First Blackpool, then the world
You couldn’t move in Blackpool for those T-shirts. Advertising the LP “Gold Mother” or the single “Come Home”, James logos added a little style to the Golden Mile with its tourists in gaping tops and small shorts queuing up to see Elvis as approved by Graceland, screaming on Pleasure Beach rides and eating soggy chips and curry sauce in the hottest weekend on record.
Singer Tim Booth is buzzing. He is becoming something of a guru with his audience, who are devoted scallies and indie fans. He is not an obvious pin-up; as he wanders around, the Pleasure Beach girls gasp, point, and whisper: “It isn’t, is it?”. The T-shirt Posse approach hesitantly and casually remark “Brilliant gig, mate”, to which Booth smiles, mutters “Thanks,” and shoves his hands deeper into his pockets.
In a café along the seafront, Booth is talking about how proud James are of their fans. “They’ve been fanatical for about four years in Manchester. We haven’t played there this year. So loads of people came up to see us – we really wanted to book a campsite and include the price on the tickets, but they wouldn’t let us. We were nervous because these are the first gigs since Glastonbury. I just couldn’t believe it when everyone in the Ballroom got down on the floor for ‘Sit Down’. It blew me away. It was wild!”
James are at their best live-their songs have a mesmeric, anthemic quality which touches on early Teardrop Explodes and the House Of Love. Strobe lights flicker from all angles, colourful images dance on the backdrop behind the seven-piece band. Fans at Blackpool – 10,000 of them over two nights – danced on stage with Booth, doused themselves with water and wore James T-shirts with Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, and “Cool as Fuck” visible beneath.
The association with Manchester, their hometown, is inevitable, especially when the Inspiral Carpets do backing vocals on the title track of their LP “Gold Mother”, but Booth insists James aren’t linked with the ‘scene’, and is skeptical of pale imitators who think wearing hoods and flares is enough. “I don’t think imitation is a sign of respect at all. Most people miss the whole point, trying to copy the spirit of the band without being able to emulate the notes. It seems so superficial. But if there is a Manchester backlash, it won’t get us because we’re too big.”
Booth’s voice, intense eye contact and easy smile make his boasting sound more like honestly then egotism. But his pride is understandable. From the days of “Stutter” (1986) to this summer’s magnificent “Gold Mother”. James have always shown that their music – catchy and poppy but full of twists – has guts. Guitarist Larry Gott sips his tea and sweeps his hair back. “The guts have just been in a different area to other bands, who rely on loud drums and guitars and distortion.”
Their staying power is central to their success. After eight years of financial difficulties when they were saved by the sales f those T-shirts, James are considering world domination. Levi’s believe they are going to be as big as U2 (“Their words, not ours”) and are sponsoring them. Subtly, of course.
“They can take photos before the gig, and they may do a brochure-a tasteful one-to be distributed to 2,000 shops,” Booth explains. “And we get wardrobes full of free jackets and shirts,” adds Gott, laughing and covering the conspicuous red tag on his shirt.
The music press now seems to have forgotten the awkward, playful James who used to wear bright clothes and smile in press pictures because everyone else “was wearing black and looking dour and cool”. And the time when Booth’s slightly feminine looks added to the band’s ‘wimpish’ label. Now the praise comes more readily, although they are wary of hype: “If you believe the press when they say you’re fantastic, you’ve got to believe it when they say you’re terribe.”
Booth shakes his curls and says they are learning lessons all the time. “I was tripped up the other week on Radio 1’s Newsbeat. The first question was ‘NME says you’re the best band in the world or a load of jessies. What do you think of that?’ I said if it was a choice, I’d say, ‘We are the best band in the world!’ And of course they just used that. I felt really embarrassed.”
The waitress brings some sickly ice cream and confides in us. “You know, something really strange is going on today. Everyone’s wearing funny T-shirts. I think it’s all about this band called James. Do you know anything about them?” World domination is yet to come. (Amy Raphael)