When James played Blackpool last August, the father of a devout girl fan put the 20 strong entourage of band and road crew up in his hotel for free. After one of the finest and stickiest gigs of the year, bunches of daisy T shirts clung moistly to those fans who wilfully missed their last train to see the encore. Huddled together at the station, chilled by the sea’s breath, they froze their cockles off till dawn.
Earlier that night, an ocean of devotion swelled the Empress ballroom, as each and every punter parked their sweaty bottoms on the floor during a magical version of ‘Sit Down’. Seven years into their career, the ritual is fast becoming an integral part of the colourful James experience.
Today, in a Manchester studio, James end a six-hour photo session to promote the re-release of Sit Down. Originally out in June 1989, it failed to become more than just an indie hit. This was due to a Musicians’ Union ban on the video, which featured bassist Jim Glennie playing a log with two sticks, apparently putting lots of percussionists out of a job. A new video will be used this time ‘round using live footage.
“Jim was the model upon which David Lynch based his Log Lady in ‘Twin Peaks’”, says violin maestro Saul Davies.
“My log has something to say to you; it saw something that night.”
With that, he slopes mysteriously off, following the others home to watch that very same soap, leaving front man Tim Booth and guitarist Larry Gott to explain them. Why a re-release of ‘Sit Down’?
“It would have been nice to continue with new material, but we think that it’s fair to exploit our stuff if it didn’t get a fair hearing first time ‘round,” says Tim. “The mechanism to reach the public wasn’t ready at the time. It’s slower than James and we’re always creating. We have to wait for it to catch up.”
Released last December, the meandering and wonderful ‘Lose Control’ surprisingly suffered a similar fate. Tim proffers an answer:
“It was a really bad time to release it. It sold twice as many copies as ‘Come Home’ but didn’t get as high. If we’d released it in January or February it would have reached the top 30. Instead it got lost in the Christmas rush.
“Singles come to us about twice a year. They descend like the Tooth Fairy. We don’t know how to contrive them – they either come or they don’t. Phonogram wanted to release ‘Sit Down’ at the time, but we wanted to get some new material out first so we chose ‘Lose Control’ which is a lovely song.”
Explaining how James ditties ever find themselves on vinyl, Tim takes us through the ‘distillation process’.
“We start with seeds of songs and choose which ones to develop. In the past, the real test was to throw them on stage. If they get up and walk around you use them. If they roll around drunkenly you put them away. We’re taking less risks in that way now, though, because we’re aware of the standards we set with other songs. Also we’ve got such an intricate light show that if you throw a new-born under unprepared lighting it’s doubly shown up.”
Not that James are in the habit of showing themselves up in a live situation. Most recently they did themselves proud at The Great British Music Weekend. Was it fun?
“Yes,” answers Tim. “We could have played on all three nights. The heavy metal night might have been difficult because my Spandex tights don’t fit anymore and Larry would have had to dig his V-shaped guitar out of the closet.”
“Robert Smith had a good point when he said that the awards ceremony should have been linked with the weekend,” says Larry. “A lot of the people playing weren’t even nominated for awards and then you have this frothy dinner party much later on where they dish them out. The only thing connecting the two events was that Jonathan King was at both.”
How did you find the Wacky One?
“He was really nice,” says Tim. “He came into our dressing room expecting to get a bad time. We just took the piss out of him and he did the same to us. He’s just a professional bullshitter and provocateur. It’s hard to know how to react to people like that because they want you to react badly. He’s like a Julie Burchill or a Tony Wilson. I’m quite impressed with people who stir it and seem not to give a damn.
“I saw it was a real dance night and said we should end with a heavy metal song. Jonathan turned round and said, “If you do I’ll give you a blow job.” Anyway, we finished with ‘Stutter’, which is quite a thrash metal song, and then legged it.”
“We were quite impressed by The Cure. We approached Robert Smith about producing at one point. We’re impressed by longevity and keeping standards up for years. I worry about that a lot because my favourite bands always burn out after about two albums. None of them lasted as long as us. We’re frightened that we’re going to lose this level of intensity and creativity: that one day you’ll wake up and it will have gone, like a cloud, and suddenly you’re as bland as Cliff Richard, Phil Collins or Eric Clapton – hollow men.
“Basically you push yourself all the time. You have to keep trying to renew yourself, seeing if you can go deeper with each song. You have to keep being an agitator with your own material, never accepting that it has reached its limit. It’s a hard process.”
“Every band has at least one album inside them,” says Larry. “After that you’re thinking on your feet. You’ve got to keep looking over your shoulder.”
Mention the band’s clean-living image and obsession for all things green and you’re greeted with a patient sigh.
“There’s a press image of James which is becoming a bit of a bummer,” says Tim. “We’re being presented as Cliff Richard types; ecological, monastic, non drug -taking. Kind of the anti-matter of the Happy Mondays – and it’s not true.”
“I was quoted as saying we don’t take drugs, but what I really said was we don’t take them before a gig. I don’t want to advocate drugs, but I didn’t actually say that and it bugs me. The whole drugs issue is far more complicated than saying whether or not we take them. I don’t come out black and white like that anymore.”
Although not known as a ‘cause’ band who spend nights playing benefits for this or that movement, James did support the Serenaids concert at the Brixton Academy before Christmas, where all proceeds went to The Terence Higgins AIDS charity. It wasn’t a particularly good performance though.
“The sound onstage was comical,” remembers Tim. “We actually started laughing. There was complete panic at first but then you just give up, stop worrying and enjoy yourself. It’s the philosophy of ‘Fuck it.’ When you’re trying to get to an appointment on time and everything conspires against you, you think ‘I’m not meant to be there’. You reach this point of release. You put yourself into fate’s hands; you accept things. I’m trying to cultivate that feeling into a permanent, enlightened state of mind; The State of Fuck It”
Well I hope he didn’t use that language in front of the kiddy. Tim is the proud father of a 22 –month-old son.
“Having a child hits you like a truck – changes your whole attitude. The nicest aspect is that there’s somebody you love and who loves you back in the most direct, physical, unquestionable way. I’ve never experienced that before. I love him totally, without argument, whereas if you love anyone you can always question it in dark hours.”
Gold Mother to the bairn is Martine, James’ manager, designer of those T-shirts and backing vocalist on the new version of ‘Sit Down’.
“She’s got a good eye for design,” says Tim. “She came up with an idea that was as good in sartorial terms as the music. She’s got some good watches out now.”
A 10-minute live version of ‘Sit Down’ is on the new 12 inch. Recorded at Manchester’s G-Mex last year, it features a rousing crowd sing-along with much cheering and tooting of claxons. A video of the night will be out soon.
“It captures a very good James concert. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done. We’re very proud of it. The BBC people who made it rang us up the next day and said it was the best thing they’d ever recorded. When we saw it we thought, ‘Where do we go from here?’ It’s exhausting. At the end of it, I’m on my hands and knees taking oxygen from a St John’s Ambulance woman. I’d never watched myself before and I thought, ‘Jesus, do I go through that every night?’ It really made me want to give up. I certainly want to look for a different way of performing. I don’t want it to be so frantic. If anyone wants to judge James then they should judge us on the video. If they don’t like that, then they don’t like James, and that’s fair enough.”