards it, but it’s a much better record,” say! Tim positively.
Sire predictably don’t think James are commercial enough – do they feel any pressure to sound more commercial? “It’s inward pressure as much as anything because we want a bigger audience. We want success -you can only be an impoverished artist for two or three years and no longer; earning a reascnable living is as important as gaining acceptance in the sphere that you’re working in.”
There’s no doubt that the new L.P – untitled as yet but out hopefully in September (Sire permitting) -represents a crossroads on the James road of progress. If it sells they’re laughing, if not, it’s bye bye to Sire. ‘Ya Ho’, the single out in September, may be a good indicator. Whatever happens, the band describe their new work as “wild in variation” with some “truly brilliant moments”. After years on the scene, James are still looked upon as an oddity – something they are positively pleased about. It’s not the personuel who are odd but possibly their approach -they shy away from convention, be it the song or the method. The identity they were given a couple of years ago – folk-singing vegans -is less true than it ever was, just the usual case of picking out extremes. Unfortunately, people have a habit of reading, believing and remembering. “The Bodines thought we all lived together in a big house in the country!” Jim laughs. Happily, James are set to re-emerge from the darkness of a long, quiet year. They’re dying to do what they do best -what’s so odd about that?