James Glennie is the bassist for and namesake of English rock band, James. He is the band’s longest serving member, having been there from the first line-up through to the present.
Forming the band with best friend, Paul Gilbertson in 1982 and with Tim Booth joining shortly after, James quickly got a reputation for being a very good live band.
In 1985 Gilbertson was asked to leave the band, and Glennie was quite badly affected by this decision, having lost a very close friend and musical companion. Glennie stuck it out, however, and remained true to the James cause. He and the band’s singer Tim Booth often had many conflicts, with Booth leaving in 2001 to pursue a solo career.
But with Booth re-joining in 2007, James have gone on to release albums and to continue to be best known for their live performances.
Whilst busy preparing for their forthcoming tour, James took time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Jim how are you?
I’m very well Kevin thanks for asking. How are you?
I’m great thank you apart from this bloody weather. It’s awful (laughter).
I have to tell you this, I live on the North-West coast of Scotland and the weather has been remarkably nice recently.
(Laughter) it’s not always as nice as this Kevin I can assure you of that.
Let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
Before we go on let me just say that I first saw James here in Nottingham at the Royal Concert Hall over thirty years ago now. You were supporting The Smiths on their Meat Is Murder tour.
Wow Kevin that’s amazing. I have to tell you that the Meat Is Murder tour was really mad (laughter). The Smiths were really good to us back in those days. They kindly took us under their wing and let us support them on that tour. At the time James as a band didn’t have any money and The Smiths paid for us to go on that tour with them, despite them being offered an absolute fortunate by record companies to take other bands on that tour. They very kindly took us and that was one of the big stepping stones for us starting our career within the music business. The tour lasted for six weeks here in the UK and every show was completely sold out. It was an amazing experience.
I have to ask you Jim, just how is life treating you at this moment in time?
Things are going really well at the moment. We are just getting into the flow of things with the new record. 2015 was a really busy year for us and things are going really well.
After you released your last album La Petite Mort did you feel that there was a swing in the bands popularity?
That’s right Kevin things were suddenly moving forward and to be honest it felt great. After getting back together in 2006 we have been working on a regular basis but have mainly been under the radar. However when we released La Petite Mort in 2014 there was a sudden burst of interest and enthusiasm once again from the big wide world out there.
And did that bring rewards for the band?
Yes it did Kevin. After releasing and touring with La Petite Mort we subsequently signed a new three album deal with BMG and The Girl At The End Of The World will be the first of those albums. So what you now have is a group of slightly more mature musicians (laughter) enjoying a slightly bizarre Indian summer (laughter). It is wonderful, absolutely wonderful.
On 18th March this year you will be releasing your new album The Girl At The End Of The World. Are you happy with the album?
We are all over the moon with it Kevin. We are really, really pleased with it. The only difficult part of making this record was that unlike our normal scheduling, these two records are coming out fairly close together by our standards. So we had no sooner to come to the end of promoting La Petite Mort then we were back into the studios recording The Girl At the End Of The World and that is just how BMG wanted it. They said that whilst we had got a head of steam up, and whilst we had got the momentum, they thought that we should push on and record the next album. The only downside was that everything had to be condensed into such a short space of time and that has caused us all too recently suffer from a mild sense of panic (laughter).
It has just been a massive pile of deadlines and being musicians rather than business people we are not very good at dealing with deadlines really (laughter). We are used to working with a vague date being pencilled into our diaries which is fairly relaxed and moveable but this time people were telling us that if we didn’t get everything done by a certain date, then we couldn’t release it in the first quarter of this year. It would have put us back to an autumn release so it has been a little panicky from our side just getting everything done that we needed to get done within the timeframe. But that’s ok Kevin, it’s a nice problem to have.
How are things working out for you with BMG, is it a nice fit?
Things are really nice because they are not like a traditional record company, they see themselves as being a publishing company. They never really work with you as a company unless they are handling your publishing. They allow you to compile your own team who are going to be working on your record, and they also encourage you to employ people who are excited about working with the band together with their new project. That way you don’t end up working with a bunch of nineteen year olds who don’t have a bloody clue about what they are doing (laughter). Instead you can go out and hire people who understand the position that James have within the industry and who have got a plan as to how to make that work.
The whole set-up within BMG works really well for us. The people who are there at BMG we seem to get along really well with. They are all really cool and relaxed. Plus it is a really good deal unlike it was back in the dark ages when it felt as though you were signing away your first born. BMG seem to have got this work model that is based around recording and publishing but they also join the two bits together. They are either happy enough or daft enough to want to do three albums with us Kevin (laughter).
Don’t forget that you are now under extra pressure from Bono to give your work away for free now.
(Laughter) perhaps we would consider doing that if we had as much money as he has (laughter). Everybody is coming up with ways to try to get their music out there to the people but I feel that we are a little sheltered from that aspect of the business because James have a slightly older demographic. But having said that, every time that you release a record, we seem to get a bunch of young kids who are getting into us for the first time. That’s one of the great things about the internet, it allows kids to circumvent the music industry and it allows people to hear the music without having to go through the machinery of having to convince people via the TV and radio that they should be listening to your music. The internet allows them to do it for themselves.
I do feel sorry for the bands that are now coming into the industry and who are trying to make it work. So as I said earlier I feel that we are a little more protected from that as a large chunk of our hard-core fans still want to own a record or a CD that they can listen to and put back on the shelve. It’s a funny world out there which is constantly shifting.
On the subject of records, will you be releasing The Girl At The End Of The World on vinyl?
Yes Kevin it will a double album on high quality vinyl especially after the success that we had after releasing La Petite Mort on vinyl. World-wide sales of vinyl are up by 2% which I know doesn’t sound like a lot but the real story is that last year vinyl sales went up by 22% which is amazing. I love the thought that instead of people listening to the new album on a poor quality download that they have squeezed onto their mobile phones and are hearing it through their little ear buds as they sit on the train heading home after work, people will be sitting down to listen to the album with a big picture of the art work in front of them, they go to the trouble of taking the album out, cleaning it and then sitting down and actually listening to it on a pretty good system you would hope.
I love that old school feeling of people not just listening to music whilst they do whatever, but that listening to the album on vinyl would be more of an occasion for them. The great thing is that it is not just oldies getting back into it by any stretch of the imagination, the kids are really getting into it in a big way. I guess that it’s funny, it’s strange just how these things come back around again (laughter).
At the end of the day it’s great that people are finally realising that vinyl gives a better quality sound and more to the point it is far warmer that a CD.
Yes absolutely Kevin you are 100% right. It has always pained musicians certainly from the days of iTunes and more recently streaming, seeing the quality of your music just getting squeezed and squeezed and squeezed into a worse and worse format. You go to all of that trouble to record a record; months of pain, grief, and hassle and then somebody just compresses the hell out of it just so they can get ten thousand songs on their phone. It is really painful, was it really worth all of our trouble? It is a really great feeling when someone puts your work onto a turntable and says wow, this is amazing and they are really appreciating your work.
Is the album now all ready to go?
Yes it is Kevin. Although it won’t be released until March we have already had to sign off on the masters. The next step now is that in the not too distant future we will be receiving test presses of the album. To be honest we were under a heavily pressed time schedule during the past couple of weeks to get everything signed off on primarily for the vinyl. We had to spend time working on the time-splits on the sides and everything. The problem with vinyl is that at this moment the demand is outstripping the supply. The vinyl recording and pressing plants were a part of the industry which simply folded. Now the demand is once again there its difficult finding someone who knows how to do it (laughter).
Now that the album is finished and all ready to go, do you as a band have to forget about it until its release date because if you listen to it is there not a danger that you will want to re-record parts of it as you may thank that you could have done things differently?
Yes you are totally correct Kevin. Fortunately for us it has now been taken out of our hands as it had to be finished, but the worst part is that you can find yourselves keep fiddling with the bloody thing (laughter). If you continually listen to a song then you will want to do things slightly differently because you will without doubt start overthinking things, you just do. I know from experience that that would be a potential problem for us, we would be wanting to mess around with everything. They do say that you never finish an album, you abandon it and I think that is so true. At some point it is taken off you by the grown-ups (laughter).
Our collective worry was that if the album had been left with us for an extra six months we would quite possibly mess the thing up. It would be virtually impossible for us to leave it alone (laughter). So I am really glad now that we can’t do that. With regards to listening to it, yes you do need a break and what we tend to try to do is to put the record to one side. However before we know it we will be starting rehearsals for the tour; we will also be promoting the record, and we will have to know the songs and know what we are doing. So we will have to start listening to the album once again but I personally feel that a little break, to clear your mind, leaving all of that behind is very important.
Is it, in your opinion, the best album that you have made?
It is difficult for me to be objective Kevin. What I can say is that we are all really impressed with the album. We were all pretty impressed with what we did with La Petite Mort and that seemed to move us on somewhere with regard to recordings. I don’t think that we have always necessarily manged to really embrace the recording process and I think that sometimes it has been rather difficult for us. I think that on La Petite Mort something shifted when we managed to find Max Dingle who is prepared to put up with us and somehow get the power that we get in our live performances down on the record. Max deconstructed us and musically built us back up again. I was so impressed with him for doing that.
With this record we have gone back into the studio and have tried to move on, tried to push it that little bit further, and I also think that the song writing process is stronger on this record. I think that the song writing is reflected better on this record than on the last record. La Petite Mort was the first record that had the five of us writing on it. We were very pleased with how it went but it was the beginning of a new relationship really. Instead of there just being the three of us writing, there were five of us. On this record it was bang straight in again; there was no big gap between the recordings, it has kind of moved on from there. I think the new album reflects that.
Is it the best record that I have ever written, I don’t know. Having said that, I know that it is definitely up there.
What was it like working with Brian Eno again?
Brian’s input was kind of sporadic problem solving. We had some songs which we had some issues with which we couldn’t fathom basically, we found ourselves banging our heads against a brick wall. Sometimes some songs fall really easily into your lap; they really do whilst most songs don’t (laughter). Some songs seem fairly obvious what you are going to do and where you are going to go but you can’t seem to realise them, you can’t seem to make them work. And that is where Brian Eno comes into his own because he is such an abstract thinker that he throws you curve balls and presents you with something that is a very different kind of song to the one that you were originally trying to write. They all seem to come from a Brian Eno dimension (laughter).
Eno is wonderful, he has an irreverence to music which we all find really refreshing. He is happy to abandon everything that you have worked so hard on and come up with something completely and utterly different. He is a great man to have behind you, he really is and he helps us out in our hour of need.
Do you still get a buzz out of touring or is it a necessary evil?
I absolutely love touring Kevin, I absolutely love it. This year will probably be different for us as the album will probably do very well and we will find ourselves on a stupid world tour (laughter). We always tend to keep the balance right because most of the members of the band have got families and so we don’t tend to disappear around the world for months on end like we used to, and let me tell you Kevin it used to be very hard. It’s a very different way of touring now as band members bring their families along with them and so we just love touring. Touring is the essence of where we do what we do, we just get out there and wallop people with our music (laughter).
We love the live relationship that we have with our fans; we love the fear and we are the kind of band who does not want to over rehearse the fear out of our performances. We have nurtured that and we like that excitement. However when you have that attitude things can and do go wrong (laughter). But still things happen as well, and the crowd appreciate and understand that from us.
And you are coming back to The Royal Concert Hall in May, are you looking forward to it?
As you have said Kevin, we have played there before. Coming back as the headliners though is absolutely great and I am certain that it will be just as good if not better than the first time. We always have a fantastic time whenever we visit Nottingham. It’s a lovely city.
You seem to have a special kind of relationship with some hard-core fans. Would you agree with that?
Entirely Kevin, without a shadow of a doubt. We can never thank them enough for being so open and how they have allowed the band to develop. Perhaps that is why we are still here after thirty-four years. The fans don’t get bored of it and the band don’t get bored of it simply because we keep on changing everything all of the time. Whenever they come to see us they won’t necessarily get all of the big hits that they want, but that is just the way that it is with a James gig (laughter). If we did that all of the time we would get bored with it and pack it in. So we shift and change things all of the time. We put songs in where we have to work really hard to make it work and sometimes it works brilliantly while other times it’s a bit crumbly (laughter). But the fans love it and they appreciate us for trying.
If you are shooting for something and you cock-up, the fans appreciate that. The worst thing that you can do is not to aim that high just so that you don’t make a mistake. That is so against the ethos of this band. As we have got older we have got much better at accepting that things will go wrong sometimes (laughter). We now find it funny rather than disappearing down a big black hole like we used to do back in the day (laughter).
Between 2001 and 2007 when James split, what did you get up to?
Despite the rumours I did actually stay in music and I still worked on productions with songwriters. I did things that I wanted to do which were fairly under the radar. I played with a lot of people who I enjoyed playing with which simply didn’t fit within the James remit. I just tended to keep everything fairly low-key. I just tried to enjoy myself Kevin.
On that note let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me and I am looking forward to seeing you here in Nottingham at The Royal Concert Hall on 21st May.
Thanks a lot Kevin, it’s been great. Cheers for now.