James are soon to embark on a nationwide tour (which rolls into Newcastle on May 17), having just released 14th studio album ‘Girl at the End of the World’. I spoke to bass guitarist Jim Glennie about the album, the tour and life at the heart of one of the U.K’s most enduring bands.
It’s been 34 years since Jim Glennie formed James, the band which took his name. After as many spats, break up’s and comebacks as you would expect of a band of such vintage, James are back and sounding as good as ever. The new album certainly has Jim in buoyant mood. ‘I think it’s a great record, I’m really proud of it, it sort of picks up where ‘La Petit Mort’ left off. It’s almost like what we learned from the previous album, we’ve used that as the start point with this record.’
There is certainly a feel good vibe about the album which sees the band reaffirm their dancefloor roots. Produced by Max Dingel, Jim tells me that Brian Eno was also involved. ‘We took him a couple of songs, one was the single ‘Nothing But Love’, we knew we’d written a great song but we thought ‘there is something missing’, so we asked Brian what he would suggest, and he put keyboards on it, sort of arpeggiated keyboards which have become a real key feature of it, even though it is a little bit alien to the rest of the song, but in total Eno style, it just works brilliantly.”
The band have had hit albums before of course, but perhaps are often seen as a ‘great singles band’ or a ‘great live act’ which has rather unfairly left albums such as ‘Laid’ or ‘Millionaires’ overlooked, even though they more than hold their own with any records from their era. It’s an assessment Jim agrees with: “I think that has happened, perhaps some of the records have slipped a little bit under the radar, but it feels a little bit different with this one, there seems to be a little bit of a new buzz about us, which is bonkers fourteen albums in.” And in terms of those previous releases which may not have hit commercial or critical heights, he is philosophical “It’s just part and parcel of the industry we are in, sometimes you feel you’ve released a great song or album and it doesn’t seem to engage for whatever reason, but it’s still there in the annals of music history, and at some point in the future, long after we’re all gone, some kid somewhere will bump into it, and think ‘wow this is wonderful’, so it’s there forever more”
James are somewhat notorious for not just ‘bumping into’ their older songs, but rather kicking them into the long grass, as Jim explains when I ask him about the setlist for the forthcoming tour. “Obviously we’ve got bloody millions of songs to choose from, so we tend to change things around every night. We’re not a band that will go out there and play songs we don’t want to play, and quite selfishly we go out and play the songs we want to do, and I guess that’s why we’re still here after all these years. We’ll happily do a tour without playing ‘Sit Down’ or ‘Laid’ but we have a pretty big portfolio to choose from. We are kind of (currently) debating the pool of songs that we are going to choose from for the tour, it’s often nice to surprise people with things from 15 or 20 years ago that they wouldn’t expect to hear.”
I ask about the tour and the relationships within the band, Jim has had a fractious relationship with lead singer Tim Booth over the years, and I wonder if the confines of a tour put an extra strain on that. “We’ve reached an age now where you can demand your own space a little bit, and you can go off on your own for a little while. It’s like a family, you fall out, you make up, it’s just gonna happen. We’ve matured now though, gone are the days of big rows and punch ups!”
The Newcastle gig is one that Jim is looking forward to in particular. “My wife is from Consett, so I’ve spent a lot of time up in the North East, I love it up there. When I was courting my wife, she was living on Westgate Rd (Newcastle) and I’d go up there every weekend, I really loved it and I think the people are amazing. We’ve had some great gigs up there, we’ve always had a really loyal fanbase, real heartfelt passion.”
It’s a relationship that looks set to continue as well as Jim tells me that the band are committed, contractually, to at least two further albums. “It’s never felt like a long career stretching out ahead of us and it still doesn’t. We take each album as a blessing. It feels like it’s in the lap of the gods but as long as we are enjoying it, long may it last.”
Here’s hoping it does.