Set 1 – Dream Thrum / Lookaway / Fairground / Really Hard / Say Something / Dust Motes / Hello / Just Like Fred Astaire / Of Monsters And Heroes And Men / We’re Going To Miss You / Hey Ma
Set 2 – English Beefcake / Bubbles / The Lake / She’s A Star / Fire So Close / Top Of The World / Hymn From A Village / Sometimes / Someone’s Got It In For Me / Space
Encore – Alaskan Pipeline / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Medieval
VIP Soundcheck – We’re Going To Miss You / Alaskan Pipeline / Fire So Close
OK, so we’re now a night in to the tour, there’s less room for surprises in the set after the unveiling of so many long-hidden resurrected gems so there’s no element of the entirely unexpected. What tonight does give though is the opportunity to listen closer without the initial shock of them playing a song they haven’t played for twenty years and then following it up with another one. Quite understandably at this point, there’s no real change to the setlist other than Getting Away With It being moved to the encore, but what is immediately noticeable tonight is that there’s an increased confidence on stage from everyone.
The most beautiful thing though is the joy and excitement radiating from everyone up there; from Tim playfully picking up a music stand and pulling the violinist away from his seat into the middle during Fairground, to Jim sitting legs crossed at the side of the stage on a song he doesn’t play on clapping along with the rest of us, to Larry jumping into the crowd and finding himself a seat to listen to the Tim / orchestra / choir only She’s A Star, to Saul at his comedy best between songs and his violining best on Top Of The World, to the girls in the choir dancing and singing along to songs they don’t perform on that were written before they were born, to the mutual admiration and respect between Andy and the brass section of the orchestra. At the end of a frenzied Fairground, Tim describes the collaboration as the chaos of James, meeting the beautiful organisation of the orchestra and he’s spot on.
I’ll save song-by-song evaluations for the rest of the tour and pick out the highlights of the set. Fairground, as mentioned earlier, has Tim picking up the lead violinist’s music stand up, forcing him to follow Tim to be able to read the music. Tim is dancing at one point as he does this, so the violinist has to follow his moves. There’s a standing ovation for the violinist at the end from the crowd, and also from other members of the orchestra.
Two of the girls from the choir join the band at the front of the stage for Say Something, prompting Saul to act surprised and ask where they came from. They are much more audible in the mix tonight, which is a good thing, as it makes the song even more unique in this setting.
The combination of Dust Motes and Hello works beautifully again. Mark’s piano and Tim’s vocal in the quieter parts of the songs pierce the atmosphere of what is a very large hall. What is also great to see is the respect this is being given by the audiences. There’s an odd call for Johnny Yen at the start of the encore, but other than that the response to the lesser known songs is just as strong as for the hits. Tim acknowledges this early in the second set where he tells the crowd “you’re getting this, aren’t you?”
As in Cardiff, Tim goes walkabout during Just Like Fred Astaire. He jokes on returning that it’s a bad idea for men to offer their ladies to him as he walks past.
Into the second set, The Lake, in its bolder augmented form with brass and strings, is probably the highlight of the set. Its natural fragility is still there in the quieter parts, but when the orchestra kick in, it takes on a power and majesty that belies its status as a b-side, albeit still one of Tim’s favourite ever James songs.
I’d missed quite how wonderful the version of She’s A Star had been in Cardiff. It’s just Tim, the orchestra and choir. Larry jumps off stage, telling the first few rows that he’s not missing something this good and bags himself an empty seat, beer in hand, somehow bypassing the draconian security. It demonstrates the real genius of Joe in the arrangement and the orchestra in turning a rock song into an orchestral piece, which, whisper it quietly, probably surpasses the original.
You think it’s not going to get better and then you get Fire So Close, Tim augmented by four of the boys from the choir in a barber shop quintet sort of way, with Larry and the lead violinist duelling, one after the other, then together, then stopping, then starting.
Top Of The World was made for places like this. It pierces the air, it makes you shiver as the bass line hits you and then there is just the most simple but beautiful violin section that feels like it goes on for days and you never want it to end.
Hymn From A Village is one of the more ambitious and varied arrangements, you don’t recognise it at first and strings being plucked make a very different opening to the lop-sided off-kilter original. Tim misses a cue at one point and jokes at the end that he felt Joe panicking behind him to get the song back on track. I don’t think he need worry with the orchestra as their instincts take them with the flow of the song.
Sometimes gets the crowd up and with the choir, it avoids that tightrope between spontaneous and forced when the singalong kicks in. You feel that if Tim doesn’t bring it to a conclusion that everyone would still be singing along now. Larry, for some unknown reason, raises his fist in salute to the crowd and tells them “you got the job” in an American accent. Please don’t do it again 🙂
After Someone’s Got It In For Me, Tim matter-of-factly announces that it’s the last song and it’s called “Oh Sit Down”. Of course it’s not and what we get is Space, which Saul had said was his current favourite James song.
The encore starts with a chilling Alaskan Pipeline, with the choir again complementing Tim and fleshing the sound beautifully. They have a similar effect on Getting Away With It (All Messed Up), which has the crowd up on their feet again. Listening to it with the strings in the breakdown and brass in the chorus and the call and response on the “all messed up” takes it another level.
Medieval is a perfect set-closer too. The very choice of it sums up the spirit of adventure of the whole tour. It ends with everyone on stage clapping, singing the refrain and most of the audience doing the same. It’s a twenty-five year old album track that hasn’t been played for god-knows how many years, yet you’d think it was one of those big hit things with the response it gets.
And that’s it, night two another huge success. You can see the bonds between band, orchestra and choir deepening, the possibilities expanding. There’s seven more songs rehearsed and ready, but you’d struggle to pick something to drop to accommodate them, but yet you want to hear what they’ve done with those mystery seven songs as well. It’s an absolute travesty that this isn’t going to be committed to record in some form because the economics simply don’t stack up. Firstly, that’s a damning indictment of the people who don’t buy James records in favour of the latest major label fad act and the way the arts in this country are funded. A forward thinking policy on the arts would see this tour supported by the Arts Council, the BBC recording and broadcasting this and a recorded legacy of something that is truly special.