eFestivals spoke to James’ longest serving member, bass player Jim Glennie who is in the Highlands of the North West coast, enjoying some home time and a pretty mild winter whilst preparing for a busy summer including the band’s forthcoming headlining show at this summer’s Wychwood Festival.
What are you up to?
Work wise we’re building up a head of steam now, but we’ve been quietish, but it all kicks off the start of April, and it gets mental after that. But, it’s all good stuff.
You’re headlining Wychwood this year are you looking forward to that?
Very much so, I’ve never been there before, but I’ve done a little bit of research and it sounds great. We’ve consciously over the last three years shied away from the big festivals, and done loads of little festivals and they’re just wonderful. It’s the same this year we’ve got a lovely bunch of little ones to do, and they’re much more relaxed and friendly basically.
Because lots of people in the band have got kids now, it’s more of the kind of atmosphere we are used to these days, rather than a bunch of people in a muddy field getting drunk. We love them, we’ve come across some fantastic ones that we’ve had a wonderful time at, and which don’t feel like we are working. We can go there with just a very different attitude, and enjoy the day as well as the gig.
You mentioned kids, do you take your kids with you?
Well, my kids are big, and I do take my son sometimes, but he’s 22 now. All the guys in the band have little kids now. Tim (Booth) has a little son, Saul (Davies) has two young kids, and Mark (Hunter) has got two young kids, so we are a fairly family orientated band now, very different to how it used to be. It’s a nice atmosphere, it’s nice having the kids with you, having them running around on the tour bus, and it’s a lot healthier, I think, to be honest with you.
When you play a festival then, you get a chance to look around rather than just in, play, and out.
It depends where you are and what you’re doing, but we try not to do that. We try to get there as early as we can so we can enjoy it, relax, and have a mooch about and see what the festival is like, and with the smaller ones, it feels much more relaxed and you can do that. With the big ones it all gets a little bit difficult, the security is really heavy, and you can’t just wander out into a field because you don’t know what kind of nutter you’re going to bump into. It’s just a very different feel at the smaller ones, it’s just more pleasurable, and often a lot more thing going on that just the rock and roll which is always nice. You can always catch something, something weird and wonderful, a workshop or something, and Wychwood feels very much in that category. Not just based around bands playing and that’s an end to it.
Is there anyone on the bill that’s already been announced that you would like to see?
I’d like to see Bellowhead on the Friday but I don’t know whether we’re going to be there on the Friday or not. On Saturday there’s quite an eclectic mixture of people, which sounds great. The band who are on before us, I’ve never heard of them, the Mahala Rai Banda from Moldovia, they sound interesting.
The people who have put the line-up together, this is not a bunch of whoevers shoved on the bill, someone has taken the time and put some thought into finding acts who are a little bit different, and that’s great. It gives you a chance to stumble upon something you’ve never heard of before that’s going to really impress you. Yes, there’s some people I know there on the line-up, but what really excites me is the stuff I don’t know.
You mentioned you’d played a few smaller festivals this year, have you got a tour of gigs on the horizon too?
Yes, we’ve got lots of festivals throughout the summer and we’re going all over the place which will be nice. We’ve got a busy April where we play the States. We start off in Canada and go down the west coast, then we play the Coachella festival which is supposed to be brilliant, and then we’re heading down to South America doing Mexico, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina. It’s about to get very busy, and in amongst all that we’ve got to write the next record.
What we tend to do when we’re doing festivals we tend to play them at the weekends, with the gaps in between we write and lock ourselves in little rehearsal rooms somewhere and make new music. It’s going to be busy from April through to the end of the summer.
Do you think you’ll play any of that material live over the summer?
I don’t know, I wouldn’t have thought we’d have anything ready that quick, but it depends sometimes songs can be formed pretty quickly, and it’s always nice to put the fear of god in yourselves by playing something where you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s always fun, well i don’t know fun is the right word but we do like to throw ourselves in the deep end by doing things that we’re not sure of, or that the audience don’t know. It’s a challenge to make something stand up against the songs they do know requires a huge amount of effort and concentration, and that’s scary and at the same time very rewarding if you pull it off. So, I don’t know, there may be some scritchy scratchy versions of new stuff thrown in the mix at some of these shows throughout the year. It’ll be quite exciting, and a nice idea.
Can you remember what the first festival you went to was?
I think it was Glastonbury, in the the early Eighties, I’m not sure exactly what year, probably around ’81. In those days it was a fair chunk smaller, and it was just, really, really, really, really muddy. I’ve been to some Glastonburys that were absolutely amazing, and then I’ve been to some that have just been like the Battle of the Somme, where it’s been quite an ordeal really. If you get the weather then fantastic, but if you don’t get the weather then it’s going to be… difficult.
I remember vague bits of that first festival, I can’t remember anyone who was on to be honest with you. I loved it though. I think festivals are fantastic places to be, and that chance to wander around the ‘village’ of Glastonbury, of the tents, seeing what you can stumble upon, I think is wonderful. There’s still something very special about Glastonbury even though it’s got so huge nowadays. It’s a special festival though, even though it’s a big one it somehow manages to make it work.
So if you weren’t playing there next year, would you try and get a ticket?
I don’t know. It depends how busy we are depends on how much music I go to see. If we’re really busy I tend to want to just run away and just recover. When we’re quiet though I do need more music. When we’re quiet I do love to see live music, I get great pleasure from it, and get very stimulated by it.
You must have seen festivals change and evolve a fair bit over the years, what’s the main thing you’ve noticed change?
There’s just so much more than there used to be. The festival bug took off a good few years ago now, but it just seemed that every year there were more and more festivals. There’s a lot more diversity I think now, at one time it was just the Reading Festival and Glastonbury pretty much and that was it. Now you’ve got all these little offshoots, presenting something very, very different. I like the fact that they’ve taken it away slightly from the rock and roll bands playing in a muddy field and whole lot of people getting drunk.
I like the fact that there is alternatives to that now. There’s nothing wrong with that, don’t get me wrong, but there’s alternatives to that now, and Wychwood seems to be a perfect example. People of a slightly more mature age, can go, and take their kids and feel it’s safe, and not feel that anything horrible or nasty is going to happen. I think the diversification is good.
I don’t know how much the recession is going to hit any of this. I don’t know if people are going to hold onto their pennies this year, there still seems to be many people around. I hope that a lot of them don’t fall by the wayside, and I suppose through hard times people still want the release they can find in music, and to escape and enjoy themselves.
I think there were a fair few successful opportunities to do that for those people in the recession of the Seventies.
Yes, there was wasn’t there, and again a lot of it was less corporate but more throwing things together and slightly anarchic. They all got very ordered I think, and big. Now, it seems to have evolved or devolved slightly and you can play every weekend through the summer. We have done that the last two years, just little festivals up and down the country, and play to different people, all age groups, and come across some great music that you’ve not discovered before.
What other festivals are you lined up to play this summer?
We’re doing the Big Stooshie festival in Scotland, then a bunch of foreign stuff in Romania, Portugal, then good old Wychwood, then Greece, Cyprus, then we’re doing Sound Island festival in Kent. We’re doing Kendal Calling in Cumbria, and Stockton Weekender so far, but I’m sure we’ll get others in between as well.
The trouble with doing that is you’re never in one place for very long, and you spend a lot of time travelling.
Are festivals similar abroad?
No, they tend to be a different kind of set ups really, but it varies from place to place. They tend to be more just about the music, there’s just bands playing, they’ve not gone very far into the realms of family entertainment. But you do get more families going to them anyway.
There’s less division, at least there seems to be in the rest of the world, when it come to aligning yourself to certain kinds of music. You can get a whole family, generations coming to see a band, as opposed to just the kids, or just mum and dad. And guaranteed sunshine helps. They do very, we’ve plated Greece a lot, and the festivals tend to be just a bunch of bands over a few days. You arrive in the evening, you don’t stay there all day, you don’t camp, and they tend to be on the edge of Athens probably, and that tends to be what they call a festival.
There’s an odd, strange mixture of things around the world that people call festivals.
Do you still do the camping thing?
No, I like going camping but not at festivals. We tend to have the luxury of a tour bus which is kind of nice. We’re a bit spoilt in that respect, and it means we can keep out of the rain, which is a real luxury. Not that it rains all the time. Over the last few years we’ve had some fantastic festivals, we’ve had more festivals with nice weather than we’ve had bad ones.
I think in the UK though people expect bad weather, so you go prepared, you take your wellies and you take your raincoat and you’re ready for the worst of it, and then it’s a present surprise when there’s three gorgeous days of sunshine then that’s a bonus.
What’s your favourite festival memory?
Good question, we headlined Reading once. Well, I don’t know if it’s my favourite memory but it’s something that’s stuck with me forever more. We had just written a new album, which had not been released yet, and we went on, headlining the night and played virtually all of the new album which nobody had heard yet. We were then faced by this bewilderment, and audience of 50,000 people looking at us and just thinking, “What the hell are you doing?”
We managed to turn it around, and realised the error of our ways, and managed to kick in and play things that people knew. I remember thinking, “Oh god, they will never have us back here again!” To this day I don’t know what we were thinking. I think you have to have a very different approach when you play a festival. It’s different when you’re playing to a bunch of James fans, you can pretty much get away with anything. In a festival setting there’s certain guidelines and rules you have to abide by, like playing songs that for the most part, at least, people know. I’ll never forget that.
Was that quite early on in your career?
It was around ’96, and nearly the end of our career.
What about the favourite act you’ve seen at a festival?
Seeing Neil Young was fantastic, I’m a huge Neil Young fan and we had the joy of touring with him in the States. I saw him at Reading as well, as a punter, and camped. That was a bit of a nightmare as well, talking about the weather, it was absolutely roasting. I couldn’t get the tent pegs in the ground it was so hard. Eventually, after about an hours frustration I got the tent up, then went to see a couple of bands, Paul Weller was playing. Had a really big night, got back to the tent about 4 o’clock in the morning, thinking, “they’re going to be playing more music soon, just get your head down for a few hours.” Got in the tent, the sun cam up, and it was absolutely unbearably hot, and I just couldn’t stay in the tent. I had to just get up and get on with the day again. If it’s not raining it’s too hot.
Lastly, what advice would you offer a band about to play their first festival this summer?
Just enjoy it, get there early, go out for a wander around. I think that’s important, I always like to do that myself, so, you don’t feel like it’s a shock to the system when you play on stage. Just try and make a weekend of it if you’ve got the time to do it. See lots of bands, and enjoy it, and just go with it.
People tend to be at a festival for a god time, and they probably don’t know who you are. They just want to have a good time, and that’s the spirit you’ve got to treat it as a musician too. Just do your best to tag along with the party and enjoy yourselves.
Thanks very much I hope you enjoy your headlining show at Wychwood.
We’ll do our best. Thanks a lot, bye.
Wychwood music Festival returns for the seventh year to Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire from Friday 8th to Sunday 10th June 2012.
The festival is headlined by Bellowhead who top the bill on Friday, and James are Saturday night headliners, and Sunday’s headliner has not yet been announced. Also confirmed are The Damned, Duke Special, Mahala Rai Banda, Fay Hield & The Hurricane Party, Gary J Armstrong, Urusen, The Cuban Brothers, Thrill Collins, Doctor and the Medics, JuJu, The Magic Tombolinos, Howard Marks, Dizraeli and The Small Gods, The Fisherman’s Friends, Dhol Foundation, Kathryn Roberts And Sean Lakeman, and The Roving Crows. Over the coming months there will be lots more acts announced for Wychwood’s four stages including the headliners for Sunday.