Many a memorable pop band has emerged from Manchester, England.
The list includes the Fall, the Buzzcocks, Joy Division, New Order, the Stone Roses, Charlatans U.K., Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets and, perhaps most popular of all, the Smiths. Add James to the above, a veteran Manchester band that broke big in Britain in the early ’90s. In 1994, James is making its biggest waves yet in North America.
A great single, “Laid,” and a Brian Eno-produced album of the same name, are winning new Yank fans for James. Jim Glennie, a co-founder of the group who plays bass and writes songs, is understandably pleased with “Laid. ”
“It’s just such a short, cheery blast,” Glennie said from Columbus, Ohio, a stop on a James tour that also reached New Orleans.
Given “Laid’s” encouraging stateside performance, is James finally breaking in the U.S.?
“Everybody’s getting excited in the record company and management,” Glennie acknowledged. “I don’t know. We’ve become quite skeptical and cynical over the years. You’re near to so many things. You don’t actually believe anything’s going to happen till you’re actually there doing it.
“But things are going very well. This album has made huge leaps and bounds for us over here and the single’s doing really well. ”
North American cities showing strong James support have included Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia. By popular demand, a second show was added in Toronto. In Chicago, police shut an in-store James appearance down because hundreds of fans jammed the place. “They suddenly decided we needed a permit,” Glennie said.
“There are some places where we get great crowds and everybody loves us and there’s other places where people have never heard of us,” he added. “It still kind of feels early days to me, but it’s really good. ”
James got a boost from its recent appearance on the popular Late Show with David Letterman. Following a lively rendition of “Laid,” Letterman greeted the band and mentioned singer Tim Booth’s explosive dancing. “You dance like I do,” the host cracked.
Glennie claims no knowledge of the origins of Booth’s unique choreography. “I’m not quite sure, actually. It looks like he’s been electrocuted or something. ”
In truth, it was Booth’s dancing that grabbed Glennie’s attention.
“A friend and me were in a band and we went along to a club in Manchester where we saw Tim dancing. He was just freaking out, arms and legs flailing all over the place. We thought, ‘Oh, this guy’s really good. ‘ We asked him to come along to some rehearsals to dance and see what else he could contribute to the band. ”
Booth, a former drama and dance student, initially banged the odd tambourine, danced and sang backup. When James’ singer quit, Booth stepped into the role of frontman.
James subsequently joined one of Manchester’s many musical waves.
“We got pulled into this latter wave, kind of when the Smiths broke. They took us on tour, which drew a lot of attention to us. And Morrissey said some really nice things in the press about us. That put the spotlight on us. ”
By the end of the ’80s, the Smiths were no more. Dance beats ruled a new Manchester wave that carried Happy Mondays, the Stone Roses and Inspiral Carpets to fame.
“Whenever one of these waves comes along things really kick in in the city,” Glennie said. “But once the spotlight’s shone upon it, it disappears. Things are fairly quiet in Manchester at the moment. Perhaps it’s a good idea that it’s left alone for a while. ” While peers such as Happy Mondays made their mark with hit records, James earned its fans through continuous touring. Ironically, radio and record companies weren’t impressed.
“We had lots of problems with record companies. They had trouble finding space for James in the industry. But whenever we played live, more and more people came to the gigs. So we just kept playing, which kind of fueled us financially and spiritually and emotionally. ”
James ultimately achieved major popularity in Britain in the early ’90s.
“We got singles in the Top 40 without air play, just because we were pulling thousands of people live. The radio couldn’t ignore us any more. Once it broke in Britain, the rest of the world wanted to know. So off we went on our travels”
“The demands of time are getting so great now. We were big in Britain and then things spilled into Europe. Now things are kicking in in America. Because of the size of the states, you have put in so much time into going around touring and doing promotion. It’s not a problem, but it means some will have to suffer. We don’t get a great deal of time at home. ”
Even if success comes with some suffering, it also opens doors.
One such opportunity was James’ realization of a longtime dream: Laid was produced by studio guru Brian Eno (David Bowie, Roxy Music, Talking Heads, U2). With Eno at the helm, Laid was recorded in a slight six weeks.
“He’s a problem solver,” Glennie said. “He looks at the way you work and gets out the way the things that are blocking you. With us, the songs will play themselves, but we have a tendency to put too much in. Eno kept things quite simple. The first few takes and that was it; very little or no over-dubs, just keeping the songs straightforward and not being too fussy. The album’s more direct because of that. “