Goin Away / Hup-Springs / Johnny Yen / Slow Right Down / Not There / How Much Suffering / Riders / Lazy / Undertaker / Sit Down / Are You Ready? / Gregory’s Town / Whoops / Why So Close / What For / Stutter
Sounds by David Cavanagh
James are a bit of a shock. For a start, Tim Booth no longer has any hair. This, in tandem with his floppy shirt / straitjacket, gives him the look of the domeheaded weirdo who gets hooked up to the mains in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
“If you want old songs buy the albums,” is his first directive. “This is a new band.”
It sure is, with violinist Saul Davies making all the difference. The songs on the new live album One Man Clapping are transformed by catchy little curlicues of slightly malevolent folk whimsy into songs from underneath floorboards. A new song called Look Strong confounds the band’s cosy image, Johnny Yen and Undertaker both carry knives and Riders is a blur.
Larry Gott, suddenly freed by the arrival of the violinist, who doubles on acoustic guitar, turns out to be an exhilirating slide guitar player on Whoops. And when he and Booth convene for a moving Why So Close, he cuts such a carnivorous figure that his lead singer actually applauds him after the song’s over.
“Baldie,” shouts one 85 percent short-hair
“I may be bald,” replies Booth, “but my hair will return. Your brain may not.”
The encore is Stutter. It is awash with Anglicisms – chirpy vocals, folky rhythms, Maypole structures – but pastoral and harmless it isn’t. It’s staggering.
The old James were pretty bloody incredible. The new one… well, they’re hair-raising.