claimed young Mr. Sit Down. “I’ll slap your face,” rejoined old Mr. Twin Peaks. Near-the-knuckle jests aside, when this pan-generational pop pair met, all hell didn’t break loose. In fact – with Bernard Butler in tow – Tim Booth and Angelo Badalamenti made sweet music of their own. David Cavanagh swoons.
The skinny half of the partnership, Tim Booth, was born in Bradford in 1960. He’s the singer in James, a six-way improvisational band that, very occasionally, has hits (eg Sit Down). Booth is also a masseur, a mate of Brian Eno’s, a dance teacher, a numerologist, a former alumnus of Shrewsbury school (alma mater of Michael Heseltine), an ex-Manchester university drama student and fan on Patti Smith who comes perilously close to tears whenever he talks of her.
The “wider” partner in this two-man organisation is Angelo Badalamenti, born in Brooklyn in 1937. In the year of Booth’s birth, Badalamenti was teaching music and english in a New York school. He moved briefly to Woldingham in Surrey; began to write pop tunes; was told by Joe Meek that he had a glorious singing voice; went back to Brooklyn; penned hits for Melba Moore, Nancy Wilson and Nina Simone; scored dozens of movie soundtracks under the name Andy Badale; and wrote the superlative music for David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart and most famously of all, Twin Peaks.
Between them they confess a fondness for Iggy Pop, Herbert Lom, poetic lyrics and eerie beautiful songs. And finally, with the release of their album, Booth & the Bad Angel, the 59 year-old Badalamenti makes his debut appearance as a vocalist, on a song called Life Gets Better.
So it was just me and Joe Meek who wanted you to sing?” Booth teases him over lunch in London’s West End.
“No,” replies Badalamenti between munches of pasta, recalling a third champion. “Tony Orlando. Remember Tony Orlando & Dawn?”
“You’ve ruined the fucking story, Angelo,” Booth cries. “Why didn’t you just leave it at Joe Meek? I was in cool company there and you bring Dawn to the table.”
Most of the singing on Booth & the Bad Angel is by Booth, a serene yet cynical fellow who today punctuates his mouthfuls of sausage with strange, throat-clearing noises like Jack Lemmon in the Odd Couple. Hrrrmmm Grrrmmm. Every time Booth sneezes, Badalamenti says “Gesundheit.”
A rehearsal for Later with Jools Holland follows lunch, where they’ll play the album’s first two singles (I Believe and Hit Parade), with the remaining members of James providing the musical backing. Then Booth will head off to see Patti Smith playing at the Serpentine Gallery, and oh dear, choke, sob.
He and Badalamenti have already made a pact to record a follow-up album – an odder, darker record than this one – providing commitments will allow. Badalamenti is collaborating with Lynch on the latter’s movie, Lost Highway. Booth has nearly completed a record with James and wants to be an actor. He was offered the part of Tommy on Broadway, but – he claims – refused to do it unless Iggy played Uncle Ernie. Badalamenti thinks Booth is a genius.
“Tim and I – I can honestly say – we didn’t have a single disagreement making this record,” coos Badalamenti.
“I’ve moved into Angelo’s house,” smirks Booth. “I’m sleeping with his daughter.”
“I’ll slap your face,” retorts Badalamenti, putting his fork down. “You forget I’m part Sicilian. My uncle Tony will be paying you a visit.”
Prior to 1990. Booth and Badalamenti had never heard of each other. That year, Booth fell in love with Julee Cruise’s remarkable album of dream-songs, Floating Into the Night (music by Badalamenti and lyrics by Lynch) and was delighted to be asked, by the producer of Channel 4’s Friday Night at the Dome, to choose a musician from anywhere in the world with whom he’d like to collaborate. For over a year the two men attempted to meet, with no joy, until a Paul McCartney recording session brought Badalamenti over to London on Concorde (the only way he’ll cross the Atlantic). That night, James played at the venue formerly known as the Town & Country Club in London’s Kentish Town.
So this is the kid who’s been leaving crazy messages on my answerphone, thought Angelo Badalamenti when they met backstage.
Wow, he looks like a New York taxi driver, thought Tim Booth.
Fontana Records – the label to which James signed in 1990 – gave Booth & the Bad Angel (that’s “bad” in the James Brown sense, not the Satanic sense) the financial backing to make an album. For the next two years, the pair worked infrequently. Booth had a James album to make (Laid, 1994) and he felt guilty asking Badalamenti to turn down movie soundtracks.
He’s terrible, he’s turned down loads of stuff,” Booth sighs. “He turned down Leonard Cohen, Tori Amos (to Badalamenti) What are you doing, turning down Leonard Cohen? You need a manager.”
The album they slowly co-wrote and co-produced was full of slightly off-centre but melodic pop songs, which surprised those who’d expected 11 woozy reprises of Laura Palmer’s Theme, or Sit Down. But it didn’t have any decent guitar playing, so Booth cold-called Bernard Butler, late of Suede, who was about to leave for France to record his comeback single, Yes, with David McAlmont.
“Tim rang me up,” the down-to-earth Butler recounts in a Soho café as he sips his mineral water, “and said he wanted me to fly to New York. I said, Look, I’ve never met you, I don’t know anything about this, and I’m not going.”
Butler, however, is all over Booth & the Bad Angel, and, in gratitude for his cheap, not to mention speedy contributions, Booth has allowed him a photo in the album booklet. He plays on seven tracks (guitar, piano, bass) and did the mixing on six.
“I could tell Tim was an excitable kind of guy,” Butler says. “Down the phone he was like, Wow that’s so exciting! But he’s funny. You can take the piss out of him a little. I said to him, Tim, in every one of these lyrics, you’re either ‘flying’ or you’re ‘free'”
Within weeks, Butler trusted Booth enough to submit to a massage one afternoon when he needed to shake off a vicious cold. Booth massaged him so formidably that, not only did the cold disappear, but Butler was unable to hold a guitar for several hours afterwards.
“I was thinking, Christ, what have I done – I’ve taken away his demons” admits Booth.
“I was feeling like I’d had four E’s and a bottle of Scotch,” muses Butler. “He gets on your back and starts breathing and blowing on you. He was there for about twenty minutes. I got up and felt very nice. Everything was all fluffy.”
And what are we to make of Avril, Booth’s favoured psychic? Avril who, according to Booth, has never been proved wrong, predicted some years ago that he would work with an American “who has the name of an angel.” Badalamenti finds this wonderful.
Avril also predicted that James would work with Brian Eno – they have – and has lately told Booth to “watch out for the crossed feathers.” Which is sound advice in any one’s book.