The early James had three rules: not to have any lessons (“because you end up learning to play like everyone else”); to ditch any song that sounded like anyone else, and to be unpredictable on stage at all times. Tim elaborates: “That meant changing the set list or improvising new songs, or singing a song in German. We used to make up songs a lot on stage in those days”
This whole approach arose from one gig when the band arrived at a venue to find themselves billed by a helpful promoter as “James (Not a poet)”. Tim decided to unleash some wilful confusion by going on and reciting a poem as a joke. He strode up to the microphone , but the lights failed to come on, so he stood there in total darkness, savoring an ominous silence from the expectant audience. When he finally read the poem, the applause was thunderous, “It was really powerful because of the tension,” he explains. “The band came on and we played the best gig of our lives.”
From then onwards they decided to always take risks.
“There’s a theory about pop music,” says Tim. “That it’s 90% predictable, 10% unpredictable – and the 10% is the crucial part. If it’s too predictable, the audience goes into automatic pilot. When you do something where you and the audience don’t know what’s going to happen, everyone is in a higher state of concentration. Most bands play three songs and the gig’s just a variation on those three songs.”
So how can bands avoid getting stuck in a rut?
“Strip down!” Tim urges. “Do a poem! Sing a song on your own, then go really big! Do a dance song. Fuck people’s heads…..”