James career should have ground to a resounding halt in 1988. They had left the Sire label after two singly unsuccessful albums and accumulated debts of £50,000. Instead they ploughed on, building a fanatical following in their native Manchester. The line-up expanded as James’ twisted, almost folky approach was married to a twisted almost dancey beat. “A&R people used to seeing crowds of 30 would see 2000 in our audiences and wonder why we weren’t signed,” remembers singer Tim Booth, once a Bez-type dancer. “They thought there was something wrong with us.”
After a live album, One Man Clapping, Fontana took the plunge. Three singles and the Gold Mother album charted in 1990, James audience extended beyond Greater Manchester and finally they looked poised for the big breakthrough in 1991. It came with Sit Down, a song from 1989, re-recorded and re-released. “The mechanism to reach the public wasn’t ready at the time,” says Booth. “It’s slower than James. We have to wait for it to catch up.”
Sit Down charged towards the top 5 as if making up for 9 lost years and Fontana had the seemingly quirky idea of re-pressing Gold Mother (including Sit Down) and giving purchasers the opportunity to replace it for free. It entered the chart at Number 2 to all-round hosannas, not least because of the precedent-setting marketing ploy.
James are headlining Saturday night at the Reading Festival, their own crowds are larger and possibly more fanatical than before (hence the live version of Sit Down where the song stops and the crowd take over for nigh on 15 minutes), and Tim Booth is confident: “We developed a theory that the longer it took, the bigger we’d be. It took us a long time getting here and now we won’t bloody leave.”