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TWO DATES AT THE BRIDGEWATER WILL SHOW THE BAND IN A NEW LIGHT – BACKED BY A 22-PIECE ORCHESTRA AND A 16-STRONG CHOIR
There are quite a few bands we Mancunians like to think of as our own. It seems we have competition from an unlikely source for James, though – Peruvians are turning out in their gigs over there.
The band found a fanbase in the surfing community, which spread the word to a younger generation “I went up Machu Picchu and people were singing ‘I want to go home’ which is off the Hey Ma album,” said lead singer Tim Booth. “We’ve got no record sales out there and then 15,000 to 20,000 people turn up at gigs – where did this come from? It’s quite bizarre.”
The band are back on home soil and in their home town next week, but in a way we’ve rarely heard them before – accompanied by Orchestra of the Swan and the Manchester Consort Choir. The idea was sparked by their performance at the Manchester Versus Cancer gig at the M.E.N. Arena two years ago, when they collaborated with the BBC Philharmonic and composer Joe Duddell for what was supposed to be a one-off performance.
“We loved what we heard but the concert was a bit fraught because we only had a couple of hours of rehearsal time,” said Tim. “So we were like: ‘let’s do that again’… and this is the ‘doing it again’.” No one can deny that orchestras and choirs add drama; and set against the backdrop of the Bridgewater, the songs are likely to take on a new level of emotion. “We’re trying to make the evening a treat, especially for hardcore James fans,” explained Tim.” Some people have been to see us 20 or 30 times, so we wanted to play a gig where even they are surprised by the song choices, and hear songs in a way they’ve never heard before.”
The back catalogue is extensive, accounting for 25 million album sales, and the band hope to play at least one song from every album. Fellow Mancunian Duddell has spent months translating the songs into orchestral scores. “There’s hardly been a song where it didn’t seem to have worked – maybe two out of 35 where we thought, ‘oh, that’s not quite there’, but the rest are working really well. We have a violinist, a trumpet player and a keyboard player in the band, and so they gave Joe the starting points on which to orchestrate,” said Tim.
James fans are a loyal bunch, many having followed the band since their early incarnations in the 80’s, through their signing and subsequent departure from Factory Records, commercial recognition in the early 1990s, then splitting up and reuniting. Chart successes including Come Home, Laid and the still-ubiquitous Sit Down – there can’t be many of us who haven’t followed that instruction in drinking establishments over the years. But for fans, some of the greatest tracks are those that passed under the radar of the masses but highlight the band’s talents for soul-stirring, like Say Something, Out To Get You and Sometimes. James are an important part of Manchester’s musical story and while in town next week they will be receiving a ‘PRs for Music Heritage’ award. A plaque will be unveiled on the site of The Hacienda on Whitworth Street, where the original group – Jim Glennie, Paul Gilbertson, Gavan Whelan and Tim Booth – played their first official gig as James in November 1982. Tim, Jim, Larry, Saul, Mark, Dave and Andy, along with Peter Hook of New Order, will be at the ceremony on Tuesday at 2pm; and everyone is welcome.
Last week, Madchester peers The Stone Roses sold out a fast wave of 150,000 tickets for June’s comeback Heaton Park gigs in a mere 14 minutes. But James did do their own version – albeit four years ago, after six years apart. At the time, we weren’t hearing of a band reuniting every week, so the announcement smacked less of the bandwagon but still came as a surprise – particularly for those of us who waved goodbye at an emotion-laden farewell concert in 2001. But rather than being mercenary the reasons for the reunion were much purer – the band were in a bad place with addiction and the hiatus brought a fresher, clearer vision and a rejuvenated drive to create music. “It always felt like the music was still there, which was frustrating to walk away from. But as a band we’d become so dysfunctional in terms of our relationships that it wasn’t enjoyable anymore.” said Tim of the split. “We came back because everyone was in a better frame of mind, were more grounded and had also got to the point of reappreciating James. You get taken for granted if you’re around too long and we felt that not only had our audiences done that but we were guilty of it, too.”
The reunion tour sold out in a matter of hours; fans overjoyed that the James of old were back. They released Hey Ma in 2008, followed last year by two well-received mini albums, The Night Before and The Morning After. “We were adamant that we didn’t want to be a heritage act; we wanted to move forward and keep making music that was as good as it had been in the past that’s been our litmus test and our standard that we try to maintain. As long as – in our minds and in our fans’ minds – we maintain that standard, we’ll still be here.”
Next year spells a quieter year of writing and touring away from the UK, with concerts planned in Spain, Portugal and South America. But while the overseas fanbase is growing steadily, I’ll hazard a guess that some of the most die-hard fans are to be found in and around this city. “Manchester is our home town, it’s always going be special.” said Tim. “We change our set list every night, we improvise and adapt, but of course an orchestra can’t quite do that, so we will see… but it looks like we’ll be doing quite a few extra different songs on the Manchester nights: we want to make it really special.”
The Bridgewater Hall, October 31 and November 1. From £35. Visit www.bridgewater-hall.co.uk