Set 1 – Dream Thrum / Lookaway / Fairground / Really Hard / Say Something / Dust Motes / Hello / Just Like Fred Astaire / Of Monsters And Heroes And Men / Hey Ma / We’re Going To Miss You
Set 2 – William Tell Overture / Boom Boom / The Lake / She’s A Star / Fire So Close / Alaskan Pipeline / Hymn From A Village / Sometimes / Space
Encore – Top Of The World / Medieval / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)
VIP Soundcheck – Boom Boom / Riders / The Shining
Glasgow is always an interesting place to see James. The gigs here are always on the edge. The Glaswegian crowds can be the best or the worst on the tour – when the energy they have that is unrivalled anywhere in the country is channeled, there’s no other gig experience like it, but there’s sometimes that enthusiasm can boil over which can ruin the atmosphere or the more risky sets might not get the response they deserve. The band talk of legendary nights at the Barrowlands, so it was always going to be intriguing to see the reaction to this set-up and the line up of songs that were to be presented to them. By the end, Glasgow proves that if you can isolate the odd dickheads in their seats rather than letting them run amok in a standing crowd then the result is something extraordinary – I doubt there will be a response like there was to Sometimes anywhere else in the country. The lesser-known songs also get the reception and respect that they deserve.
The Concert Hall doesn’t possess the acoustics of the halls of the previous two nights and for that reason the first half of the set, which is pretty much the same except for the swapover of Hey Ma and We’re Going To Miss You at the end, doesn’t quite scale the same heights. It’s not that it’s played badly or sung badly, you can see how the songs are developing and how the three parts of this journey are coming together, just that when Tim is singing along in Dust Motes or when Mark is playing the piano on Hello, it doesn’t get right through to the marrow of your bones as it had on the other nights. You really have to feel for the sound engineers pulling all this together.
For that reason, the start is a little subdued. Dream Thrum is still a thing of fragile beauty and Lookaway, despite some purists claiming it doesn’t have a chorus, has a singalong refrain to match most of the 90s “hit” output, which the choir take on and turn into a mantra.
Tim is a playful mood tonight, as will be demonstrated later. He steals lead violin David’s sheet music again, and draws him from his seat, before scrumpling the paper up and throwing it into the crowd. He describes Really Hard as their hit before they became famous and was written when Jim was in nappies, aged 16, the same age as the two girls from the choir who come down from the back to accompany Tim on Say Something. If they are 16, they wouldn’t have been born when Say Something came out, but they add so much to a song that in its usual live form had become in grave need of a rest. The audience reaction to it is predictably the loudest so far. So much so that Larry needs to quieten them down before the haunting duo of Dust Motes and Hello so that Mark’s piano can be heard.
For Just Like Fred Astaire, Tim jumps into the crowd again, a risky business in Glasgow as he acknowledges at the end, sits on someone’s knee, embraces a big guy, evades an over-enthusiastic fan with a swivel of his hips, high fives part of the front row of the upper stalls, dances with a girl at the back, and still manages to sing the whole song and make a full tour of the downstairs seats and get back to the stage by the end of the song.
Of Monsters And Heroes And Men is a dramatic song in its own right already and the addition of the orchestra and choir to it make it even more so. The Hey Ma songs work so well in this environment as is proven by the title track which ends with Joe dancing with Tim as the song powers its way to the end. We’re Going To Miss You makes more sense as the end of the first set, although the ending of the band, orchestra and choir leaving the stage and fading the song down as they do, doesn’t quite work in the way it was intended.
The start of the second set has the first changes of the tour so far. It starts with the orchestra coming back on stage, followed by Tim, who looks around for the rest of the band and calls for Jim. He picks up two conductor’s batons and the orchestra play which makes Tim drop them. He looks around, calls for Jim again, then picks up the batons again and starts conducting the orchestra who then break into the William Tell Overture whilst Tim dances wildly whilst still conducting.
Boom Boom sounds beautiful, the ending is made for the orchestra and choir harmonies, and once the crowd realise that they shouldn’t be clapping in this bit, it soars to its climax.
I’m going to run out of ways to describe The Lake very soon – the strings, the brass, Tim’s vocals reaching the very back of the hall augmented by the choir.
She’s A Star, with its guitar-free arrangement, is fast becoming a favourite too. The crowd now really start to get going and get into the gig at this point as well. Fire So Close gets more frenetic every night, Larry losing at least one guitar string mid-song, Tim and the four boys from the choir holding notes longer each night and the duel between violin and guitar more threatening every time.
Tim tells the crowd that they’re making the band feel at home and that they do wonder how someone coming wanting to hear that “nice Sit Down” song is reacting to the set. There’s a massive roar back that answers that one. Alaskan Pipeline, like The Lake, benefits from the orchestral arrangements and tonight, the choir are adding a lot more to the slower songs, whether it being more confidence or just simply a volume switch being turned up, but their contribution is as vital to this whole experience as the orchestra as they prevent Tim being lost in the midst of all the musicians on stage.
Larry then takes the microphone and makes a beautiful dedication to the memory of John Milne, aka Paranormalhandy from the James and other forums, who sadly passed away just weeks ago before this concert. It’s fitting with John’s love of early James that it’s before Hymn From A Village, albeit a version a million miles away from the recorded version John would have fallen in love with. Andy starts the song on the balcony with a minute or so of trumpet, before the orchestra kick in with plucked strings and by the end there’s brass in the mix too, and Joe ends up dancing with Tim again.
Tim then stops a heckler who’s been shouting for Johnny Yen all night by telling him they can’t just improvise songs that the orchestra won’t have heard (even though you get the feeling they’d only need to hear it once and be able to have a go at it) and Larry says that they’ll like the next one. Tim takes the mickey out of Dave for being sat in a goldfish bowl. There are no words to describe how Sometimes finishes. Yes, the ending with everyone singing back has been done to almost death, but, and it is a massive but, when it happens like it did here, the choir taking over first, turned right up volume wise, then the crowd, then the choir again, then the band and orchestra kick back in. The response at the end is overwhelming, it must have gone on for 2 or 3 minutes and would possibly still be going on now had Tim not spoken. I think the band didn’t know what to do after that, Tim said Joe suggested going off, but in order “to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” they play Space, which cannot be anything but an anti-climax after what had preceded it, but which hides the fact it works beautifully tonight.
The encore starts with a gorgeous Top Of The World, led by Jim’s bass and Saul’s violin. For Medieval, the choir are brought to the side of the stage, next to Jim and Mark, who like Saul is playing drums. As in previous nights, it’s a real highlight, what could be chaos down there on stage holds together and the choir continue the song after the band and orchestra stop playing, beautifully improvised, spontaneous and the crowd, probably a lot of them wondering what the hell the song is, going wild. It segues almost seamlessly into Getting Away With It, a fitting choice to finish the set off, as, and I’m stealing this from Alex’s review of Birmingham, almost the perfect definition of orchestral rock.
So overall, it definitely felt like a show of two halves. The first half felt subdued compared to previous nights, not helped by the acoustics of the venue (this makes the Concert Hall sound like it has awful acoustics, it doesn’t, it’s just relative), but the second half blows the rest of the tour so far out of the water. Heavens knows how much further they can take this – the connection between band and orchestra is strengthening and throwing out wilder and more wonderful moments and the choir, that given their tender years could be overawed by their company, are coming into their own and stamping their mark on this as well.