Be Opened By The Wonderful is a perfect capture of the evolution of a project that might well have had a different tracklisting and arrangements had it been recorded after the recent tour which saw over a dozen more songs performed. It eschews the easy path of an orchestral Best Of, giving Joe the freedom to select the songs that he feels work best with the addition of orchestration and a choir and allowing his ear and love of the band to combine to create magic. James are at their best when they work with kindred spirits who understand the unique and complex DNA that make up a band that has shape-shifted through four decades refusing to stand still and compromise.
James have announced details of their “Be Opened By The Wonderful – 40 Years Orchestrated” album and revealed the first track to be taken from it, a version of their 1997 Top 10 single She’s A Star. The album was recorded at Blueprint Studios in January 2023 with the ORCA22 Orchestra lead by Andra Vornicu and the Manchester Inspirational Voices choir, directed by Wayne Ellington. The album was orchestrated and conducted by Joe Duddell, who performed those duties with the band on their 2011 orchestral tour.
Tim Booth says of the album which celebrates forty years since the release of James’ first single Jimone on Factory Records – “Life begins at 40. For our midlife euphoria we recorded a double orchestral album of some of our deepest cuts. If you already have a golden ticket, you’ll be catching this on tour and at Latitude festival. Bring your wings and come ready to fly.”
Joe Duddell commented “Having attended the first 6 years of Latitude Festival, I’m excited to be involved in James’ special Main Stage Show this year in a UK Festival exclusive. James have always been a great band at Festivals, mixing their extensive well loved back catalogue with newer songs which immediately sounds as they too have been around forever.”
Confession time, James have always been a band I love but the last few years I’ve not enjoyed their output quite as much, it’s not quite matched up to songs like ‘Born Of Frustration’. Don’t get me wrong, they have always made interesting, quality records, it’s just been a while since one of them hooked me quite as quickly or totally as this album. I almost felt taken back to my days of sitting on various disgusting night club floors while belting out ‘Sit Down’ (by no means their best song). I’m now wondering if I’ve been fair to some of their more recent albums and am planning to go back and listen to them again.
Enough about me though, you want to know if this album is any good, does it keep up the high standards set at the beginning? The answer is emphatically yes. This is no longer the Indie Rock James of their early career, there are a variety of different genres and soundscapes on offer, with there being no weak link. Standouts for me are ‘XYST’, ‘Isabella’, and ‘Getting Myself Into’ but there genuinely isn’t a song on here I didn’t enjoy, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to say that.
This is an album that doesn’t just impact you on an emotional level, it also makes you want to dance, to sway to it, to sing along. This is a band on top of their game, they have also been a quality live act, this album should sound excellent when we finally get back to gigs. Go buy, download or do whatever you need to do to listen to this album, it’s worth the effort. Personally I think I will invest in a vinyl copy.5/5 (100%)
Extracts from interview with Saul Davies:
The tour in the Autumn is with Happy Mondays, are you all friends with each other?
No, not really – there is not a great connection between our bands. We are very different kinds of people culturally and all the rest of it. I joined James in 1989 and the year before that James took the Mondays on the road with them as a support band and I think there were great differences then and I think there still are now. We represent different musical traditions and different lifestyles. I think there is huge respect from both camps to each other, I hope there is – there certainly is from James to the Mondays. I think they are an amazing band who have had some incredible moments but we would not live our life like they have lived theirs.
Has the song Sit Down been a blessing or a curse to the band?
Totally a blessing. Globally, Laid is our biggest song by far, so for example in the States it is Laid, not Sit Down. You learn where you are and where you are going to that people and they have their favourites. You are known for different things in different places, I have no problem at all that Sit Down proceeds us. It is only difficult if you do not know what to do with it and I think we worked out many years ago what to do with it – which is not to play it all the time and never ever, don’t ever, give it for synchronisation into a film.
Do you listen to any new artists?
There has never been so much new music as there is now, the trick is getting through it all to find the stuff that connects with you. I have done a bit of work with a Manchester band called Rosellas, they have some fantastic songs. They have only been going a couple of years but they have a lot of potential. They have that Manchester swagger about them – just a real confidence and a cheekiness but underlying it all [and] the songs are fantastic. I discovered them through a friend of mine and I’m involved in a charity called Everybody Belongs Here and at the end of January this year we did an on-line concert with some of the biggest artists in the world and we called it Music Feeds. We raised a million pounds for food charities. Sam Smith was there, Liam Gallagher, Newton Faulkner and it was also an opportunity to showcase some new artists and Rosellas were involved in that. I was fortunate to be able to go to The Met in Bury and record Rosellas there for the event. It was remarkable really and an amazing day for me.
There is another band too called Sound of the Sirens, two girls from Exeter who have a very English sound – they have been going for a little while now but I have been working with them too. Yes there is a lot of new music around you just have to be brave about trying to find it.
British band James’ 16th studio album comes barreling out as a creature created by the tumultuous last couple of years. All The Colours of You discusses the topics that formulated 2020 and 2021—from the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns, protests and the murder of George Floyd. The songs go from anthemic to a sweaty club beat, all wrapped up in a blissfully light rock tone throughout.
“Beautiful Beaches” is the change in tone the album needed, something to loosen up the sadness of “Recover.” The track sounds like a warm summer day, a perfect day for the beach. It’s light and airy, with the beat of a coming of age soundtrack, kicking in with a little bit of sadness with the electronic sounds that begin and end the song. The drum beats towards the end are sprightly, making sure to not bring down the energy that the song created.
A funky electronic club-type beat introduces itself with the song “Wherever It Takes Us.” The beat bops up and down, perfectly melting with the rock sound. The vocals are close up and in your face as if Tim Booth (lead singer of James) is telling a very specific and intricate story right to the listener. The song plays out almost like a spoken word poem, with wondrous imagery and a grandiose chorus “we’re all in wherever it takes us.” Towards the middle of the song, a woman’s voice appears, weaving and winding its way through the song, smooth and sultry—perhaps this is the “she” referenced throughout the song. Either way, one thing is clear: she’s “made of stars.”
All The Colours of You captures a lot of real moments from 2020, and along with that, it also captures a majestic “multiverse” of songs that will float its listeners out to space. A delicious mixture of electronic creativity and the sadness that comes with realism, James have created an album that’s relatable, healing and that will offer up a place to escape.All the Colours of You is “made of stars.”
The work this band has produced over the years and their contribution to live music is truly a force to be reckoned with. You may hold close James for many different reasons; for me it’s being the soundtrack to the American Pie era, which makes it all the more exciting to see they’re still part of popular culture and creating narratives on today’s history.
A personal favourite from All The Colours Of You is the closing track XYST. The dramatic drum beats, perfectly matched with the band’s beautiful harmonies singing “You’re one of us”, create such an eerie sound, and closing with a lion’s roar there’s a real punk element to it and I just love it. James co-founder and bass player Jim Glennie simply calls the music “massive”. Tracks on this album are among the most arena-ready in James’ 38-year history.
Other curveballs are thrown, with the electronic beats of Wherever it Takes Us possibly the best of that particular bunch with its LCD Soundsystem-like intro. Its verses are somewhat uninspiring but the chorus sticks like super glue. Contrastingly, the jangly guitars that are another band trait rarely appear aside from the motorik Isabella.
James also have a noted ability to churn out less propulsive but deeply resonant moments that encourage a sea of cigarette lighters. Duly, three tracks plough a similar field (Recover, Miss America and Xyst) and recall ‘Laid’ classic Out To Get You in either melody, structure or overall staging. Miss America, though, perhaps offers the most compelling lyrical content as Booth sings of the “love of guns” and “man with the tan” that we associate with our American friends.
‘All The Colours of You’ seems to have reversed a slide that pointed to James petering out in unspectacular fashion. Almost 40 years and 16 albums into their career, then, Booth and team are still relevant, still mesmerising and still euphoric…some of the time at least.3.5/5
From the rawness of Nina Simone’s narrative, a choirmaster’s transformative punk therapy and seeing Iggy Pop blood-strewn and naked, James’ frontman talks Maddy Smith through the songs that encapsulate his love and life of live music.
“James has always felt that the test of the authenticity of a band is how they are live. Originally, we were forced into making records because promoters wouldn’t put us on unless we had a single out. So live performance to me has always been the litmus test of a great band.” Tim Booth.
Booth’s peaceful demeanour ripples through his attitude towards creating, and as we dive deeper into the stories that shaped his adoration for music and the art of live performance, he concludes our conversation with ideas on how he believes one can continue to shift and constantly evolve as a musician, avoiding the status quo and unveiling new perspectives.
James have always had an uplifting element to their songs, though on the album opener, ZERO, Booth offers the opening line that “We’re all gonna die”. This reflective track deals with our mortality as drum beat marks the passing of time. “We are ageing like time” he continues. Happy days!
Wherever It Takes You is more spoken word than actually singing though the chorus has that uplifting vibe that you get when the band are in a more upbeat mood.
Magic Bus is James at their best on a track that will become a live favourite when they tour again; a bass driven melodic track that seems to continue the theme of mortality.
Whilst some of their peers might seem to be stuck in the slow lane, James continue to drive ahead on this colourful journey.4/5 (80%)
How do you feel that you have already sold 60,000 + tickets for your upcoming tour later this year?
It all sounds a bit unbelievable, it’s like I can’t emotionally connect with any of this yet. Because it all feels like it might be taken away from me, so even though I know on paper that I am busy, it all feels so fragile at the moment. It’s hard to emotionally connect and invest myself, so it’s just an idea at the moment. Yes, it’s far enough away that it would take something pretty disastrous to happen to change it, but we’ve had pretty disastrous happen, haven’t we? So, I can’t’ because it still just feels so detached. I know on paper it sounds amazing, ridiculous; the tickets sold like nobody’s business. I think again because people are thinking: ‘Oh by then we’ll be back to normal, and we can go and celebrate and have a proper gig and it’ll be amazing’ and all the rest of it. So, the tickets just flew out the door. I think people genuinely are looking for that, even though it’s a long way away, that thing to head towards and sort of move towards, that positivity you know? God willing, we get there and it’s amazing, and it will be. I mean 60,000 is ridiculous. I have a sneaky feeling that if everything’s cool, we’ll add more shows on and just be busier.
Which song did you enjoy working on the most for your new album?
I [Jim Glennie] think ‘All The Colours Of You’ was a big one for me, because I worked on that with my brother Peter when we were working on the demos remotely. I’ve never worked with him musically before. So, me and him were kind of doing stuff remotely on that, and that came in quite late in the day. No one had looked at it, it had kind of been missed in the grand scheme of things. So, we pieced together a demo and it was just great. It got lots of favour and was instantly voted onto the leader board. So, a lot of personal satisfaction comes from that! I mean it’s easy to miss things, not everything we do gets worked on and stuff can go under the radar and it’s just a matter of the individual’s personal opinion whether something needs to be worked on or not. So, people pick up on what they’re attracted to from the jam, and stuff just doesn’t get worked on or missed. That’s the way it is. And with ‘All The Colours Of You’, it was very last minute. It was: ‘Oh, well I’ve got this one!’ and ‘Oh, okay great!’ We knocked something up and it was great. It changed a lot as Jacknife worked on it, but no that was quite exciting.
The nine-piece band, whose lead singer Tim Booth is from Yorkshire, recently stayed at Broughton Hall to meet up for rehearsals for their forthcoming live tour. While at the venue, they made use of the lavish surroundings to film their first full-band video since 1999 for song Getting Myself Into which features on new album All the Colours of You.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post recently, Booth explained that a chance meeting while he and his wife were spending time in Central America led to the band staying at Broughton Hall. Booth and his wife made friends out there with Broughton Hall’s owner Roger Tempest and his partner Paris Ackrill.
“They asked where would we be going when we were in the UK and I said we are going to rehearse in some crappy studio in London,” he said. “Roger said come to my house and it happened to be a rather large manor house outside of Skipton. We were blown away by their generosity. It was an amazing return for us as James and it was so joyful. We were playing in these incredible rooms on a carpet that had been donated to the family by Marie Antoinette and with pictures of relatives on every wall space looking down on us as if to say ‘What have you let these riff-raff in here for?’ We had a blast and did lots of filming. The video was really easy to make.”