Baggy, shoegaze, Britpop, the new garage rock revival… countless scenes have come and gone over the 30 years since Tim Booth founded survivors James.
If you’re looking to catch up or fill in the gaps in your collection, today sees the launch of the career-spanning box set The Gathering Sound, featuring every single, album, B-side and much more besides.
To celebrate the landmark release, Digital Spy sat down with Tim to quiz him on all things James, Brian Eno, Coldplay and more.
This isn’t the end of James, is it?
“No, it’s definitely not the end. I’ve just come back from Gairloch in Scotland. We locked ourselves in a hotel in the middle of nowhere – five of us – and wrote a lot of songs. We worked on a lot of songs and demos and there’ll be an album next year. We’re still kicking.”
So why now for the big retrospective?
“Ask Universal! We tried to release this a year and a half ago. They had a lot of technical issues. Our fans were very patient with us. We had to keep sending it back… it wouldn’t work with Macs, or the USB sticks broke – we’re not giving that to our fans! But we knew we were approaching 30 and we felt like let’s get it all together. It feels like an honour. And there’s so much material – we’re not The Stone Roses.”
The USB has top-quality FLAC versions of the songs…
“We fought for that – hard. Our first fight with Universal – they wanted a cheap USB stick that would take the MP3s, and we said, ‘They’ve got to be able to choose’. I don’t listen to MP3s. I can tell the difference – f**k the scientific research, I can tell the difference! You can feel it. I wish iTunes did other options. I love iTunes, but I’d rather download on a higher quality.”
What rarities should the fans listen out for in the collection?
“We put a lot into our B-sides, we always did – we never really differentiated. Sometimes our B-sides were failed A-sides that for some reason or another we didn’t release them. Like ‘I Defeat’, which was a duet with Sinead O’Connor, which we were just stupid not to have released as an A-side! On some of those too the pressure would come off to present a polished piece of A-side, and we’d experiment, or take a few extra risks, and the risks often paid off. I think our B-sides album is killer.”
Is it a shame that the B-side has died in the iTunes age?
“Yes, but I don’t know how many bands approached it like we did. Some bands obviously did, but I don’t know what percentage. You see too many albums where there’s only two good songs on the bloody thing, it’s ridiculous. It’s a short-term mentality too. Someone gets a good album away, they know you’ve looked at all those songs, they’re going to come back… and now they’re just going to cherry-pick the two pieces of music, no-one’s foolish enough to buy the whole album on-spec.”
Why have James managed to survive so long, through so many scenes?
“I left in 2001 and we’ve come back stronger and cleaner and healthier. That’s been really great. That was the only reason I agreed to let us reform was that everyone was in a much better state, had kids and was settled. We’ve had the most fun since we’ve been back than in any period of James. We’re at our most potent at the moment and have been for a few years.
“Even when we haven’t liked each other as people, I don’t think there’s a moment where we thought we’d find better musicians. The album Millionaires we were the most dysfunctional we’ve ever been, but we still made a half-decent album. We were improving our relationships by Pleased To Meet You, and that reflects that. And we had Brian Eno.
“When you’ve got Brian Eno you’re not going to give up. Everywhere I went, Michael Stipe would say ‘How did you get to work with Brian Eno, I’ve been trying to work with him for years’. Flea would say ‘How did you get to work with Brian Eno for five albums?’ We had that. Brian God bless him says we were his favourite band. We had an amazing time with him. He’s definitely the fifth Beatle. And we miss him!”
Is there any chance of him working with James again?
“I doubt we have the money to work with Brian Eno. He seems to only work with the millionaires! But you never know! I almost don’t want to ask him because he’s a friend of mine.”
I don’t think Brian would have worked with a guitar band like Coldplay had he not worked with you before…
“Excuse me for blowing our own trumpet, but Chris Martin wanted to work with him because of James. He’s an unabashed, uncool – it’s uncool to love James – James fan. He says he became a singer because of us. So they approached him from that phase, which was really lovely. So I know we’re in the mix somewhere, which is really sweet.”
There are quotes from Bernard Butler to Peter Kay in the box set – is there such a thing as an archetypal James fan?
“No. And I hope there isn’t. It’s really funny. I love strange friendships that happen. If you saw a list of James celebrity fans you’d find it very weird. It’s a really fantastically diverse and odd mixture of people.”
Is there any chance of working with Bernard Butler again? Could he work with James?
“I don’t know about James, but I would work with Bernard. I love Bernard. Bernard wanted me to leave James and asked me to leave James. He drew up discussions with Geoff Travis and it was going to be two albums minimum. And I couldn’t leave James at the time. I couldn’t leave them in it – we were in a rough place at the time. I had to say no.
“I didn’t say no because of his ability! I thought he was astonishing, and I still do. One of the greatest guitar players I’ve ever worked with. I would love to work with him, so I’d never say not to that. But he was a bit upset by that. So I’ve no idea where I’m at in his affections!”
You’re touring with Echo & The Bunnymen – did you always like them or were you Mersey rivals?
“I’ve always been a fan. I saw the first tour they did. I saw them play at the Leeds Science Fiction Festival. McCulloch always had a great voice. Will is a great guitar player. Totally a fan.”