Psychedelic indie rock survivors James are heading back to Hull for the first time in 25 years – and it’s set to be a wander down memory lane for guitarist Saul Davies
James openly admit they’re not the easiest of bands to support.
The Mancunian indie outfit, best known for trippy pop masterpieces such as Sit Down, Confusion and Laid, has never been an outfit to settle for the easy option.
Instead of resting on their considerably bushy, multi-harmonied laurels and pumping out crowd-pleasing “best of” tours and rose-tinted 90s love-ins, they’ve refused to play the nostalgia game; deciding instead to confront fans with new material and shy away from their best-known chart hits.
But for James’ Hull-raised guitarist Saul Davies, the band’s membership of the awkward squad is something all veteran bands should aspire to.
“We’ve never been ones for just going out and doing the old hits,” he says.
“If we ever turn into a tribute band to ourselves then I think that’s the point when we should give up.
“But I think we’re lucky we have the fans that we do. It’s quite dangerous to go in front of 20,000 people and play a lot of songs that no-one ever heard before. But, when we do the new stuff it gets a really good response and, I think, because we know we’re a good band we have the confidence to be able to go out and try new things.
“You don’t want to be trapped by the past.”
Saul, a former Sir Henry Cooper School pupil who spent much of his youth growing up in Hull after his parents moved to the city for work, says he will always remain thankful for the legions of fans who have stuck by the group.
“We’ve done a lot to alienate them down the years,” laughs Saul down a shaky landline from his home back in his native Scotland.
“We’ve not always taken the most obvious route, but they’ve still backed us, they’ve still turned out to see us.”
Saul and the rest of the seven-piece outfit will be hoping the bedrock of fandom is still there when they release their new – and 14th – album, titled The Girl At The End Of The World, in 2016.
The album hasn’t had the easiest of gestations admits singer Tim Booth – and this is from a band that’s endured more then its fair share of troubles down the years. They even split in 2001 before tentatively reforming six years later.
“Bands talk about that difficult second album but it’s the trickster 14th one that’s the real nightmare,” says Booth of the making of the new record.
“As always with James it’s a collaborative process allowing ample room for improvisation, intuition, skill and dumb luck,” he adds.
“From the outside our process looks like chaos, but chaos is our friend and we have a history that gives us confidence that something magical will eventually appear. Most of my best lyrics are unconscious typos so don’t ask me what it’s about; your projection is as good as mine.
“This was perhaps the most difficult and stressful album we have ever made.”
The album will be swiftly followed by a UK tour which, as well as taking in some of the country’s enormo-dome arenas, will also be dropping in on Hull’s more intimate Hull City Hall on Monday, May 16.
Tickets for the show are on sale and the album is available to pre-order now.
Next May will be the first time in 25 years that the group has graced the City Hall stage and it looks set to be something of a homecoming for Saul.
The guitarist says he didn’t insist on the band playing Hull – “if that were the case, I’ve been doing a pretty rubbish job for 25 years” he laughs – but he was delighted when he saw it pop up on the tour itinerary nonetheless.
“We haven’t played Hull City Hall since 1990,” he says.
“And I absolutely can’t wait. Our other guitar player Adrian is from Hull too, so the guest list is going to be a big one that night.”
Saul’s memories of Hull are happy – often musical – ones.
He joined his first school band in Hull, its name lost to the mists of time, and he marinated his youthful talent in the city’s buoyant music scene of the time citing groups such as The Red Guitars as early influences.
“I went to a lot of rock gigs at Hull City Hall when I was a kid. Wishbone Ash, Uriah Heep,” he says wistfully.
“I went to everything, no matter how preposterous it was. Then I discovered The Welly and all the bands playing there. That was my early musical education really.”
Despite all the huge success James has enjoyed since forming in 1982, selling 25million albums, scoring 19 UK Top 40 singles and playing to hundreds of thousands of fans around the world, Saul admits that one of the proudest moments of his career was returning home to play at City Hall after joining James in 1989.
“It was weird for me,” he explains. “Going away to Uni in Manchester, joining some odd, spiky, pop, punky band and then coming back to play where I’d seen all these amazing gigs; to come back and actually be on the stage instead of watching it.
“I’ll admit when I saw it on the tour list for next year I cackled. It’s going to be a real wander down memory lane for me.”