“Basically I am James’ A+R(Artiste and Repertoire) agent and that hasn’t got a job description as such. You pretty much have to make it up as you go along. I just do lots of things that need doing, there’s no set agenda, particularly with a band like James. I suppose my job is to steer their career but working with such strong characters like Tim, Jim, Larry and Martine I fit in as piece of the jigsaw rather than in a ‘captain of the ship’ role.”
This works well and, for Alan’s part is made better by the fact that he includes himself as a “massive fan” of the band. “Although you do get a different perspective on the band as a fan working with them. For example, the album is out now, but for me the most exciting part of the whole album project was way back in mid- February when the band had their first day with Brian Eno. As an A+R man you tend to feel almost parental about a band – you know, getting them into a good studio with a good producer is a bit like getting a kid into a nice school and dropping them off at the gates. It was exciting, both as A+R man and fan to have them there with Brian Eno.
Have you always been a fan of the band ?
“No – to be honest. I was always aware of them, but I wouldn’t really say I was a fan. I’d always thought of their material as a bit wimpy until I heard some of the stuff that they were doing for ‘Gold Mother’ and I was knocked out by it. I expected it to be watered down in comparison to what I had seen live and it wasn’t. I started to fall in love with their stuff the more I got acquainted with it. I think the live versions of the songs from the back catalogue are better than the recorded versions. This is due to a combination of musical proficiency and the immediate impact of a live performance. The thing I like about James is that with them a song is never finished. I dare say that’s probably partly due to them getting bored if they play the same thing all the time.”
What would you say was your favourite James song ?
“It’s difficult to say what my favourite James song is. I like ‘Don’t Wait That Long’ and .’Out To Get You’ – that covers the ballady-type ones, and ‘Lose Control’, particularly the stripped-down live acoustic version with just Tim and Larry. I also like the rockier ones: ‘How Was It For You ?’, ‘Come Home’, ‘Born Of Frustration’ and ‘Live A Love Of Life’. My favourite on “Laid” is ‘Five-O’, especially the lyric “If it lasts forever / Hope I’m the first to die”. I’m a major fan of Tim’s lyrics – I love it when people put little twists in their lyrics and Tim is very good at that.”
What is the best James performance you’ve seen ?
“It must be the one at Edinburgh during the autumn 1991 tour. The start of the gig was fantastic – the stage was just black and then Dave came on and started the drum beat to “Sit Down”, and then the others just ambled on and laid into it. The excitement they created was amazing and they managed to sustain it right through the whole show. That’s another thing about James – whereas most bands build a gig up to a big finale, James start with their big finale and carry it through.”
How influential do you think James are?
“James are in a very weird position really. There are some people who love to hate them. I think that’s because they’re one of this country’s finest talents and if there is one thing that this country is good at it is ignoring its own talent. I think that James are more influential than they’re given credit for. There aren’t too many British pop/rock bands that make five albums like James have. There are people who bear grudges and it’s just a case of James coming through that, which I believe they will do. It’s the British disease again – there’s nothing that British people hate more than success – you can almost hear the knives coming out the minute anyone gets close to success. I suppose that it is healthy to have a bit of cynicism to keep your feet on the ground but in pop music it tends to have a negative effect. The inky-press British media can often be the worst, they really do ‘build-’em-up-then-knock-’em- down’.”
“British pop music is going through a critical phase at the moment. We’re producing good records but we’re not really producing any stars. It’s almost a case of “Where is the next Mick Jagger going to come from?”. Anyone who does anything is slagged off, and we also champion things that aren’t really that good. I’ve been to some gigs that have been poorly attended and pretty bad all round and then I read a review of the same gig in the music press and they’re practically implying that Jesus was resurrected there.
“The music industry here is very cliquey -you can get a good review if your manager drinks with a certain journalist in a certain pub and promises guest list and so on. Take a band like Suede. love them or loathe them, there were elements of a backlash against them before they even had their first album out. It’s never been like that before – if you look at all great artists and bands – The Smiths, Bowie, Prince …the list is endless – they’ve all had the benefit of a few albums to establish themselves, but that doesn’t seem to be happening any more. There’s also this peculiar indie vs major ethos around the bullshit of “Selling Out”, you know, it doesn’t hold with any other fields. If you translated it to literature you’d be saying “That book is crap because it’s published by Penguin and this one is good because it’s on Fred Bloggs Press or whatever.”
What music do you listen to?
“Recently I’ve been listening to Underworld’s new album, and the new Paul Weller album, “Wild Wood” is excellent. I’ve also been listening to Orbital, Rage Against The Machine and that Julianna Hatfield album. I’ve got the new Nirvana album too, but I’m not really sure about that yet.”
Has there been a band supporting James that have really opened your eyes?
“Not really, no. Although Nirvana did a good job at the Transmusicales Festival in Rennes in 1991, and Andy Diagram’s band Spaceheads were good too. But to be honest I haven’t seen many of James’ support bands.”
Have you had any embarrassing or funny moments with James ? “Yes – loads. The trouble is they’re far too numerous to mention and they lose their funniness in translation. You probably had to be there to appreciate them. I suppose the weirdest time was when the band were recording “Seven” with Youth, purely because of his bizarre recording techniques.”
How would you best describe James in three words?
“That’s a hard one … I’d say indecisive, inconsistent and wonderful.”
Who do you think works hardest for James?
“Everyone does. No one person deserves that single accolade in my opinion. It’s more of a collective really.”
What would you have as your epitaph?
“I suppose it would be something like ‘It’s Only Pop Music For Chrissakes”‘
What do you believe in?
“Health, wealth and happiness -and I’ve yet to achieve all three.”