JAMES are the Manchester band who always made Liverpool their second home.
Now, after more than 25 years in the business, they’re back and singer Tim Burgess says he can’t wait to come back to the city that gave him one of the best nights of his life.
“I’ll always remember that Liverpool was the first place the crowd sang Sit Down back at us – it was the most powerful, humbling experience,” says Tim, sipping a cup of tea and settling down for a proper chat.
“James is, and always was, based around improvisation. That night, years and years ago, the crowd were really up for it, but Larry’s guitar string broke during Sit Down. The band started to take it down a bit while he got a replacement, but then we heard something. The crowd were singing the song back to us, getting louder and louder. They knew every word.
“That was before it’d even been released, so this was a huge thing for us. Larry had tears in his eyes. We were blown away.
“We hadn’t had any commercial success at that point – we were a live band with a good following but we couldn’t get a play on the radio. But suddenly, from that night, it was like it all changed for us.”
It certainly did. After an uphill struggle throughout the 1980s, they went on to become one of the most consistently successful acts of the 1990s, scoring a string of hit singles and enjoying success in America.
The band had its origins in early 80s Manchester, when Model Team, a band of rough Withington lads, spotted former public school boy Tim Booth at a student disco they had sneaked into.
Intrigued by Booth’s wild dancing style, they invited him to the band’s Scout hut to join the band as a dancer. He was quickly promoted to lead vocals as well as lyricist.
At The Haçienda they caught the attention of Tony Wilson of Factory Records, who signed them and got them a tour initially supporting The Smiths, and then on their own.
And after their memorable Liverpool gig, they had their big break (after years of brilliant obscurity) with the Manchester-centred indie-dance crossover of the early ’90s.
After more than two decades in the business, the band release Hey Ma, their first album in seven years, next week.
“We recorded it in a French châteaux,” explains Tim, 47. “ It was a really creative place, and we each had the facility to record in our bedrooms if we wanted to, which meant that we got loads done. So much, that we’ve had to leave a lot of it off this album, but there’s plenty to go at for next time.
“We picked the more up-tempo ones that would sound more jubilant live.”
What are the biggest differences from the James we’ve heard before?
“We’ve got more maturity as songwriters. And technology has allowed for more vibrant production I think. Every time we record I’m amazed at how much technology moves on. At home I use GarageBand, but when we started out, getting studio time was like gold dust. It’s a different world.”
The band has not forgotten the years of struggling, and the lessons learnt then still influence the new songs although there is nothing retro about them – they sound perfectly fresh.
But they are also the sort of cult band whose core audience stays loyal.
“We’ll be doing a lot of the new stuff, but also a bit of everything when we play live,” says Tim. “Hopefully we’ll get to see a lot of old friends in the crowd. Liverpool has always been so good to us that we’d like to treat it as a chance to meet up with some old friends again.”