When James called it a day in 2001, nobody could begrudge them a hiatus from the rough ‘n’ tumble of the music industry. It was 20 years since they’d first started banging together tunes in their bedrooms, and, with hits like ‘Laid’, ‘Sit Down’ and ‘She’s a Star’, they’d given us a decent selection of pop treats. Yet, among the plethora of band reunions in the last 18 months, few have sparked as much interest as the Mancunian rockers, with a national tour selling out in minutes and fans demanding new material. We caught up with bassist Jim Glennie to find out how the old stagers are getting on.
The cover art of your new album Hey Ma [featuring a baby choosing between a revolver and some toy bricks] has caused a bit of a stir. Why did you choose that particular image?
“The main thing is that the song ‘Hey Ma’ is anti-war and about the idea of people irresponsibly playing with weapons. The track deals with America’s reaction to the twin towers. It’s about how obviously the twin towers coming down was a terrible thing, but that America’s reaction in Iraq is ten times worse than that. There’s a couple of anti-war songs on the record and the cover reflects that, but obviously it’s also a reflection of the gun culture in Britain and America.”
Were you surprised by the amount of press attention it received?
“It seems ridiculous that it’s kicked up such a fuss really. Yes, it is a very shocking image, but there’s stuff that people are shown every day that creates a glorification of guns. I’m not naming any names, but if you have a certain person who’s supposed to be cool holding a gun, well, that’s a bad sign you’re putting out. I suppose we figured some people would be bothered and that the Advertising Standards Authority might have a problem, but it just seemed like a good, strong, arresting image that represented a chunk of sentiment from the record.”
You were apparently the driving force behind the James reunion. Did you feel the band had unfinished business?
“As far as I was concerned, it was more a question of whether me, Tim and Larry could still write. Could we still write songs and did we have the same spark that occurred when we got together and started playing? If there wasn’t, we had no desire to do the same-old same-old again. It was about doing new material that we could be proud of and that could be the next stage of James.
And presumably that spark was there?
“It was there instantaneously. Me, Larry and Tim got together over a weekend, which was the first time I’d met Tim in six years, and there weren’t any high-powered meetings. We just got in the room and played. It was so easy and joyous and it was really good fun. We were like, ‘It’s still there! It’s still there!’ We needed a break though – I think it’s done us a world of good on a personal and musical level. It’s made us musically hungry and eager to prove something.”
You sold out some massive places on last year’s reunion tour. Were you shocked at the level of interest that there still was in the band?
“The tour was a real joy. It felt like we were giving fans back something that we’d taken away. In 2001 when we did the final tour we tried to make it a celebration of everything James had been, but there was an undercurrent of sadness there. People had smiles on their faces, but it was sad. This time it was the opposite. It wasn’t just a gig; we were giving them something back. When we played in Manchester especially, it was amazing and really emotional.”
It’s 27 years since the band formed in your bedroom in Manchester. Why do you think James have lasted the distance?
“I think it’s bloody minded self-belief. Our experience of the business has been that it’s a struggle. We’ve always had people telling us to stop and we’ve just battled away and made things happen ourselves. It’s always been like that. It feels the same now: we’re here on our own, but we’ve made a great record and we’re going to get it out. It’s survival of the fittest really and lesser bands have crumbled. We’re dogged and determined and we think we have something really special to give to people. If we bump into people in the industry that disagree, well sod them, because whenever we’ve got our music to people, they’ve loved it.”
How do you think James fit into the current musical climate?
“This is a great time for us to come back. I love the fact that there’s so many people now that are into alternative music. We struggled through the ’90s because everyone was into dance music. As much as I love dance music, nobody wanted a guitar. You couldn’t give one away! I think it’s healthy that there’s so many great bands out there and everyone wants to be in an indie band. Plus there’s a bunch of kids out there who don’t know who the bleeding hell we are, which is exciting.”