By Sarah Walters, © 2007 City Life Magazine
In a world of rock comebacks, few will be as emotional as the return of these Manc legends. Sarah Walters meets unsung hero Jim Glennie.
It’s a glorious Friday afternoon in Glasgow and Jim Glennie is preparing for the small job of making a triumphant rise from the ashes. Sitting in his hotel room, poring over a setlist for the appearance that officially kicks off James’ reunion tour, Jim is smiling like the proverbial cat that got that’s scored itself a fat tub of extra thick, double cream.
He’s choosing from a list of song titles so indulgent it’d have Caligula in a hot flush. But the most exciting aspect of this meeting is listening to Jim – James’ bassist, namesake and longest-serving member – refer to the Manchester band’s rebirth as “a dream come true”. It could move even the hardest hack to a sentimental blub.
For Jim, his group’s resurrection still has a certain fairytale quality. He is, if you will, like Dorothy, scooped up in a whirlwind and dropped – wide-eyed and confused – in the middle of his greatest fantasy. He was the only member who repeatedly refused to confirm James’ official split back in 2001, even though the departure of frontman Tim Booth proved to be terminal.
And now it’s official – time has proved Jim right. The split was just a bit of rest and recuperation and James are back on the road. “I can’t believe it,” Jim gushes. “When it all ended, we went our separate ways. I had a real bee in my bonnet about James continuing; I was really attached to doing something as James.”
It’s little wonder he was keen to hang on to his hard-earned legacy. James were a huge success story, selling millions of records and touring the territories with dogged determination.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing. Their first two albums – Stutter and Strip Mine – were hampered by a poor deal with American record label Sire, and the band returned to the UK “impoverished”, remembers Jim. “We did drug trials. We got paid well for it – we knew one of the doctors and he used to recommend stuff where there was no proven case of brain damage or liver failure…yet!” No reaction horror stories? “No, we were all right”, laughs Jim.
“Then we went on Enterprise Allowance, which was just a dodgy scheme to reduce the unemployment figures. So we had all these records out, but we were really poor. I used to deliver telephone directories to make extra money. The things you do.”
The ride changed in 1991 when the re-release of Gold Mother (revised to include their No 2 single Sit Down) took James up the album charts and T-shirt sales made James the biggest independent clothing manufacturer in Britain. “At its height, we were selling 30,000 T-shirts a month. We had a huge warehouse in Prestwich – it’s probably true that we sold more T-shirts than records at certain points.”
Follow up albums Seven, Laid, Wah Wah, Whiplash, Millionaires, Pleased to Meet You all had their fans and their critics, and James ended on a bit of a commercial low. It was an unsatisfactory ending, so he hooked back up with former guitarist Larry Gott, who had left the band in 1995 and only briefly rejoined James at their farewell gig at the MEN Arena – the venue now set to welcome the band back home tomorrow night.
“After that tour, me and Larry started jamming together in an old office he had; just me, him and a drum machine. As the first couple of years went by, I found it wasn’t James I was attached to; it wasn’t travelling around, or the rock lifestyle, or the ego buzz of being on stage. Musically, I’d fallen in love with what I was creating with Larry, its simplicity. With James we had to book a residential rehearsal room in the middle of nowhere, we had to drag all of the crew there, hire a fleet of cars, there were people flying in. You couldn’t just play for the love of it.”
Enamoured with their project, the duo got in touch with Tim and asked him over. His answer? “Oh no!” says Jim. “He’d just finished his solo album and had a baby and moved house. We had a demo of about eight tunes and Larry and me both came to the same conclusion that we could hear Tim singing on the demo.
“We had a load of songs we’d created and we needed a great singer. I had no desires for a James reunion; the bottom line was Tim is the best singer I know,” implores Jim, before breaking into an excited chuckle.
“He’s the best singer whose number I’ve got anyway!”
Tim was certainly living up to that reputation; he scored critical acclaim for his 2004 solo album, Bone, his LP with film composer Angelo Badalamenti, Booth and the Bad Angel, and his stints on the stage, including a role as Judas in the Manchester Passion. Undeterred, Jim and Larry popped the question again. This time the man from Wakefield, he said yes.
“He said ‘OK, I’ll come up a week on Saturday for three days jamming and see how it goes’. It threw us in at the deep end. Behind the scenes, Tim had been bumping into things that had reminded him of James and made him think that perhaps it was time to do something again.”
When the fateful weekend arrived, the bandwagon started rolling so fast it nearly ran Jim over. “Tim came up on the Friday. I thought we’d just get in a room and play some songs, but then Tim told our manager and he got in touch with SJM.” Just 24 hours later, the comeback tour was pencilled in.”
This time Jim was focussed on getting the most out of every day. He sees it as a a long-term reunification and is keen to add to the first slice of new stuff due out at the end of the year – as well as extend the group’s live lifespan.
In his softer moments, Tim had conceded that a rebirth could happen if it was as much a musical reinvention as a physical one. So, have we got a jazz rendition of Laid or a funk-fusion version of Hymn From a Village in store?
“You have, yeah: a country and western version of Come Home, a reggae version of Sit Down…,” reels off Jim, all too convincingly.
“We’ve got a shortlist of of 35 songs for this tour and the way to stop yourself getting bored with the songs is to start changing them around. We’ve been under the bonnet of a couple of them.
“We’ve rehearsed Things Are Perfect from our early Factory days, and some new songs, and everything in between. We’ve been doing a Chainmail that we have fiddled with, and Strip Mine. There’s too many to do, which is a lovely problem.”
True to form, James’ live return wouldn’t be complete without a support act that threatens to usurp them in greatness. Birmingham band The Twang – “kinda streets-y, kinda Happy Mondays,” offers Jim – will be hoping for the same golden ticket that former warm-up acts The Stone Roses, Nirvana, Radiohead and Coldplay received. Has Jim noticed any patterns emerging?
“I know, we should set up an agency – become indie Simon Cowells,” Jim giggles as we contemplate contract clauses.
And if the love of a support band doesn’t convince Jim, Larry, Tim and their bandmates, David Baynton-Power, Saul Davies and Mark Hunter, that resurrections aren’t just for deities, being welcomed by the 15,000 fans who cleared the MEN box office of tickets in under two hours should massage some egos.
“It’s going to be really emotional. It was great doing the farewell gig there, but there was this undercurrent of knowing it was ending. This time it’s completely the opposite; we’re giving ourselves back to Manchester again. It will be wonderful.”