Brighton Centre, 2 December 2001
“I’m very tense. I nearly started crying a few times on a few songs tonight. Suddenly you can feel all this emotion coming at you. It’s lovely, it’s really beautiful,” states Tim Booth, now a model of quiet, centred calm.
It’s midnight, backstage on a dank Sunday by the sea and there’s a good reason for Booth getting moisty-eyed. After the best part of 20 years being loosely joined at the hip, he and the band he has fronted through lean times and prosperity will soon be going their separate ways. Before they do, however, there’s the small matter of one final UK arena tour to be negotiated, starting here in Sussex.
The intent seems plain – to turn this final curtain call into a joyful valediction of this most dogged, cussed, and yes, underrated of British musical institutions; one whose Best Of collection rather unexpectedly found its way into 800,000 homes just three years back.
“I don’t have any regrets. I really feel fulfilled,” says Booth when asked about what he’ll miss. “It’s been an amazing ride, but I don’t know about missing things. I don’t want to sound like I’m putting the whole thing down. I’m not. It just feels like I’ve done it.
“Who knows, in a year from now I might well be thinking, Shit I really miss it. I love a great gig, even if I do get fucking terrified before nearly every concert. I go through the wringer. Don’t know why I do it. Can’t seem to stop it, even after 20 years. I love it when I’m onstage, hate it before. There’s such a huge responsibility to make it work.”
As to the future, Booth says he has completed his first screenplay (“I’ve always been terrified of writing more than a three-minute song. It felt like a journey across a desert”), fancies doing a bit more acting and reckons there will be “some different” music out next year. More than anything, it seems, he wants to try some other stuff: “It just feels like I had to make that break. The other guys have known that for the past couple of years. They’ve always been very patient and supportive. Like when I made the Badalamenti record. It kind of kicked up some of James timing in the States. I felt bad about asking people to wait for me to go off and do other things. So part of it was, Well, I think it’s fair to do a clean break.”
Somehow, fully in keeping with the underdog spirit that has kept them going when others would have chucked in the towel, the band’s six remaining members appear determined to carry on without their prized asset, the one who some folk think of as actually being James. Publically, at least, bass-playing Jim Glennie, who’s been there right from day one – is putting on a bullish face.
“I’ve got to be diplomatic here,” he explains. “There’s still a lot of indecision in the James camp. This was thrust upon us and we’re still juggling with what we want to do, what the options are. We don’t need to rush into anything, but there will be a James beyond this point. Speaking for myself, I feel really enthused by this. It feels exciting. It feels like a challenge. It was scary initially and mildly depressing. Now I feel like it’s what I need to do, what I should be doing.
“For me, James will go away and it will change into something else and it will reappear. And when it does, it will be great.”
The Brighton Centre is packed out with those wanting to say their fond farewells, and, for a couple of hours, take shelter in the warm nostalgic glow of the past.
“Let’s see what we can do,” announces Booth coyly to huge cheers before launching into Say Something with its janglesome guitars and glorious chorus filling every corner of the hall. With the crowd expertly joining in, the sense of joy and release, both onstage and off, is undeniable; the urgent Sometimes and Laid’s up-front amatory declaration – “This bed is on fire with passionate love” – further confirming that, live, James have rarely sounded better. A band capable of both power and the most delicate of touches, it’s not hard to figure why Glennie is reluctant just to let things go.
It’s Booth, though, who’s the focus for everything, the possessor of that slippery thing – star quality. One moment he’s doing his snake-dance routine around an unsuspecting mic stand. The next he’s being crucified on an invisible cross or whirling dervishly. And when he’s not having his limbs yanked in all directions by a malicious, unseen puppeteer, he’s still rather partial to going surfing on a sea of raised arms. There’s even a fair bit of singing too, sometimes with all the purity of an apple-cheeked schoolboy.
The spell is briefly broken by Senorita and English Beefcake from the most recent album, Pleased To Meet You. But seeing how few have bought the record, maybe it’s no real surprise that nobody cares about them too much. Still, the equally fresh Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) motors along mightily in a way that Giorgio Moroder would recognise and the ever-fabulous She’s A Star puts them right back on track.
After that it’s a doddle. Vervaceous (“Another musical one,” according to Booth) builds incessantly into a mesmerising psychedelic swirl; Johnny Yen proudly flaunts its indie birth-right with one-time member Andy Diagram having fun with his trumpet, and Born of Frustration has just about everything anyone could ever wish for in a humble pop song. To nobody’s great surprise, the square peg’s favourite anthem, Sit Down, signals goodnight and thanks for the memories.
“I’m really glad that we’re ending it like this – with grace and as a celebration, not in some bitter way,” says Tim Booth afterwards.
But for Glennie and the others it’s a case of picking themselves up, dusting off and starting again with another vocalist. Probably.
“I know how some people identify with Tim,” he admits. “But if we’re ever going to play live again we need a permanent singer. When the right person turns up and they start flying across the improvisation we’re doing and you know the song is complete at that point, then they’ve got the job. Then we take it to the world. And if nobody likes it (shrugs shoulders), then nobody fucking likes it. That’s life.
“This band has never sold as many records as it should have. That’s why I’m so excited, why I want to do this. I want to have a go. I might fail. It might be shit. It might be bollocks. I might be talking out of me arse. I don’t know.”
Well, we’ll find out, won’t we?
Ladies and Gentlemen, James are still inside the building.