James returned to glory in 2007. After six years apart, they reunited and sold out a nationwide tour in minutes. Now they’ve just released their first studio album since 2001. Founder member Jim Glennie tells Judith Dornan why they would never have bothered coming back without it
When the estranged nucleus of 1990s indie kings James – singer Tim Booth, founder Jim Glennie and Larry Gott – met up tentatively in a rehearsal studio in 2006, it was just ‘to see how it went’.
But other people had other ideas. Jim recalls: “It was the first time I’d seen Tim in… well, I’d bumped into him once, I think, in six years. That was on the Friday that we started jamming together. And by the Saturday evening, Peter, our manager, had been in touch with (concert promoter] Simon Moran and had got a tour including 16,000 seats at the MEN Arena on hold for the following April!
“So much for me trying to keep the pressure off! He was like, ‘Just in case we need it!’ I was, like, ‘Arrgghg! No pressure!’.”
Formed in Jim Glennie’s bedroom in 1981 and named after him, James were among the most consistently successful bands of the 1990s, scoring hits like including Laid, Come Home, She’s a Star, Sometimes and the instantly recognisable Sit Down.
They dominated the charts for a decade with albums like Gold Mother, Laid and Seven and were indisputably the coolest of the wave of Madchester bands who then captured the zeitgeist.
But in 2001, after increasingly bitter infighting, particularly between enigmatic frontman Booth and Glennie himself, Booth departed and the seven-piece went on indefinite hiatus.
In the intervening years, as Booth consistently insisted he had moved on, it looked increasingly as though James was lost forever.
But Gott and Glennie had been quietly writing together for some time, bringing in other singers, and seeing where it went but none entirely gelled.
Glennie says: “We did a demo of about eight tunes and we both went away on separate holidays – and when we got back, we’d both heard Tim singing on it.
“It was just that kinda realisation that it just, it sounds like James, this does. And neither of us kinda wanted to bring that up, because of in a way what that meant.”
Booth initially refused. But in 2006 he had a change of heart. Glennie says: “He said he kept coming across things to do with James.
“People would talk to him about James or ask him about James or he’d read something about James. And it just seemed to open that option up in his head again really.”
That day, they slipped back into it, writing as they always did, with someone throwing out a riff and the others catching the flow, as Booth adlibbed nonsense vocal lines over the top.
Jim says: “It’ll just move and shift and change and go quiet and then build up again and there’ll be bits where it flies off at weird angles and comes back again. And that’s always been the way we’ve written and then you listen back to those jams and start to construct it at a later date.
“It just was so natural and the stuff was just unarguably good. It was like, right cool, we can still do it, what are we going to do with it?”
New album Hey Ma was the result. Released on April 7, it went straight to Number 10. Glennie insists it was the catalyst and if it hadn’t been for Hey Ma, we would never have seen James together on a stage again.
He says: “If we’d not have been able to write, we wouldn’t have done this. We wouldn’t have got back together to go out there and bang through the hits. When me, Tim and Larry first got together, it was in a rehearsal room. It wasn’t in a high-powered office somewhere to discuss the James reunion plan – it was just to get together and play.
“We did three days writing together and it was just wonderful, it was just so easy and such a joy. And we ended up with loads of new stuff and it was like, well, there you are! That’s the future, that’s the next stage of James.”
Now he’s watching the sun stream through the windows of an apartment he’s sharing with Booth near their Hoxton rehearsal room as they prepare for another nationwide tour.
Their 2007 outing, the one with the MEN Arena, turned ticket lines redhot and sold out in minutes. Jim admits he was stunned.
He says: “It seemed incredibly ambitious to tour anyway. It seemed like we would have been more sensible playing it a bit more low key and seeing how things went.
“We were a bit, ‘Well, we haven’t done anything for years, what happens if, you know, nobody wants to come?’ And it just was, yeah, just mad mad mad mad shock.
“I just think there’d been a lot of people out there who’d taken it for granted that we’d always be there. And then they all rushed out just to make sure that they were going to catch it this time.”
The MEN Arena show which so intimidated him became a memory he’ll treasure for life. He says: “Manchester was special, we knew it would be. I remember doing the tour in 2001 where we knew we were splitting up and we were all trying to make the best of it and put a brave face on it and it was all supposed to be a celebration of what we’d done.
“But it was all tinged with an undercurrent of sadness, no matter how uplifting you tried to make it for yourself and other people, it was just this undercurrent that you were denying. But this time, it was the opposite. We knew we were back.
“Coming onstage in Manchester was really moving. I just remember the build up. We’d got this marching band to start at the back of the arena and march in, drumming.
“Then halfway down the hall, the brass kicked into the riff from Come Home. And we were stood on the stage and, once the crowd realised what was going on, there was just this roar. And I just remember the hairs on the back of my neck… even now, I’m getting tingles. And then the curtain drops and this roar hits you like you scored at Wembley. It’s just overwhelming.
“The thing is to try and stay focused because you can’t just bask in it, you’ve got to bloody play!”
To record, they decamped to a French chateau owned by guitarist/violinist Saul Davies and, true to James’s independent spirit, built their own studio there and laid Hey Ma down in three weeks.
Jim insists they’re a world away from the bitterness of the split, saying decidedly: “We’re getting on better now than we have done for thousands of years.
“I think we needed a break, I think we just did, I think that’s done us the world of good. Musically, I think it’s brought us back really hungry but on the personal level, it’s just… you’re in each other’s pockets all the time.
“It’s not nine till five. Now I’m sharing an apartment with Tim for two weeks and we’re in the rehearsal rooms from midday through till, well, it was about 10pm last night. And then you come back and live together.
“Then you go on tour and you’re on a tour bus. You see a LOT of each other – too much! And it is better now, it’s a lot better.
“Will it last? I really don’t know. We’ll see how it gets on in a few years time. It’ll be all downhill from here, haha! Maybe we’re a little bit more mature. But it’s early days yet, let’s face it, early days!”