Come Home / Sometimes / She’s A Star / Say Something / Born Of Frustration / Ring The Bells / Out To Get You / Five-O / Destiny Calling / Waltzing Along / Johnny Yen / Runaground / Laid / Tomorrow / Top Of The World / What’s The World / Sound / Sit Down / How Was It For You
WHEN Manchester DJs played the James song Sit Down in the early Nineties, many dancers took the sentiments at face value – and sat down.
The reaction as James returned to Manchester on the back of their first Number One album was more animated: the crowd sang the chorus before the band started the song.
To call this homecoming show a triumph would be an understatement. It was a glorious vindication of all that James have stood for in a career which has survived three generations of Mancunian rock. Contemporaries of the Smiths in the Eighties, they rubbed shoulders with the Stone Roses and now coexist with Oasis.
The set list, which drew heavily on the ‘best of’ album, was a perfect indication of their enduring strengths. From the opening dance-led Come Home through to the epic Laid, Sometimes and She’s A Star, the performance had a rousing, anthemic quality.
For all the arena-filling aplomb they can bring to a rock anthem, however, it is subtlety that sets James apart.
As Sit Down, driven along by glam-rock drumming, provided an intense finale, frontman Tim Booth acknowledged his home crowd in the best way possible: he sat down.
Dave Simpson, Melody Maker
It’s like Last Night Of The Proms without the flags, pomp, and dubious patriotism and with infinitely better music. To my left, the first of many James war veterans departs on a stretcher (eerily, at the exact moment Tim Booth sings “Help comes when you need it most”, during “Waltzing Along” – is this man a God?) Behind me, several beered-up prannies do their best at impersonating Booth while surely knowing that in order to do this you need to 1) be able to yodel, 2) dance like a demented marionette and 3) have had several “revelatory” experiences, most of them involving religion and Aqua Libra. Around, beer and hands fly into the air, the entire audience sings along with all the songs and you couldn’t find a more committed bunch of followers this side of England in the World Cup. And, arguably, James have a much, much better team.
They could certainly give Hoddle’s boys a few lessons in surviving the first round. This year, James are 17 – almost old enough to vote, and certainly experienced enough to make whole albums about the other stuff (1994’s “Laid”). Implausibly, when they formed in 1981 they “rejoiced” (ahem) in the unfortunate name of Model Team International, “thanks” to a friend of theirs who worked for a modeling agency and lumbered them with promotional T-shirts. Hardly surprising that bassist Jim Glennie donated his Christian name and the band became James. Thank Jim’s mum he wasn’t called Sidney. Seventeen years, several line-up changes, several very embarrassing cardigans, Tim penchant for drastic hair reshuffles, insanity and neck braces later, the rest is history. But James aren’t. Today, James “Best Of” hit Number One. The Bunnymen had better haircuts, New Order better beats and the Charlatans more bona fide “baggy” status, but it’s a sobering thought that in 1998 James are (gulp) bigger than Pulp.
It’s the songs that have kept them there and, as they flow past, it’s remarkable how many hits they’ve had (15), and not only Tim Booth and Jim Glennie have portraits in the attic. There’s an occasional whiff of stadium bluster, but “Come Home” (1990) is fresh, inviting and urgent, “Sound” (1991) is as uplifting as a Boeing and “She’s A Star” (1997) actually sounds better this year than last, its twirling guitar motif floating upwards like a balloon. Freed of his recent medical troubles, Booth dances furiously to entertain us and equally thoughtfully, the band provide a Mid-Set Lull – very handy if you’re aching for a piss. But normal euphoric service is resumed as “Waltzing Along” echoes “Born Of Frustration” and the achievements of “Sit Down” in taking lyrics about mental illness into the Top 10.
Curiously, despite considerable success, James are still perceived as outsiders, not least by themselves, which is why “Destiny Calling” cornily rants about the rock biz. However, long-time fans would point out that they did this far more acutely with 1985’s dissection of rock exhibitionism, “Johnny Yen”: “Ladies and gentlemen, here’s my disease… give me a standing ovation and your sympathy”; in sympathy, they play it. But any “decline” is countered by the new “Runaground”, one of their most hypnotic moments in years.
James will take us to newer, more intriguing pastures with their next album, but from 1985’s Factory classic, “What’s the World” (not on tonight’s original set-list) to the standing ovation-earning “Sit Down”, James remind us of their mainly glorious journeys so far. Some may have appreciated fewer Big Hits and more Idiosyncratic Moments (“What For?”, “Stutter”, “Folklore”…), but for two hours this is their youth, and – for fans of varying ages – our generation.
Tch – to think Tim Booth once wore a T-shirt saying “James suck”.
Dave Simpson, The Guardian
Someone get the chairs! Veteran rockers James are trying to play a whole gig standing up. Dave Simpson feels for them.
Once upon a time, when James performed their most famous song, Sit Down, whole audiences would do just that. Nowadays it’s tempting to suggest the band take their own advice, lest their creaking joints make the decision for them and they crumple in a heap. Implausibly, this is the Manchester survivors’ 17th year, celebrated by a Best Of album (number one today) and a marketing campaign that proclaims the band’s songs have “soundtracked our lives”.
This is probably a salesman’s way of saying that James have always been there, or more usually thereabouts. Never truly enormous (although they were megastars in both 1985 and 1990), they have survived largely because their stirring folky rock has taken in (and occasionally inspired) every trend from indie minimalism to baggy beats but has always remembered the tune.
While vampires attain immortality by feeding on the blood of virgins, the James beat has had a legendary appetite for drummers, trumpet players, guitarists and, more recently, even founding strummer Larry Gott. Original members Tim Booth and Jim Glennie remain, the latter because he provided the band with their moniker, and presumably if he left they’d be forced to rename themselves Timothy.
Inside Manchester Apollo on a second sold-out night, hordes of ageing indie kids chanted for their heroes. Sadly, City were away at Wolves. “Boothy” isn’t some hairy centre-forward, although the spindly James frontman has endured his own career of slipped discks, twisted vertebrea, instability, worrying cardigans and ghastly follicular injuries. But with the whirling Booth in fine shamanic form, the gig soon became an Event. Beer flew, chants arose, and it felt like soccer used to be, before seats and Kenny Dalglish conspired to ruin the fun.
Oddly for an idiosyncratic and often intellectual group, James have always had a footy following. Suddenly, the explanation was here at full volume – it’s those massive, crowd-surging anthems that usually arrive at their gigs every few songs but tonight came thick and fast to promote The Best Of.
James’s great moments – Come Home, Say Something, Sound – boast an unfathomable spirit. It’s a bit like gazing over the English countryside after five pints of Guinness. But, as anyone who’s seen Manchester’s slagheaps will tell you, the view can be disturbing. Booth made sure Born of Frustration’s lyrics hit home. “I don’t need a shrink, but an exorcist,” he howled.
Suddenly his demented marionette dancing took on new meaning – this was the demons being driven out.
But the most startling moments were comedic. First, during Sound, whirling spotlight’s were held aloft by two burly blokes in balaclavas… perhaps they were trying to spring Deirdre Rachid but had arrived at the wrong venue. Then, as the septet prepared to launch into their expected encore of Sit Down, the audience got there first and sang it themselves. It was an incredible moment, and Booth could only stare dumbfounded at the crowd.
There was only one decent response, and he knew it. He sat down.