James’ Mirrorball Tour kicked off in Edinburgh last week and The Blue Walrus sent off one of our new roaming reporters off to meet the band and talk about their new mini album, The Night Before, and have a small glimpse in to their incredible career. Here’s what Ben had to say…
I have loved James since I first rummaged through my older sister’s scratched CD collection ten years ago and realised that there was a lot more to the band than ‘Sit Down’. When Tim (aka The Blue Warus) asked if I wanted to interview the band it is fair to say that I pretty much wet my pants.
But it was important that I remained cool when entering the swanky Edinburgh hotel to interview the band so I took an old friend with me for moral support, I also gave him simple tasks to warrant his presence; he was to record the interview on his iPhone and take photos with a disposable camera because the SLR had stopped working – he failed miserably at both;
Not only did I keep on having to ask the interviewees to huddle up closer to the iphone but it stopped working 35minutes in, so the juicy story about setting fireworks off from a Beverley Hills hotel window and setting a hillside alight is now lost forever, oh, and my esteemed colleague didn’t take one single photo until the after the show when I heard the tinny sound of a disposable camera click and a bright light flash on Tim Booth’s face… smooth.
So, as you can imagine, James may not thought we were the most professional outfit, just as well it turned out they were some of the most down to earth & friendly people I’ve met…
It was clear their was genuine excitement from the band about the new mini album, Jim (the Jim behind the name James) beamed “it has been an opportunity for us to move the music on from the Hey Ma album and develop our sound” The Night Before has retained what we love about James albums – powerful, emotive and well written lyrics, great production, the classic seven piece James sound but more synths and electronics than Hey Ma and less brass.
The Night Before is James’ 11th studio album. The band has so far spanned three decades, seeing a record deal with Factory in the 80s, commercial success with ‘Sit Down’, ‘Laid’ & ‘She’s a Star’ in the 90s and disbandment and reformation in the 00s.
James began in a Manchester bar, where Jim (bass) would hang out with his pals in order to pinch pints from unsuspecting middle class students… enter Tim Booth, an intelligent middle class student with a talent for wild dancing who was about to get his pint stolen and an invite to dance for a embryo of a band that would soon become James.
28 years and 11 studio albums later, the band have grown together, the sharp differing edges of seven band members have blunted and the young angry lads have become experienced musicians, grateful of their careers and respectful of each others different approaches to life.
I asked Jim Glennie if they would have preferred to have had more widespread commercial success in the past three decades, his reaction was “I think we think we deserve it but I’ve gone past worrying or bothering about that – what always used to drive us is the feeling that we were bigger than we were. It was years of virtually no success in which we had to stand up and say come on we’re better than this.” James had commercial success in the 90s but it was never at the level of some the bands that originally supported James, such as Nirvana, Radiohead and Coldplay. Despite this Jim considers himself “one of the luckiest bastards on earth…so to sit here and complain would be ridiculous”.
James currently have a deal with Mercury, which is they say is far from the relaxed type of deals they were used to in the past – “now we have to pay for recording ourselves. In the past we would be able to be as gratuitous, stupid and silly as we liked and know that somebody else was paying. But when it’s your own money, you have to get the job done in the minimum amount of time and work really hard.”
With a repertoire of crowd pleasing hits, James are conscious of not acting as a “jukebox” at live gigs and playing the songs that the crowd are desperate to sing along to. “If we keep writing and playing new songs it means that we can’t cruise through a gig in third gear, which is the wonderful thing because the focus and concentration has to kick in.”
The Edinburgh gig was an opportunity for James to test some of the new songs from the album as well as “challenging people a bit and throwing the odd curve ball in there.” That is exactly what James did, putting a host of new songs and some old ones that only the dedicated fans knew. The Edinburgh crowd was as suspected, hungry for hits but Booth used his effortless and distinctive soaring voice to get the crowd behind him and soon everyone was singing along to the chorus of new song, Ten Below – “When’s the holidays? Holidays? Holidays?”
‘Crazy’ is a dark tale of ongoing paranoia and suffering from hallucinations that Tim Booth recently lived through when he was hospitalised with liver disease. As with the best James songs, there is a dichotomy of sad and painful lyrics juxtaposed with the sound of 6 other band members driving an energetic musical feel that keeps the song upbeat.
I brought up this dichotomy to the band and Larry told a story of driving to a gig with two girls in the back seat who were listening to Government Walls from the Goldmother album, as they sung their hearts out jumping with joy Tim was sat in the front seat with a blank expression on his face as the lyrics played “In Ireland they may shoot to kill without warning”
‘Porcupine’ begins with a great polyphony between Larry on lead guitar and Jim on bass, it is typical of the band’s 80s roots but also has a contemporary awareness that is relevant and fashionable now. The lyric ‘porcupine’ is derived from James’ approach to the development of songs – which is basically Tim, Larry & Jim meeting up and jamming. “we work on melodies and tunes with Tim singing phonetics only, sometimes one random word that works phonetically will bolt down the lyrics for a whole song – there was no getting rid of porcupine so we developed a lyric around love affairs and attrition developed that somehow involved porcupine…I’m a skunk you’re a porcupine”
They may well be some of the luckiest bastards on earth, they have tasted commercial success but more importantly James have stayed dedicated to their music and able to provide incredible live music to their fans for over 28 years, always being slightly eccentric, exciting and different. Loving James is knowing that most people won’t agree with you and that means that live gigs remain intimate and every unrehearsed cock up on stage makes the band seem more human.
After the gig, we saw Tim Booth and he asked what our favourite song was, I replied “Dr Hellier”, he seemed pensive, it is after all probably a very dark take on his recovery from illness. Out of nowhere a flash of light from a disposable camera lit Booth’s face, my esteemed assistant struck again and before we knew it the band were already on the tour bus.
I’d love to show you the photo, but the assistant hasn’t had it developed yet… (we might add that later -ed)
James have got two dates left of this tour so get yourselves down to:
Friday 16 April – London Royal Albert Hall
Saturday 17 April – Liverpool University