James have put their tensions behind them and are back on the road. Singer Tim Booth tells Tom Goodhand why he thinks fans are hungry to see his band again.
Reformations are often a cynical and messy business.
The Happy Mondays never made any qualms about the fact that they reformed because they were broke, their live performances failing to live up to expectations. The Smashing Pumpkins got mixed reviews, and many were puzzled by frontman Billy Corgan’s decision to reform the band minus their original bassist and guitarist. Other reunions have been more successful. The Pixies came back and everyone fell for their aggressive tones all over again and Shed Seven are attracting crowds the like of which they could have never dreamed of in their early days.
James were somewhat ahead of most of the reformation crowd. At the start of 2007 they released a new best of album with tours and festival appearances to celebrate its release. But this wasn’t what James had come back together for. The “classic” line-up which worked on the 1993 album Laid and hadn’t played together for more than 10 years (that’s singer Tim Booth, bassist Jim Glennie, lead guitarist Larry Gott, drummer David Baynton-Power, guitarist, violinist and percussionist Saul Davies, keyboardist Mark Hunter, as well as trumpet player Andy Diagram, who’d worked with the band pre-Laid) had something altogether different in mind.
“Essentially,” says Tim, “Jim and Larry had contacted me a year or two before and I’d said no. They were very persistent. I was heading up to my mum’s in Harrogate and said, ‘OK, I’ll stop off in Manchester and we’ll go in a room and jam’, that had always been our best form of communication.
“We got on really well and by the end of those three days I knew getting back together was a possibility. We wrote a load of good songs and we got on really well. One of the major reasons I left James was because it was very dysfunctional, with a load of drug and alcohol problems. Coming back together had been very much about how our relationships had changed. Everybody had moved on in a positive way.”
And James were not just back for a greatest hits pay-packet and one last hurrah. They were writing together and readying a new studio album. The album, their 10th, had 120 different pieces of music written for it and ultimately became Hey Ma.
“I’m biased,” says Tim. “But I think it’s as good as anything we’ve ever released. I think reaction from James fans is going to be mixed. Of course it’s me singing and writing with Jim and Larry, but I hope that it sounds quite fresh and very different to a lot of the James records.
“At the moment the music industry is like the end of Fight Club when all the buildings are falling down and you can see the greater economy. It’s really hard to know how anything gets through. Radio is very locked into corporate interests. It’s a really bad time for the media again. There’s only one decent music television show, Later…, there used to be many more.
“The outlets for music are very poor. But then the internet is doing something really different, which is positive. But I don’t really worry about it. I never ask about sales, I don’t know chart positions, I don’t read interviews, because it’s not anything I can control or have an effect on. We can just make the best record we can make, and if isn’t a hit, it will be a fantastic cult record for James fans. It will be that precious record that not many people listen to but they love.”
Despite the poor response that the band’s last album Pleased to Meet You received, Booth still stands resolutely in its support.
“I think Pleased to Meet You is as good an album as James ever made,” he says. “But bands have their time. It was big in Spain, Portugal and Greece, but in England we couldn’t get played on radio.”
While the start of the new millennium may have been time up for James, it appears that the back end of this decade has brought a new hunger for the band. Ticket sales have been very strong for all James’s comeback gigs and although Booth was “amazed” by it, he thinks that the quality of the band’s records always meant that people would come back to them in the end.
“When a band’s been around a long time they get taken for granted,” he says. “When that happens you hope your music is going to last and people will come back to it and say, ‘that sounds good’. Because you never know. You can go back to albums and they can sound really dated, they might not have the lustre that they had, but I think ours last.”
It is that love of James’s old records that inspires fans to flock to gigs. But don’t expect a greatest hits set.
“It’s going to be based around the new album,” says Booth. “We’ll be playing some of the big songs, but not necessarily the most obvious ones. In fact, there won’t be the most obvious one.”
Looks like it’ll be standing room only this time around.
James play Bradford St George’s Hall on April 8 and Sheffield Academy on April 15.