By Shaun Curran, © 2008 City Life
James guitarist Jim Glennie tells Shaun Curran about how he persuaded Tim Booth to reform the legendary Manchester band – and why Manchester Central is their theatre of dreams…
If the current spate of bands reforming want any pointers on how to do it with dignity, they could do worse than take a look at James.
Since announcing in January 2007 they were getting back together, James have been on three sell-out tours, had a top ten album and have proved a reformation need not be the disappointingly tedious cash-in it so often proves.
In fact James are, bassist Jim Glennie testifies, in as rude health as they have been for many years. As founder and longest serving member, Whalley Range-born Glennie has seen various members come and go (and come back again) over the years, and is better positioned than anyone to talk about a chequered history of triumph over adversity. “There have been a few ups and downs,” he laughs.
How right he is. Formed in 1982 at Manchester University (Jim had seen singer Tim Booth dancing in his inimitable way in the Student Union and asked him to join), James spent most of the Eighties gaining the admiration of the press and their contemporaries, including The Smiths, but nothing more than a cult following.
All that changed with the release of third album Gold Mother at the height of Madchester in 1990, which spawned their biggest hit Sit Down.
Several albums followed including the career high, Brian Eno produced Laid, before difficulties set in: guitarist Larry Gott left acrimoniously, money problems became apparent and momentum was lost.
An immaculate Best Of, released in 1998, restored order, reminding everyone in the process of James’ penchant for crafting joyous pop anthems. Sold by the bucketload, it reacquainted James with the arena circuit and a second stint in the big time looked impossible to deny.
Yet in true James fashion, they never quite fully capitalised: follow-up Millionaires, an album that record company Mercury had earmarked for best seller status, failed to capture public imagination in the manner anticipated. By the time 2001’s Pleased To Meet You limped into the charts, becoming the first James album since 1998 not to reach the Top Ten, James were seen as a spent force, not least by the band themselves.
Shortly after the album charted, Tim Booth announced he was quitting James to pursue new projects. Though a farewell tour was well received, it failed to gloss over the fractious nature of the band that had long threatened to undermine their work, something Jim now freely admits.
“It really wasn’t much fun by the end. I don’t think we realised at the time quite how dysfunctional we had become. There were a lot of problems within the band, relationships were breaking down and there was a lot of friction. Friction wasn’t anything new in James, there was always arguments because we’re all opinionated people, but by the end there was an undercurrent of nastiness and it was silly”.
“Being in a band is like being in a relationship, you basically live with each other and sometimes you need that break to appreciate each other. In hindsight, there is just no way we could have made another record. It was an upsetting time. We needed a break and we needed to mature”.
In the interim, Booth worked on various projects, including his solo album Bone and a part in the Manchester Passion, whereas Jim met up with estranged guitarist Gott to continue working on music. The fruits of these sessions lay the foundations for the reunion.
“I’d been playing with Larry for a while, just jamming,” says Jim. “We did a few things with some singers around Manchester, but anytime we wrote anything Larry would say to me, ‘I can hear Tim singing that’. So I gave Tim a ring and asked him to come for a jam, but the time wasn’t right for him”.
“Another 18 months passed and we still had this good stuff, so I gave him another call and he said, I’ve just been thinking about you guys,’ which was what we wanted to hear”.
“I met Tim and Larry on the Friday, then by the Sunday our Tour Manager had the MEN Arena and the rest of the tour on hold! I was a bit wary about it to be honest, I wanted us to keep it low key for a while, but he was right. It was best to get going”.
Public response was overwhelming, the tickets selling out within hours of going on sale. Despite this, Jim was conscious the comeback would not be a tired nostalgic wallow.
“We didn’t want it to be like all those other reunion tours, where they just sing the hits half-heartedly and don’t offer anything new. The big thing for us was ‘could we still write?’ If we didn’t have anything new to offer we wouldn’t have done it, it would never got as far as playing shows. But it was obvious from the first day we could still do it”.
With confidence anew and friendships repaired, James went about recording their 10th studio album, this year’s Hey Ma.
Created organically from jamming sessions, the record is a worthy addition to their considerable catalogue, their trademark exuberance belying their reformed status. But was there extra pressure on this album, to justify a comeback?
“Yes, but not pressure from anyone else. The pressure came from ourselves. There was a determination that we were going to come back at least as good as we used to be. I still love the album. I’m really, really proud of it. A lot of the songs have become big James tunes that we sing every night and everyone sings along”.
Anyone who has seen James live will know it is their natural habitat, with epic and anthemic songs dealt with in wonderfully uplifting, celebratory manner, in no small part thanks to Tim Booth’s unique command of a crowd.
“Tim is a great communicator,” adds Jim. “It’s important when you play these massive places that you make that connection and knock down the barriers put in front of you. And Tim is great at that, he makes that connection”.
This weekend James will again connect with the masses, playing at Manchester Central (formerly G-Mex), a significant venue in the band’s history following their first two-night stint there in 1991 in the aftermath of their commercial breakthrough.
“We’ve got great memories of playing G-Mex. Manchester’s always the place I look forward to playing the most. There are people there who have supported us throughout the years. I have to try hard to keep it together”.
“Obviously it couldn’t happen without us, but we realise we’re a bit like a football team, we exist for the people who come and watch us. We’re saying: ‘What we’re doing now belongs to you’”.
“It’s going to be special”.
Life of James
1982: James formed.
1983 and 1985: Release two Eps on Factory Records.
1986 and 1988: Sign to Shire. Release two albums, Stutter and Strip-mine.
1990: Sign to Fontana. Gold Mother released, mainstream success follows.
1991: Sit Down re-released and kept off the Number 1 spot by Chesney Hawkes.
1992: Seven released. Play massive outdoor show at Alton Towers, broadcast live on Radio 1.
1993: Laid released, produced by Brian Eno.
1994: ‘Experimental’ album Wah Wah released. Guitarist Larry Gott quits.
1997: Whiplash released, includes top ten hit, She’s A Star.
1998: Release Best Of, which sells more than 500,000 copies.
1999: Sign to Mercury. Release Millionaires, which hits Number 2 in the charts.
2001: Release Brian Eno-produced Pleased To meet You. Tim Booth quits soon after. Farewell tour.
2007: The band reform to play an arena tour.
2008: Latest album Hey Ma released, reaching the Top 10. Play two hometown Christmas shows.