Oh My Heart / Seven / Ring The Bells / Laid / Jam J / PS / Space / Sound / Lose Control / Johnny Yen / Medieval / Stutter / She’s A Star / Waltzing Along / Sometimes / Hey Ma / Sit Down / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)
The Big Stooshie is an admirable concept. A three-day festival in Fife to support Help For Heroes and the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association with the aim of attracting 12,000 people to raise £100,000. James are the final night headliners and, with due respect to Glasvegas, the biggest draw on the bill. Sadly, the concept didn’t get the response hoped for and as with the other days, the festival is half-full at best. The rain doesn’t help, neither does the remote location or the ticket price in these times of austerity. The organisers have put in a huge amount of time and effort to bring bands to the area and it’s disappointing that the locals haven’t responded.
By the time James come on stage at 9pm, people have been stood around in the cold and wet for the best part of nine hours. The country club shed converted for the purpose doesn’t provide much protection from the cold and smells of horse shit. Preceding James on the main stage, we’re treated to a Kasabian tribute band (yes, seriously), what was amusingly described as “Andy Chambers (erstwhile James fan) fronting a Beastie Boys tribute act, badly”, Newton Faulkner (or Neuton Falkner as the bizarre instagram-inspired video wall called him) and a pretty shocking acoustic affair from two of Ocean Colour Scene. The second tent provided some respite, showcasing some of Scotland’s up and coming bands such as Silverboz and Phlight.
A half-full hall with fairly shocking acoustics, hours of alcohol consumption in the crowd, a tired and jet-lagged band with Tim flying up in the afternoon and you have a recipe for something approaching disaster. Or you would if it wasn’t James 2012. They take the crowd by the scruff of the neck and force them into action.
The setlist isn’t a traditional James one – Laid and Sound are thrown in early and mid-set to keep people going (and possibly prevent hypothermia setting in) and Sit Down is triumphantly rolled out in the encore. Sound even generates some incomprehensible chanting from large sections of the crowd.
It’s not all about the hits though, opening with Oh My Heart is a brave move with what they’re facing, but they pull it off effortlessly. There’s also time in the set for lesser-known tracks such as Jam J and PS, the former more successful because of its blitz of noise and light, augmented by the welcome return of Mr Geoff Buckley, whilst the latter is beautiful, but a little too fragile for the event and gets a little lost in the cavern. Johnny Yen makes a welcome return to the UK setlist after a long time away, and has been refreshed with Tim shouting over the improvised end section.
There’s also elements from the orchestra tour – Space has probably been played more this year than in its entire existence and is intense and fierce, particularly in Tim’s vocal delivery. Medieval is a raucous stomp through an ignored eighties classic James track – the sort they’d neglected for years. Lose Control, whilst not played on that tour, gets stripped back to Larry’s guitar and Andy’s trumpet and gets as close as you can to silencing the crowd in stunned disbelief at its beauty.
Stutter doesn’t fit any box. It’s James in a song – never released in studio form, now over 30 years old and every bit the centerpiece of a James set as it was back then, evolving with the band.
The set ends with a trio of singles. She’s A Star feels revitalized and fresh again and the crowd go wild. Waltzing Along is introduced as a song the band love playing in Scotland because of the reaction it gets. It does however feel a bit like James by numbers, and whilst James by numbers usually means complex trigonometric functions, Waltzing Along is one of the only two or three James songs that are 1-2-3. Of course, that’s just me being a miserable old git and the rest of the crowd love it.
Sometimes finishes the set and, given the endless rain that blighted the last few hours, it’s evocative and magnificent, slightly soiled though by a failed attempt at getting the audience to sing along. It’s not going to happen every night, and when it does it’s spectacular as it was in the Concert Hall in Glasgow in October, but it’s been 4 years of finishing on it in the UK and getting that reaction. Maybe it’s even time to get Sit Down back at the end for a tour?
The encore starts with Hey Ma, the song that links James with the charities the event is supporting. It’s a brave song to play given the subject matter of the title, but the provocativeness of it brings home the sacrifices that men and women are making in the name of our country and our government.
Sit Down, introduced as the only antidote to Hey Ma, prompts a mass sing-along, Larry ends up wearing a traffic cone hat on his head and Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) finishes off the show, with Tim ending up back on the barrier at the end of the song.
Tim’s post-gig tweet of “good chaos – with an edge” was a perfect summary of the show. The size of the crowd, the weather, the alcohol, the fact this isn’t a traditional gig venue with a in-house sound system could have meant it ended up disastrous, but it ended up as a triumph. The band had clearly gathered an strong momentum in the Americas and there were enough hits for the casual fan or fans of other bands on the bill, but taking out some of the more obvious choices (Frustration, Say Something, Come Home) in favour of the wilder, more eclectic elements of the James canon meant it was a gig for everyone and a lesson that “we’re not just a pop band”. It’s just a real shame that people didn’t come out in bigger numbers to support a wonderful cause, as a full hall would have been something spectacular to witness.