In the midst of the 1980s, a recently formed Mancunian guitar band supported Orange Juice at a local show. It was their first gig, and as a deceleration of appreciation the band named themselves after the bassist, James. Soon they were caught up in the whirlwind that was Manchester in the 80s. Morrissey blessed them and took them on tour with The Smiths, and they were quickly dubbed ‘the next big thing.’
However, not without tales of desperation concerning drug problems, cults and an unsuccessful debut. By the late 80s, James were so skint that participating in human experiment trials at Manchester Royal Infirmary for a bit of cash was a good call. Yet during this time, James had managed to spend the majority of it touring and had now acquired a solid fan base alongside a reputation of putting on a good show.
In 1991, Brian Eno produced their 5th album, Laid and the title track secured their popularity in America. The US had been broken, but James just kept going. Now we’re at studio album number 14, The Girl at the End of the World.
“You can’t shut us up, we’re really prolific”, says Jim Glennie, James’ bassist and founding member.
“The way we write is a bit odd, it’s not how most bands write songs. There’s not just one songwriter. Five of us sit down in a room and we stick on a drum machine and we play along to it improvising and making stuff up. The great thing about drum machines is that they just keep going, they don’t get tired or shy or self conscious.
“The actual jamming is dead easy and we love it. We produce a tonne of stuff that we never get to work on because we have to be brutal and pick the things we think will be the most productive. A lot of stuff just sits there for one of us to come back to in some point in the future. We never do that though, we always move on and crack on with another record.”
However, it is not a case of churning out tepid and half-hearted albums. A quick scan of Metacritic proves that the past five records have received generous reviews, and The Girl at the End of the World is on the same track with The Skinny certifying it, ‘intelligent, accomplished and likeable.’
Despite decades’ worth of critical acclaim, the odd bad review still hurts. “As much as you tell yourself that you’re not bothered and it’s just someone’s opinion et cetera, it still gets to you”, observes Glennie.
“It might have more impact if I were some 19 year old lad in a band and my dreams were shattered by a bad review, but I’m not in that position anymore. I want everyone to love us but you can’t please everyone. Even when they are good, you tend to notice the part that the reviewer is not keen on. You can get very touchy when it comes to reviews and you can avoid eight great ones and be bothered by one bad one.”
Unfortunately, their last performance at The Hydro at the tail end of 2014 succumbed to several average reviews mainly due to the exemption of hits like “Sit Down” and “Laid” plus a mild animosity between lead singer Tim Booth and the Saturday night boozed up Glaswegian audience.
Booth had requested the crowd to be quiet for “All I’m Saying”, the closing track of 2014 album Le Petit Mort, which was written in the aftermath of the passing of Booth’s mother and a close friend.
The crowd ignored him and continued to chatter away, resulting in Booth quitting playing the song halfway though. “It’s not an easy song to play. Tim tends to struggle to sing it because it’s so important to him. He gets quite worked up by it”, comments Glennie.
“It was a Saturday night we were playing and so you’re asking a lot . We had one of these situations the other day when we were playing in Warwickshire, people at the bar just wouldn’t shut up. It doesn’t take that many people for it to become an issue.
“Although, we’ve started playing that song on loads of occasions and then stopped, not necessarily because the crowd were noisy but because Tim doesn’t want to play it any longer. He gets choked at the beginning of it so we just move on. It’s a strange song in that respect.”
James might have another whack at it this time around at The Hydro, but the massive 90s singles are definitely getting put to rest, “We’re just going to put those to one side and bring out some that we’ve not played so much recently, just to swap it around a bit”, says Glennie.
“Tracks that your average James fan has not heard in a long time. In true James style, we’ll be debating what songs from the back catalogue to play on this tour right up until we’re rehearsing all together. We’re not great at making concrete decisions and sticking to them, and we’re also terrible at rehearsals.
“We don’t like over rehearsing so once we’ve got the gist of a song we just put it to one side. The gigs are great though, so what the hell.”
The members of James are strewn all over Britain, and will collectively meet to rehearse for the upcoming tour. Glennie lives in Northern Scotland, near Ullapool.
“I absolutely love this part of the world. I’m about a mile from the coast, but I can’t see the sea from my window. There’s a grassy bank in the way, but you can see the ferries coming from Stornoway grazing along the top of it.”
Even though James have been touring for years, it still can be hard going. “Once we’re psychically match ready for the tour, I have to prepare myself for being away from my family and loved ones for an extended period of time. That’s never easy. It’s probably the hardest part of the job.”
Yet go on tour they shall, and sell out arenas around the country. From humble beginnings, it’s now safe to say that James are untouchable.