interview by Mike Nuttall
I have to admit to being slightly nervous before my meeting with founder member of James, the eternally youthful Jim Glennie. I have met with singer Tim Booth on several occasions and often see guitarist, Larry Gott in Manchester but have never had a chance to chat with the bass player. My anxiety isn’t aided by the fact that my sister has requested that I ask a question on her behalf. So, as I enter the stunning Leopold Hotel in Sheffield. I’m pondering how to lever in to a serious interview her bizarre question of what Glennie would like to be re-incarnated as!
I needn’t have worried. Glennie is warm, charming and funny throughout and I feel relaxed in his company. As I set the recorder working, I enquire about the previous night’s gig in Newcastle and Glennie is full of praise for the Geordie crowd and also mentions the challenging setlist, which is the perfect lead-in to my first question…
Q: I’ve seen the setlist from Edinburgh & Newcastle, a really brave choice of songs. Was that a conscious thing?
“Erm, not really. I mean we wanted to…we’ve obviously got the new record to play, so that automatically puts a chunk of those in the set and we wanted to mix in a few ‘new-old’ ones, if you like. We always tend to put a span of songs going through the ages really, so we decided to kinda work on a few oldies like ‘Walking The Ghost’, ‘Hang On’ and ‘Sandman’ (Hup-Springs to the fans) and we had a high success rate basically, so it was kind of “great, let’s get them in”. They were fun for us to play and exciting, so it was only when we looked at the setlist after we constructed it that we realised that it might be challenging for people. I mean, we will be tweaking it and I don’t quite know…the second night was slightly different from the first but people seem to be getting it. The bottom line of it is that we’re there every night at every bloody James gig, you know. So we have to make it special for us otherwise it would get very monotonous and dull and boring and that would defeat the object for everybody because we wouldn’t be 100% then, because we’d be running through the motions. So, it’s just a matter of getting that balance right, so people go away feeling that they have been challenged a bit but also satisfied.”
Q: If you look back over James history, the words and phrases most often used to describe the band, particularly in the eighties and nineties were ‘difficult’, ‘awkward’, ‘bloody-minded’. I wondered whether you felt you had done your time as a returning band and could safely return to the old ways.
“I think it is less conscious. There wasn’t any big decision to do that really. I think when we came back, with the album ‘Hey Ma’ and everything around that time, I think it was kind of establishing ourselves back again as James. That seemed like a big enough challenge and taking on other concepts would confuse the picture at that stage and that didn’t really seem appropriate then. It was just like, get an album, all be in the same room together and everything’s cool, got a bunch of songs and we’ve got a record deal. In some respects, the basics seemed like the main thing we needed to focus on. Coming out of the other side of that, especially looking at these bunch of songs for these two mini-albums, it’s like we need to push something a bit.”
Q: You’ve already mentioned that the songs are very different from ‘Hey Ma’ to ‘he Night Before’. Was this deliberate?
“It was just following the songs really and the way we seemed to work, without us really talking about this, is that from bunch of songs, you just look for something a little bit different. Something inside of you is going “We can’t just do what we did on the last one”. It’s got to be a little bit ‘somethingy’ and I don’t know what that is. It’s difficult and it’s only on reflection that you can kinda look back and go “Well what is it, what is the difference? Is it more edgy, I don’t know.” I think the record turned out really well. I think it was a risky strategy doing it from different parts of the world but it worked. I can’t help but just want to play in a room with people, inherently and that’s the bottom line of it. You know, we’re going in the studio for five days to do the second mini-album (The Morning After) straight after the tour. We’ve got two days off and then we’re straight in for five days in a big room, playing together, the idea being that we’ve finished the tour, so we should be playing well hopefully, by then (laughs). That excites me. Yes, we argue. Yes, it’s hardly cost effective and I totally understand all that but there’s something about all of us being people and being a bunch of musicians that it seems silly not to try and capitalise on.”
Q: So, do you already have the seeds of songs for ‘The Morning After’?
“We’ve got a bunch of stuff. Basically, it’s all come from the writing period, which is kind of everything up to when we started working on the first record (The Night Before). The decision to do the two was that they were written in two areas, whether we liked it or not, which is what me and Tim and Larry always do. We stick on a drum machine and it belts out through the P.A. and we bang along to it. Then, we switch it off and someone’s making a brew or whatever and somebody will play something and it’s just lovely and gentle. It’s something that all of us, not just the three of us do so collectively and naturally, just gentle and lovely and beautiful and we end up with loads of them at the end of a writing session. At the end of an album, there’s loads left over and it’s hard to know what to do with them. We end up with one on an album like ‘Out To Get You’ or ‘Top of The World’. Just one stuck somewhere so the album doesn’t keep doing that (makes a wave motion with his hand). So, we thought we’d just split them off, so that we have two records, one that is more upbeat and one that is low-key and has got a character and identity to it.”
Q: So, we should expect ‘The Morning After’ to be a lush, gentle record?
“Well that’s the concept but we’re useless at concepts. We’re absolutely useless with coming up with a concept and seeing it through. The song dictates. At the end of the day, the song will go. I’ve done a few interviews where I conceptualise where the album will go and I might make a right fool of myself (laughs). It’ll come out and it’ll be nothing like that. But that’s the idea and at least it means that the start point for these songs are things that would ordinarily get left behind and I kinda like that. Even if they end up being more full-on than the plan now, I like the fact that we’d usually go”
Q: Is live music, for a band like James the only way to make money?
“For us, it’s the best way.”
Q: Does the lack of radio play frustrate you?
“It frustrates me that it’s difficult to get across to new people. It seems like that’s the only downside but again that’s why you have to push the internet. It’s amazing, even looking at the reaction we have in places that we’ve never played, when a record comes out. From peer to peer, stuff gets spread and you get heard in places where, ordinarily you’d have to go around in a van for six months, you know. No, it doesn’t really bother me that much. I mean, again, you’re talking about revenue streams and we do ok compared to a lot of bands because we we’ve still got a chunk of people who want to own a CD because of the demographic of James. We’re lucky in that respect and that’s wonderful because we’re got a revenue stream to encourage us and to pay for us to do new music, which would be a nightmare if that wasn’t there, you know? That would be awful.”
Q: Are mini-albums the future then?
“We’ll see how it goes, I suppose. The main thrust of it was the two different types of music but I kinda like the idea that it gives you more of a shelf-life for the music and keeps the plate spinning. If you’re not careful, what happens is the album comes out, there’s a big build-up, a chunk of press, it pops in the charts for a week and then disappears and that’s the end of it. It’s kinda like “Can we just break that up?”, just smaller chunks of music. It gets a bit of kafuffle around it, generates some interest and then not that much later, there’s another one. I like that idea. Whether it works in practice, whether it’s something we’ll keep doing, I don’t know. But again, it’s just about swamping the market. You want to keep people’s interest.”
So, the future is bright. We talk about a potential box-set which is currently being worked on by the guy who compiled the recent box-set by The Fall. Plans for the next tour are already advanced and don’t rule out James playing one of their classic albums in full, as is the current vogue. Oh, and Jim Glennie would like to be re-incarnated as a cat and that isn’t something you learn everyday.
‘The Night Before’ by James is out on Monday 19th April.