Blagging free tickets is one thing, but when you’re asked to go on tour with one of the UK’s best bands, you’re not going to say no are you? Well we bloody weren’t.
When the house lights go down and nearly 16,000 people from your hometown roar their approval, the noise at the front of the auditorium is simply unbelievable. Then, in the glare of a single spotlight, you walk out on stage, and that noise moves from the realms of the unbeliveable to the downright terrifying. For a moment, before the opening bars of the first track kick in , you stand there gazing across an ocean of heads and hands stretching as far as your squinting eyes can see.
It’s in the lonely moment of exhilaration that you realise you’re a star. ” A one, a two, a one, two three four….”
Let’s go back in time 3 days before this momentous night in Manchester. It’s half seven on the evening of December 10 at the Marriot Hotel in North London. Six out of seven members of James are hanging around in the foyer waiting for the “Front” people carrier to take them for a night out on the town, courtesy of the mag. “Don’t forget the lads are playing Wembley Arena tomorrow night” says their press woman, “so take it easy tonight, alright?”
Exactly 14 hours of “taking it easy” later, it’s 9am on the day of one of James’ most important gigs ever and not one member of the gang has had a wink of slumber. Everyone has piled into Dean’s (the chief of security) hotel room and the procession of orders from room service has been as endless as the queue for the bogs.
“Courshe we can bloody drink”, slurs Saul Davies, violinist, guitarist and smallest, most shaven headed member of the band. “Shonly the media that like to make ush out as vegan folk rockers”. And with that Saul finally keels over and quietly auditions for next months ‘Mate in a state’. Meanwhile, Jim, (bassist) and founder member, is arguing with Dave ( drummer and Wales’ only contribution to the band ) about the merits of sheep shagging. On the bed, Adrian (lead guitar) and Mike Kulas (guitar and vocals) the newest additions to the band, are talking some of the most purest bollocks known to man.
Ten thirty is fast approaching as Mike waltzes in the room wearing the shirt he has selected for tonight’s show. Rightly he receives a general barracking for a garment that resembles a 1970’s Hawaiian dishcloth. “You can’t go on stage wearing that rubbish!” I shout, jabbing a very wobbly finger in his direction, “Let ‘Front’ buy you something decent”
“Alright” says Mike, “You’re on”
“I’m coming with you” mumbles Saul, raising himself from the dead .
And with that me, Piers (the ed), Saul and Mike weave our way down to reception and jump in a cab.
“Make sure you get them to soundcheck by four!” barks a worried looking Peter Rudge (James’ manager). Ten shops, two pubs and one Burger King later it’s four o’clock alright, but we’re still in Piccadilly trying to find a taxi – along with 100,000 Christmas shoppers. We eventually arrive at Wembley Arena just after five to a withering ‘you two keep out of the way’ look from a less-than-happy manager.
We slink off to the dressing room and tuck into the bands’ nosebag : one bottle of vodka, one of gin, four of wine, six of champagne, a huge icebox filled with Fosters and, oh yeah, a couple of sarnies.
Sound check over, the arena slowly fills with fans. Tim Booth enters wearing a coat covered in mirrored sequins. “We’ve got something special planned for “tonight” he explains. “For the encore when the crowd are waiting for me to walk on stage, I suddenly appear in the middle of the crowd at the back of the arena wearing this.”
The support act the Stereophonics, leave the stage and in James’ dressing room anxious, pale men pace up and down, chewing fingernails and smoking heavily- it’s like being in a hospital waiting room full of expectant fathers.
The sound of Tim and Mike singing scales and warming up their vocal chords drifts eerily through the walls….Mr Rudge checks his watch :8.56. “Right you lot, let’s go” he yells and the band queue up with shaking limbs and rolling heads -like they’re in the tunnel at Wembley. Piers and I leg it to the photographers pit between the bouncers and the stage, and as the lights go down the noise is well on the way to frightening. Saul strides on stage with adrenaline blood and murder in his eyes. “Come on then, are you fookin’ up for it?” he screams. And as the band launch into Laid, and Tim does a convincing impression of a rag doll at a rave, it seems that everyone is.
A dazzling array of foot stomping, hands-in-the-air classics follow ( She’s a star, Destiny Calling, Confusion, Come Home, Born of Frustration, Say Something etc) along with 3 new tracks from the forthcoming album, provisionally entitled “Millionaires”. One and a half hours later, the set ends with a simply storming rendition of the perennial crowd pleaser Sit Down. As the band troop off no one could guess that six-sevenths of James had less sleep last night than your average barn owl.
The encore begins with Top of the World and all eyes are on the crowd where Mike, bless him, is wearing the Front sweatshirt we presented him before the gig. Meanwhile Tim, ten security blokes and two guys from Front are sprinting through the labyrinth of passages and corridors under Wembley Arena. Under cover of darkness and unnoticed within the waiting crowd. Then two spotlights split the night, tracking slowly across the crowd until they converge on Mr Booth in his technicolour dreamcoat. “The view from here’s breathtaking,” he sings, grinning .The look on the faces of the punters as they realise who they’re standing next to is a treat.
Two songs later the show’s over and one buzzing band are slapping backs, guzzling ale and swapping stage stories. After a quick shower, ‘band tartmeister’ Saul ushers us to the after-show party with promises that there will be “Birds aplenty”.
This surely is what being in a band is all about.
The previous night, in various watering holes around London, the band were furiously dishing out tickets and aftershow passes to any female that didn’t closely resemble Jo Brand. Throughout the show security chief Dean has been busily doing the same. We open the doors to the after-show partyand- surprise, surprise!- the place is wall-to-wall fan…. erm, fans of a high quality and definitely female nature. “They’ve got to be young, eager, tasty and there’s got to be enough so there’s a few left over for the likes of us,” Dean explains.
The rest of the night involves booze, birds and hotel rooms, and at ten the next morning, after a luxurious 3 hour kip, ten bleary eyed bastards shamble onto the tour bus. Destination :Manchester the gig that will finally see the band Come Home .
“Saul”, I ask, as he clambers wearily into his bunk. “What does this gig mean to you?”
“This gig”, he sighs, “is gonna be in front of nearly 16,000 fans in our home town. It’s the biggest indoor gig James have ever played in Britain, so it means a lot to all of us. Now would you kindly piss off and let me get some sleep”.
It’s a relatively reasonable request from six stone of knackered sex machine, so we do.
In Manchester the pre-show build up follows a similar pattern to the previous night– except for one dressing room bombshell, an hour before the gig Tim announces he may have to pull the gig because his voice is “totally fucked”.
By the time the house lights go up, it has all proved to be a powder puff of precious balderdash. The band tuck into some well earned dressing room booze and then its Groundhog day behaviour as Saul ushers us off to the after show party where he once again assures us that there’ll be “birds aplenty”. Once again he’s right and, over breakfast the next morning, I promise not to tell a soul about his night time athletics. This, of course, precludes me from mentioning room 459 and the two nurses from Manchester Royal Infirmary, but hey! As he sits there rebuilding his strength with a large plate of bacon and eggs, the dirty bastard has only one thing to say “You know Mark” he grins “It’s only rock ‘n’ rolll but I like it.”