On a park bench blistered and worn by exposure to decades of Mancunian rainfall, Jim Glennie and I sit, talk and delve deep into the inner world of James. Before us sweeps the smokey, industrial labyrinth of North Manchester, a dismal maze of rooftops and chimney stacks providing an atmospheric backdrop to an interview which drifts naturally into moody nostalgia.
“Maine Road holds a lot of memories for me,” Jim says (James are supporting Bowie at Maine Road on the 7th). “I used to go to the Claremont Road School so a big chunk of my childhood years were spent around those terraced streets of Rusholme. I used to see City a lot at Maine Road too. It will be really weird playing there, especially knowing that a large part of the audience won’t even know who we are.
As we talk I suddenly notice the concrete slabs beneath use are cracked and broken and through the gaps, as though responsible for their very existence, peeps the occasional flower — individual, defiant and graceful but sadly overlooked by the passer-by. An image which seems curiously symbolic of James’s struggle to blossom in the stoney-faced and unaccommodating world of pop. A band who’ve been with us for a long time now and who have treated us to some of Manchester’s most innovative and ethereal music, it is surprising that James have only been rewarded with modest commercial success.
“The last two singles did okay I suppose,” Jim says referring to the recent chart success of ‘How Was It For You’ and ‘Come Home’, “But it does seem that Radio One and Top of the Pops have an unusual attitude about us. A week before its release, ‘Come Home’ was D listed on the radio. It went straight into the charts at number 32 but for some reason, they took it off the list altogether. We’ve been really unlucky. Sometimes the whole mechanics of the pop and rock industry can be a real pain in the arse.
But hoardes of acid scallies donning the James T-shirts on a Saturday afternoon in Manchester is sufficient proof (if any were needed) that James are the defiant flower of the current Manchester scene, not growing from it but through it, like the flower in the park peering through the shattered slabs of worn-down concrete.
“Naturally the Manchester scene affect us,” Jim says, “But at the same time we are quite detached from it all. We are still waiting to see how people react to it. What I’ve liked so far about Manchester is that bands have always been very individualistic. But once the bubble bursts people are going to be much more critical.”
‘Gold Mother’, still hovering in the album charts, was James’s offering for the summer and perhaps their most haunting album to date. The pounding rhythmical surges of ‘Come Home’ is still guaranteed to pack the dance floor with scores of arm-flailing idolaters and the LP, the first fruits of the Phonogram deal, has already become part of the current teenage bedroom culture. Politics, loneliness, alienation, anger — ‘Gold Mother’ sweeps majestically through a twilight world of emotional turmoil and self-awareness. Who can resist singing along to such hard-hitting lines as,
‘I am in love insane with a sense of shame
That I threw stones at the condemned and now I’m slated.”
“Yes, I agree, it’s a moody album,” Jim says, “For the last year or so we were pissed off with the situation we were in and a lot of the songs on the album emerged from that period. But the album is more compact than the others. We picked up the songs that seemed to fit in with each other. It’s hopefully the sort of album you can listen to from start to finish.
“It’s interesting,” Jim continues, “Because a lot the songs emerge subconsciously. Tim, Larry, Mark and I all get together in a big room and jam incessantly for twenty minutes or so. We record the session then listen to the bits we like. At this stage, however, the song is very much in its pupal stage. It then grows and changes until it reaches its final metamorphosis in the studio.”
As we drift slowly back to the manager’s office in New Mount Street, the delicate image of the flower remains permanently imprinted in my head. The flower is the colourful and attractive part of the plant from which the fruit or seed is later developed. The seeds of James have already been sown and I am convinced that it is only a matter of time before the band finally bloom in a pop world soiled by apathy and blandness.