James singer Tim Booth has told BBC Radio 5 live that new song Coming Home (Pt 2) is about “being in denial” over how much he missed his young son while being away on tour. Booth teared up as he recalled seeing his son after an extended period away.
Tim Booth: We change our set-list every night, usually about an hour before we get on stage, but I don’t like the idea of being tied down to a record. We aren’t about nostalgia; we’re not a heritage band. We play a lot of new songs when we play live and the stuff we’re writing now is as good as anything we’ve ever written – if not better.
“This album is one of the best we’ve ever made,” said Booth. “We didn’t know which songs to leave off and we had a big fight over it because we made too many. We had about 15 songs and we didn’t want to put them all on, that’s why we released an EP, but those songs on the EP were some people’s favourite songs in the band. We’ve made something very fresh and exciting.”
Saul Davies: “What I think you’re alluding to there is that we’re in our 37th year and what you and I are discussing here is about songs we’ve just made. It’s really refreshing and really heartening to me that I’m in a position whereby we’re not having to talk about ‘Sit Down’ and all that. I think that’s testament to the fact that we have pushed it, and we are moving forward.”
Tim Booth: “For me, I write a lot of my best lyrics at like 4 am. I wake up and I can’t sleep because I have a song lyric going in my head and I get up and write it down, which leads me to another and another. It’s all done fairly without thinking. The thinking, conscious, analytical brain is less than five percent of the brain. Ninety-five percent is unconscious to us. So it figures that the rich stuff is in the unconscious. The creative and dream aspects are in the unconscious part of us. I really spend a lot of my life trying to get to those parts of myself because I think that’s the role of the artist.”
MBW’s Manager Of The Month celebrates some of the artist managers doing great things in the global business. This month, we’re delighted to sit down with Peter Rudge (pictured) – a key player at Vector Management and a man whose career has seen him look after The Who, The Rolling Stones and Diana Ross. Manager Of The Month is supported by INgrooves Music Group.
“Everything’s groundhog day in this business. There’s no situation you can throw at me that I haven’t, at some point or another, dealt with in the past.”
Peter Rudge holds a pedigree of working with true rock’n’roll royalty.
A Cambridge graduate with a degree in history, British veteran Rudge has combined a sharp intellect with shrewd deal-making across more than four decades in the music biz – earning the loyalty of some of the biggest acts on earth.
After leaving university in 1968, Rudge joined the London-based Track label, whose roster included Jimi Hendrix and Marc Bolan.
From there, he built relationships with two huge artists as tour manager for the Rolling Stones and The Who – going on to manage both groups outright for most of the ’70s, while also working with Roger Waters, Duran Duran and Madness.
“With The Stones and The Who I was lucky,” says Rudge. “In that instance, I managed to work with bands that could have done it without me.”
This was a heady time for the young exec, who also worked with Diana Ross and even produced Andy Warhol’s US cable TV show.
However, Rudge‘s career hasn’t been without its sadness.
In 1977, he was managing an on-the-rise Lynyrd Skynyrd. Just as the Southern rock band stood on the verge of a worldwide breakthrough, they were involved in a tragic plane crash in Mississippi, killing three members of the group.
Understandably, it’s the moment Rudge marks as the toughest of his professional and personal life to date.
In the modern era, Rudge has shown himself to be a smart operator – and, crucially, one who knows his limits.
“I WAS LUCKY WITH THE STONES AND THE WHO – THEY COULD HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT ME.”
In the late ’90s, he merged his own management roster with marketing giant Octagon, where he began working with the likes of record-breaking operatic group Il Divo – whom he continues to represent today.
He went on to launch Proper Artist Management in conjunction with Live Nation – before Proper itself merged with Vector Management (The Kings Of Leon, Kesha, Emmylou Harris) in 2014.
These days, Rudge looks after the likes of Imelda May, currently working on a new record with T Bone Burnett, and Nick Mulvey – the Fiction-signed, Mercury-nominated singer/songwriter who, we’re told, is tinkering in the studio with Brian Eno.
Then there’s also Il Divo, who recently sold out five dates at the Budokan in Tokyo, and Alfie Boe – currently starring on Broadway in Finding Neverland, and readying a new project with Michael Ball signed up by Universal/Decca.
Yet the artist with whom Rudge is most closely associated today is a band he’s worked with for 30 years: Tim Booth-fronted Manchester heroes James.
The reason for Rudge‘s status as MBW’s Manager Of the Month becomes clear: James are currently romping around Europe on a sold-out tour, following the successful release of latest album Girl At The End Of The World, which recently hit No.2 on the Official UK chart – a smidgen behind Adele’s 25.
The release was put together on an ‘artist services’ basis with BMG, whose Korda Marshall says: “Peter’s experience has been a real benefit to the strategy and planning of the campaign. I think our respective teams have learned a lot from each other.
“He combines that experience with a freshness and enthusiasm and desire to get things done.
“I think what he likes at BMG is that its a very honest and open working relationship. And you have to remember he has managed the band for 30 years – his standards are high.”
MBW sat down with Peter to grab some insight into these high standards – and to discover what the best part of half a century in management has taught him…
You’ve been with James for over three decades. That’s a long time to work with any rock star…
I know – you get less for murder! I’ve worked with James from 1992 and it’s been one of my career’s great privileges.
I was brought in to look after America because I was spending most of my time there back then.
As luck would have it, that was during the time they were recording Laid, which of course was a seminal record in America – at one point we’d shipped over a million albums.
As Sit Down has become a rite of passage for young people in the UK, Laid [the track] has become in America, helped by the fact it’s used in the American Pie films.
For the past 11 years, Meredith Plant’s been my co-manager on James and she should take much of the credit.
We’ve managed the live thing very well over the years. It helps that we’ve had one promoter forever: Simon Moran.
James were one of the first bands Simon ever promoted when he started, and we all think a lot of him – he’s been as much as partner as anybody.
We also work with John Giddings at Solo, who’s done a great job.
Why have you signed James to BMG – and on an artist services deal – for their past two albums?
We’ve been playing at this ‘artist services’ thing for some time. Funnily enough, James’s Hey Ma album, which came out on Mercury [in 2008], was actually released on a similar model.
We realised that a band which has managed to have a lifespan this long eventually hits a glass ceiling. As we all know, it’s a very fickle industry.
When that happens at the major labels, you’re consigned almost immediately to the commercial marketing divisions – repackaging this and that, budget pricing…
We went to Mercury for Hey Ma, who had our catalogue, and tried to design something similar we have with the BMG Rights thing now.
We did a joint venture deal with Mercury; [Universal’s] Adam Barker was really good, as was Jason Iley [now Sony Music UK boss], who was in charge of the label back then.
The model we picked was a little bit of a hybrid – it felt like the runt of the litter within the Universal system. However, it showed us that this may be the way to go. We took a rest, and then started talking to BMG.
It was pretty apparent from the beginning that BMG’s ambition was right, the model was interesting, but they didn’t quite have the resources they do today . That’s why we partnered with Cooking Vinyl – with Martin [Goldschmidt].
That album was pretty successful. We liked it, James were allowed creative input [into the campaign]; it was a very respectful relationship.
Then, to BMG’s credit, they brought Korda Marshall in. Also, Thomas Haimovici had been there a while and, I have to say, immediately related to the group well.
James, like many bands, usually won’t allow an A&R guy in the parking lot, let alone in the studio! But Thomas got their trust and respect – he was very helpful and didn’t undermine anything.
Then Korda, coming from Infectious, arrived at BMG with a philosophy that was very akin to James’s own. And that also brought in Pat Carr and Jo Power, who are both great marketing people.
We’ve now signed a new deal, including options. Most [services] deals are on a one album basis, but we’ve established a long-term relationship.
Let’s talk about your business experiences. Why did you merge your company Proper with Live Nation?
In the late ’90s, I’d teamed up with Octagon, an IPG company. I thought then, and I was right, that you could see the writing was on the wall for small management companies.
As the labels imploded, management companies would have to take up much of the slack and smaller ones without resource wouldn’t be able to survive.
I looked at Octagon, and thought, ‘That’s the new landscape.’ I needed to be in bed with someone that had access to [ad agencies] Deutsch, McCann Erickson etc.
In the end, it didn’t really work because [advertising] operates on a totally different timeline to music; it’s a very different world – and a different culture. It was a great learning experience for me, though.
I hooked up with Il Divo during that time, which frankly I probably wouldn’t have got without the promise of McCann Erickson and [ad] companies investing in them.
One of my oldest friends in the business, Irving Azoff, was then Live Nation’s management division.
We bumped into each other and he said: ‘Why don’t you come and be with us?’ And I knew that was where I wanted to go.
There are a lot of stories and a lot of opinions about Irving, but he’s a great manager – a fantastic manager. Always has been.
Then Irving left [Live Nation in late 2012] and [Michael] Rapino took over the management side. Although I was operating as Proper, Live Nation still owned a chunk of my business.
After Irving went, Rapino re-calibrated the artist management platform and built it around three central parts: Roc Nation, Maverick and Vector.
I’d been a friend of [Vector President] Jack Rovner for years since when I used to manage Roger Waters. We decided to go into partnership together, and I set up Vector over here in Europe.
How do you find being part of Live Nation – both before the Vector move and now – when you’ve been an independent force for much of your career?
To be honest, I get the best of both worlds. It’s essentially given me what any manager now needs: a larger footprint internationally, and a much larger bandwidth.
I can access resources that I would never have been able to use before – in the digital world, in the branding world, in the sync world. I’m lucky.
I’ve been a manager for 40 years in this business. I’ve got my own relationships; people know me.
My track record means I’m usually seen as a safe pair of hands.
My Rolodex is big; I’m two or three calls away from anybody. That’s the only good thing about getting old – you grow up with everybody else!
It’s funny: I must have lived through 25 Presidents of Columbia Records during my career, while dealing with the same promoters in the UK and US for pretty much the entire time.
That tells you something about the live business; it’s just a different DNA.
What’s been the proudest moment and most difficult moment of your career?
Management’s very lonely.
Success has many fathers, and failure none. Before you put every album out the artist thinks it’s going to be No.1, or go down brilliantly.
After a record has collapsed when you’ve had high expectations, when the phone stops ringing and everyone moves on to the next release, it’s hard.
Sometimes it feels like labels sell products, while managers try to develop careers. There’s been some lows because of that.
The first thing I ever did in the music business of any substance was The Who with Tommy – and the first gig I ever did in America was The Who at Metropolitan Opera House.
I was 23 years old, looking through the Yellow Pages to find the Met. I got through to the General Manager, and talked him into allowing me to see Rudolph Bing who was running the Met in those days. I completely blagged it.
Rudolph agreed for The Who to play [the Met] on July 7, 1970. Pete Townshend smashed his guitar on stage that night, leaving a room full of people gasping.
That to me was my greatest achievement – but then it was my first one and I’ve tried to live up to it ever since.
A perfect bookend to that story is that we are now in negotiations to stage the classical version of Quadrophenia at the Met next year; the version of the show which opened with the fantastic Alfie Boe playing Jimmy at the Royal Albert Hall last year, a show featuring Pete Townshend, Phil Daniels, Billy Idol and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
I’m also very proud of Il Divo – we’ve sold over 30 million albums across the world with barely a spin at radio or a single bit of positive press. Working with them has taught me more about selling records than any other project I’ve done. We’re into our 13th year together and they’ve remained on Syco the entire time.
And of course I’m very proud of being part of keeping James in the game for 30 years. Most of their contemporaries from that Manchester scene have either disappeared or are just going around and around [on reunion tours].
James still push themselves to be contemporary and relevant – and that’s something which has been authenticated with this album.
My saddest moment was obviously the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash. I’d been part of taking them from a club band up and up – I put them on The Who tour and it was a big moment.
We did really well; Southern Rock was still pretty parochial at that stage.
Two weeks after that plane crash they were due to headline the Madison Square Garden in front of 18,000 people. It was never to be.
On a personal level, that plane crash is the worst thing I’ve ever experienced, period.
The Stones. The Who. Diana Ross. You have worked with some strong characters! How do you deal with it when things go wrong?
I always say to any prospective client that my greatest value to an artist is honesty and objectivity.
People will tell me things they’ll never tell you, as an artist, and it’s my job to be straight with you.
Just as in life, a relationship is never tested until you disagree.
For me to disagree with you as an artist doesn’t mean to say I don’t believe in you. I understand what you’re saying, but I recommend another course of action.
I’m in the industry 24/7. I have been for 40 years. I know how this business works. As an artist, you come in and out of it – sometimes every two or three years.
When you explain that, artists tend to respect you. They don’t always like you, but there are too many people in this business who say yes, yes, yes – and it comes back to bite you on the ass.
What advice would you give young managers today?
Don’t kid yourself that you have all the answers – no-one does.
You should find an ally, and if it’s necessary for you to partner with someone who you feel has more experience or relationship that will help your artist, it will only help you in the long run.
There’s no doubt that young guys who were there at a start of a success often get removed [by bigger or more experienced players] so you need to try and neutralize that before it has a chance of happening.
That’s why finding a home or a nest is not a bad idea. No-one’s going to take all the money so long as you deal with the right people.
But the first port of call with all young managers is: go find a lawyer who’s going to protect you, advise you and make sure the paperwork is right.
Don’t be adamant to do it all yourself if you don’t feel qualified.
You were 70 a few weeks ago. I’m sure you could spend your life on a beach if you liked. Why do you still keep doing what you do in music?
I’m still really enjoying it. A month like the past month with James is everything I ever wanted to do.
30 years with a great band like that, and still seeing them get a nod, it means a lot to me.
That’s all I ask for as a manager – for my artists to get the shot they deserve.
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.
For a brief moment, it looked as though James might finally break their chart hoodoo.
The release earlier this year of Girl At The End of The World looked as though it might finally give them their first number one (greatest hits aside) after 34 years together.
Having been pipped at the post with Gold Mother, Seven and Millionaires and reached number three with 1993’s mercurial Laid, they were briefly on course to reach number one.
It was ahead of Adele’s album 25 during the midweek chart, only to be pipped at the post following a late surge in sales.
Not that the band minded. They are just thrilled to be back in a rich vein of form following the release of their exceptional 2014 album La Petite Mort and this year’s number two hit.
They’re playing the biggest venues of their career and will headline Birmingham’s Barclaycard Arena tonight.
Saul Davies, guitarist, violinist and percussionist, says: “We might be one of the luckiest bands in the UK.
“So many of our peers have dwindled and 34 years of a band making records and doing great gigs is quite unusual.
“People take that for granted and even we do as a band. Maybe that’s right that we just get on with it and don’t think about it too much.
“But nevertheless we’re in some exalted company of bands that have been around that long and still make records. We’re putting more tickets on sale for this tour in May than we’ve done for any other UK tour in 25 years.
“We’re not sliding away. It’s the opposite if anything and it’s a very interesting phenomenon. I don’t know what we’ve done to make that happen.
“We’re a band that you either get or you don’t and the people who have got us have stayed with us. That is quite a remarkable thing as a lot of bands gradually lose people.” The band now live in different parts of the world and connect electronically. They then meet to spend time together in recording studios, where they create new music.
The Girl At The End of the World was recorded with long-time collaborator Brian Eno and producer Max Dingel, who has previously worked with The Killers, Muse and White Lies.
Saul adds: “It felt natural. We knew his working methods and he knew ours so it made it easier.
“Those who are familiar with our last record will find some similarities but this is more of a pop album. La Petite Mort was darker in many ways and I think this shows another side of us. I’m quite looking forward to people hearing it and seeing what their reaction to it is.
“We felt that we’d gathered some momentum after La Petite Mort so it felt sensible not to leave it too late.”
The record was recorded in Norther Scotland.
Fans at their Birmingham show can look forward to hearing new tunes as well as a selection of hits from their impressive back catalogue. Saul, who lives in the Scottish Highlands, adds: “We have a big bag of tunes. I think we had 17 top hits and that’s pretty healthy. We don’t play all of them and I think our audience would be annoyed if we did.
“We’ve made our way through our career and through the industry by being a little bit difficult.
“There are some big arenas we’re playing and there will be many people who have come to hear the new record.
“It’s amazing that we’ve managed to create that bond with the audience.
“We look forward with a great deal of anticipation to being on stage as I genuinely think we are a much better live band than we’ve ever been.”
When I caught up with Jim Glennie, revered bass player of the band James, he was just a few hours off a low-key live show back on his old patch in Manchester.
Admittedly, that was a while ago, the date in question serving as something of a warm-up and album launch in one, premiering the 14th James studio album, Girl at the End of the World, at Manchester’s Academy 2, a venue the band – now well into their fourth decade – had somehow missed out on playing before.
If you’re based in the North West and didn’t make it along for that momentous occasion, there’s another chance tomorrow (Friday, May 13) when James return to their old stomping ground, calling in at Manchester Arena. And if you’re not, there are dates still to come in Leeds, Hull, Newcastle, Glasgow, Birmingham and Nottingham this month, plus another 10 shows this summer and early autumn in the UK and mainland Europe.
Girl at the End of the World – like 2014’s La Petite Mort put together with the help of German producer Max Dingel – was released two months ago now, 25 years to the day their biggest hit, the re-recorded Sit Down, was issued. It led to a great response from fans and critics alike, and since then we’ve had a second single from the album, the sublime Nothing But Love following album teaser To My Surprise.
In fact, the new 12-track long player came close to finally knocking Adele’s 25 off the top of the UK album charts, leading the way in the midweek charts in its first week of release, 2,000 sales ahead, only marginally slipping to second place at the end of its first full week.
And now the band – no chart slouches over the years, with an impressive 20 UK top-40 singles under their belt – are part-way through a busy touring agenda which also included a three-night takeover of London, playing Shepherds Bush Empire, Kentish Town Forum and Brixton Academy. Which all goes to show there clearly remains huge affection for the band, some 25,000 tour tickets snapped up on the first day of sale and around 60,000 fans expected overall across 15 shows.
For all that though, James – namely Tim Booth (singer), Jim Glennie (bass), Adrian Oxall (guitars, deputising for Larry Gott), Saul Davies (guitar/violin), Mark Hunter (keyboards), David Baynton-Power (drums) and Andy Diagram (trumpet) – are more focused on creativity and invention than record and ticket sales.
While the new album was recorded live at RAK Studios in London, it was written in the Scottish Highlands, as the last LP was. There, in the dining room of a remote 18th century coaching inn in midwinter, they set about recapturing the freewheeling spirit that lies at the heart of their best work. Apparently, they built a rehearsal room within and ‘bunkered down’ in their ‘man-cave’, mattresses gaffer-taped to the windows for soundproofing, cut off from families and the world.
According to front-man Tim Booth, “If a lot of the tracks sound quite fast, you can blame that on the raw Scottish weather. We were working with a drum machine and were conscious of setting a quick tempo to inspire dance grooves and keep us on the move as the temperature outside was five below zero.”
The album that followed those sessions gives a firm indication of where James are at today, still writing great songs yet never taking the easy road. And for all their past success, they remain fresh and contemporary, unwilling to coast on the back of 13 million album sales over 30 years.
Again, like the last album, Mark Hunter and Saul Davies co-wrote and shaped the final songs, and as Jim Glennie told me, “We began to open up the songwriting on La Petite Mort. But we’ve now taken that to a new level. We loved La Petite Mort, and its songs worked so well live that we’ve pushed ourselves more this time. We love guitars, but since the Wah Wah album in 1994 we’ve embraced samples and loops as well as traditional instruments.
“Mark’s an amazing keyboard player and we’ve created more space for him. Rather than surround him with dozens of guitar overdubs, we’ve given him the room to really express himself and he’s become more central to our overall sound.”
For many, the single To My Surprise was the first track heard, frontman Tim Booth tackling fundamentalism with disdainful humour, while elsewhere on the album he talks about his adopted Californian homeland on Move Down South. But let’s be clear on something – this album is, like the last one, very much an across-the-board band project, incorporating important contributions from all of James’ ‘magnificent seven’.
That’s not to say there aren’t stand-outs though, and the anthemic mandolin-flecked Nothing But Love shines for me in the way Sit Down did all those years ago. In fact, as Tim put it, “We knew immediately it was a big song. Love songs tend to tread such a well-worn path that I avoid them unless I have something new to say or I’m so blinded by emotion I can’t help myself. It’s about love’s euphoria and ecstasy – that love-bomb that goes off and changes everything. But love is a high-stakes game, as something you love can also be lost.”
It’s a little late to be giving you a full-blown review here – you probably already know the score already. But from Jim’s driving bass-line on storming opener Bitch – which threatens to be an instrumental for the first couple of minutes – through to the titular finale, it’s a winner. And as Tim requests at the album’s climax, ‘Remind me to breathe at the end of the world; Appreciate scenes and the love I’ve received; To love who I’ve been at the end of the world’.
Jim Glennie certainly had total faith in the finished album when we spoke, despite feeling nervous of introducing the world to the latest songs in a live setting at that afore-mentioned Academy 2 show.
“We’ve been working quite hard to get ready for this, planning to do 10 songs off the album … so there’s going to be a lot of fear! We haven’t got that safety net of slipping back into things that you know. With a lot of the stuff it will be the first time we’ve performed them.
“It’s a bit scary, but that’s okay – we like scary! We’re not a band that seeks to take that away from what we do. We’re not a band that wants to over-rehearse and make sure everything’s bolted down. We like a little bit of danger and risk.”
When we spoke, I’d only had a couple of listens to Girl at the End of the World, but I was already loving it. That said, I did mention to Jim how there was a slight ‘80s vibe, not so much as to where James were at then, but more a kind of retro vibe the likes of The Killers nailed much later (as it was, I didn’t even realise at the time that Max Dingel previously engineered The Killers’ Sam’s Town).
“That’s difficult to pin down. For us it feels quite connected to La Petite Mort. That opened a lot of doors for us, creatively being quite a turning point for us and a slight re-invention. It kind of shifted the sound of James and we’ve embraced that. Getting on with the second album straight away was about keeping that energy and momentum. I think we’ve ended up with something we’re incredibly proud of and fits very nicely within the broad confines of James, but is a little different.”
I’d also say it sounds a little more immediate than the last album.
“Again, it’s difficult for me to say. I’m the least objective person on the planet for this – I absolutely love it! For me every song on a James album could and should be a massive worldwide hit, which is absolutely ridiculous! As a band we’re not great at seeing how things fit into the greater context. That’s why we have people around us – fortunately – to help with that. We have a very committed record company and I’m very grateful for that.
“The writing process changed slightly on La Petite Mort. We upped it from three of us to five again. It was like the baby steps of that relationship. With this record that’s much more established. This album pushed things further and it’s given us the space and the confidence in what we’re doing to push it. This has kind of moved us on from last time.”
So what is it about the Scottish Highlands that bring the best out of the band? Is it a lack of mobile phone signals?
“I think we get left alone. I live up there, in the middle of nowhere. Funnily enough, Saul’s moved up too. I’m on the West Coast, he’s on the East Coast. We absolutely love it. There are no distractions and we’re not pulled into doing other things. We had two and a half weeks in this big house in a place called Gairloch in Wester Ross, and it’s beautiful.
“We were there in January and it was a proper Scottish winter, with lots of snow and minus 10 outside. Distractions were few and far between. You could wrap up and go out for a nice walk along a freezing cold beach if you wanted – and we did. But we were there to focus, and it works for us, as it did with the last album. And what we came out with from that session were the demos which went on to become this album.”
There’s definitely an epic feel worthy of the landscape, almost Waterboys-like, not least with Andy’s trumpet.
“I think you’re right. Not a bad comparison, I guess. We’re an odd band in that respect. There’s a lot of technology on this record, but also a real sense – with the violins, the cellos, the trumpets – of mixing and matching elements of what people might call organic as opposed to a more processed sound. And it’s about getting that balance right.”
I love the accompanying video for Nothing But Love, but wonder if you’ve missed a trick. There was a great opportunity here for you to pay tribute to the setting by all donning kilts, carrying bagpipes, in a nod to Slade’s Run Run Away. And if not bagpipes, you could at least have tried mandolins.
“That’s a great idea! I’ve got a kilt actually, so I’m alright!”
Can you remember back far enough to recall what there was to distract you back in your Factory or Sire days, before Gold Mother took you on to that whole new level, long before mobile phones and social media?
“Things were different in those days. We were all based in Manchester and there wasn’t a great deal else to do. We constantly rehearsed between the sparse number of gigs we could arrange and organise. We would rehearse for no reason. We’d get in a room and just bang away for hours, day after day, working out what we were as a band and trying to write songs … in a very hit and miss kind of way.
“There was virtually no communication between us. We were an odd little band! Now we’re geographically scattered around, so have to be more organised in how we work together. Everyone’s shipped in and we lock ourselves away, start first thing in the morning and work away until we go to bed. It’s great – productive but really good fun as well.”
Are you a family man between your stints with James?
“I haven’t got young kids, which makes things a little easier, but I’m married and away from home a fair amount. But Tim’s got young sons, Saul’s got two kids and Mark’s got two. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to pull people away from their responsibilities, but it’s the nature of the job. It can be difficult at times but you make the best of it.”
This summer marks the 30th anniversary of debut LP Stutter, the first of two for US label Sire, produced by Lenny Kaye and Gil Norton. Ever wonder how it got to be 14 studio albums?
“All the time! It always seems daft. I’ve never been able to project beyond where we are. It’s never felt like something that could be a long-term thing. I’ve never thought, ‘Right, we’re going to do another three albums then …’ My imagination won’t go beyond where we are! I think if this one goes okay, BMG might want us to do another record. That’s as far as it’s ever gone for the last 35 years!
“Something might happen that changes that. It’s never felt like it’s completely up to us whether we carry on if or if we don’t. Circumstances can be imposed upon you. I think that’s quite a healthy attitude. I’m not sure what phase of our career we’re in now – whether we’re in our autumn or twilight years. But whatever there is left now, I’m going to make the most of it, throw everything into it.”
Speaking of time phases, it’s 25 years since the world really went mad for James, in the wake of the re-release of Gold Mother, with one of the biggest-selling singles that year, a gigantic GMEX date and all that. In fact, the live experience has always been a key component of the James experience. Do you struggle to personalise such big venue shows?
“James has always been about playing live, connecting with people on a personal level. We play the songs we want to play and if it feels like we’re going through the motions with a song we rest it and put songs on the set-list that require us to be present to perform them.
“That’s kept for us our vitality and spark on stage, and I hope that translates to an audience. We ask quite a lot of a crowd. We won’t just go there and play everything they want to hear. We’re still here after 35 years, but I don’t know how long we’d last if we tried to do what we thought people wanted. I think it would just go horribly wrong, we’d hate ourselves and split up.
“We’re quite selfish in that respect. We do what we want to, and I think that’s the way we can give people the most we can. There are challenges when you play somewhere huge like Manchester Arena. A different kind of relationship has to be projected to the back of the place to make people feel involved.”
Yet somehow, for all their Manchester shows before now, the album launch involved a first for the band – playing the Academy 2.
“I can’t believe we’ve never played it before. I’ve seen so many bands there. It was such a pivotal part of my musical background – as the MDH in those days, the debating hall. It was the same for Tim and Saul. They were at the Uni going to see bands, while I was living in Manchester, getting signed in by students to get into those gigs.
“That’s why we’re playing there – because of all that history and the impact it had on us. I was in a band then, and would say, ‘One day I’m going to be up there!’ I’ve said that in a few places in Manchester, and played pretty much everywhere else since. That’s why playing the Apollo was so important as well. I’ll never forget that. It was the same for The Ritz. But for some reason it never quite happened with the MDH.”
I suppose you kind of leap-frogged it, going from smaller venues to much larger ones in such a stratospheric rise.
“I guess we did. There’s a time in your career where that would be the venue to play, but we missed it.”
Going back to the band’s pre-Tim Booth days, tell me about your experiences with fellow founder members Paul Gilbertson (guitar), Gavan Whelan (drums) and then Danny Ram (vocals, later a cage-fighter) rehearsing in a scout hut in Withington.
“That was down to Paul having his garden back on to this scout hut. We could climb over the fence and then we were in. When we started we had no idea what we were doing, so the Scoutmaster used to tune our guitars. I think we were pretty bad, I’ve got to say. Thankfully, I haven’t got any recordings.”
The band went through a string of names – from Venereal and the Diseases to Volume Distortion, then Model Team International, Model Team and finally James. But long before that came that very first show at Eccles Royal British Legion, in early 1980. Were they a committed four-piece back then?
“Massively! We absolutely loved it and were completely addicted to it. It’s just that we weren’t very good! I was just addicted to the buzz. It was so alien to me. I’m quite a shy person really, but loved the fear and self-consciousness. It was awkward and horrible but at the same time like a fairground ride – that mixture of excitement and terror. I was completely and utterly pulled in. I didn’t think, ‘I’m going to make a career out of this’, but definitely wanted to do it again and wanted another gig.”
The following year they got to support The Fall at Manchester Poly. So who was it that then spotted Tim, this drama student from Leeds, dancing in a Manchester nightclub in 1982, subsequently deciding to invite him to join you?
It would have been Paul. He was a keen dancer himself. We had this mad idea to get somebody dancing, Tim turned up, and because he was at uni we thought, ‘Great, he can help us write lyrics!’ That’s how it came about. For his first gig, we were supporting Orange Juice at Sheffield Leadmill, when we were still called Model Team. I can still picture him on stage, doing backing vocals, dancing, shaking a tambourine, looking terrified – wide-eyed and completely and utterly terrified!”
He was obviously a great fit though, soon graduating to lead singer.
“Absolutely. He grew into the role. Again, I don’t think he felt, ‘I’m going to be a singer in a band’, but there was a mad turn of fate and a few odd twists that could so easily have not happened. We might not have bumped into him that night. If so who knows how things would be now.”
That takes me to the band name, which people still seem split on. Was it down to your Sunday name or a nod to Orange Juice guitarist James Kirk? You were certainly big fans, as early tracks like Summer Song suggest.
“Me and Paul loved Orange Juice and that whole Postcard thing. We were huge fans and they very kindly took us on for about three gigs – I think we did Oxford and Reading too. There was definitely an influence in the music we were doing, and it was Paul who suggested the name.
“We picked up on it at the time because someone in the band had that name, but no one ever called me James. I was Jimmy then, and I’m Jim now. It’s never really felt like my name. I knew the undercurrent was that Paul idolised James Kirk! So what’s the right answer? I don’t know – some weird kind of hybrid between the two!”
You probably know a lot of this, but I should at least try to summarise some key moments that followed. By the end of 1982 the band had a support at the Haçienda, as filmed on A Factory Outing, leading to a deal with Tony Wilson’s iconic label. The Jimone EP followed in late 1983 and was a single of the week in the NME and Sounds, the first of many John Peel radio sessions following, plus a Brixton Academy support with New Order.
In 1984 guitarist Larry Gott replaced Paul, the band soon touring with The Smiths at the invitation of Johnny Marr and Morrissey. In fact, it was only while preparing for this interview that I vaguely remembered – with the help of an old diary – that I saw James on The Smiths’ Meat is Murder tour at Guildford Civic Hall in late February 1985.
The band went on to release the Stutter and Strip-mine albums for Factory, then a self-financed live LP, the brilliantly-titled One Man Clapping. All were indie chart successes, as was an early version of Sit Down, Tim, Jim and Larry now augmented by David, Mark, Andy and Saul – the band’s ‘magnificent seven’.
But although I liked James from the start, I admit to Jim I only really started paying proper attention in late ’89 with the single Come Home, snapping up Gold Mother on Fontana vinyl seven months later. And that was the album that broke them commercially, going on to sell two million and yield three hits, triumphant appearances at Glastonbury and supports with The Cure at Crystal Palace Bowl and David Bowie at Manchester City’s Maine Road following, ending that year with two sell-outs at Manchester’s 15,000-capacity G-Mex venue.
Another big year followed, 1991 a re-recorded Sit Down spending three weeks at No. 2 in the charts, the band headlining Reading Festival and bringing Manchester traffic to a halt with a free concert from a rooftop overlooking Piccadilly Gardens. Then came 1992’s Seven album, the first US and Japanese tours, an open-air concert at Alton Towers for 30,000 broadcast live on Radio 1, and another Glastonbury appearance.
In 1993, an acoustic tour with Neil Young was followed by Laid, produced in Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio by Brian Eno – the first of five James albums he was involved with – and selling 600,000 copies, breaking the band in the States.
The list of new highs continued, 1994 seeing further Eno-production Wah Wah, an appearance at Woodstock Two, an extensive US tour, and much more. Eventually, Whiplash finally appeared in 1997, the next year’s Best Of compilation shifting 900,000 copies, topping the charts and going triple-platinum, fuelling a sell-out arena tour.
That part of the story ended in 2001 after Pleased to Meet You – like 1999’s Millionaires also produced by Eno – as internal as internal tensions led to a farewell tour that included an MEN Arena show recorded for a live album and DVD. At that point, the general band feeling was that it was all over for good. Yet five years later Tim, Jim and Larry – who had left in 1995 – were jamming again, and by 2007 the band were writing prolifically and on a UK tour, 35,000 tickets selling out in hours. And 10 years and five more albums beyond that reformation, the love for James remains.
From The Hacienda to the rooftops of Piccadilly Gardens and from a Radio 1 Live festival in Heaton Park and one-off at Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom to Beijing’s Heineken Beat Festival, three nights at a Greek amphitheatre in Thessaloniki in 2009, Castlefield Bowl in 2014 and beyond, there have been many memorable James shows.
So, off the top of his head, can Jim pick out a couple of venues that have stood out since that low-key Eccles debut?
“Glasgow Barrowlands is probably one of the best if not the best I’ve ever played. It’s a strange venue, in a rough part of Glasgow, where the carpet sticks to your shoes when you go in, but there’s an atmosphere that is just absolutely priceless.
“And Manchester Ritz I absolutely love. We’ve done a couple of nights there which were absolutely amazing. We started a tour there, with Happy Mondays supporting, doing two nights. It’s great. Everyone’s really close and the floor’s sprung so you’ve this kind of bounce you get from the crowd. Yeah!”
James released their album Girl at the End of the World on March 18. The band explains the video for the title track as “a haunting affair depicting a family in mourning, while unbeknown to them the ghost of the ‘departed’ dances among them.”
Directed by award-winning filmmaker Kris Merc (his video for James’ other single “To My Surprise” is an official selection for the Annecy International Film Festival), the video stars model/actress Alexandra Chelaru, and dancer Brandon Powers, who’s also responsible for the choreography. James frontman Tim Booth says the video was produced on a tight budget, and “made from the generosity of [Merc’s] spirit and sticky back plastic,” adding, “it contrasts the release of the departed with the grief of those left behind.”
We spoke with Booth as he readied for the band’s upcoming tour.
Culture Collide: The last time we spoke you mentioned embracing the kiss and the car crash, which you intended to mean embracing both ends of life’s spectrum. On “Girl at the End of the World” you pick up where Le Petit Mort left off with more songs about life and especially death. In fact the title song is about a near death experience with an SUV. Then I read your twitter and see you just survived a car crash. What’s going on here?
Tim Booth: Holy shit! [Laughs.] I wrote the lyric a year ago. The lyric I came up with was about someone dying in a car crash and really embracing their lives and all the people they love, and hopefully seeing all the people they love in that last minute. When I re-read the lyric I got really scared because all of my lyrics tend to come true, but usually about a year later. This has happened frequently to me over the years. I saw the car crash in Topanga about a year earlier so I thought it was finally safe to release it. We moved up north to the Bay Area for about three months, and wound up moving back because my son missed his friends and his school. We came back and I told my wife I was really nervous that I’m going to be killed in a car crash. As we were preparing the new mixes about 2 weeks ago, I was driving home on the freeway and someone hit me from behind and spun our car around. Time just stood still and I was able to turn to my son and ask if he was okay, and see that my wife was okay. I watched in the rearview mirror as the guy who hit us spun around 180 degrees facing a wall of traffic coming at him at 60 mph. It was like someone stopped a wave of traffic and we were all okay. No one was injured. My son and I both had this calm feeling where we knew we were going to be fine.
It’s amazing how quickly the brain processes everything as it happens.
Yes, time literally slows down. I’ve actually had multiple near-death experiences. I stopped breathing in a hospital once and was revived. You get really peaceful. Nearly drowning in Hawaii was the second time. There’s a real moment of surrender I think which is really beautiful and which is what I think that song is about as well.
Wow. That’s a lot to take in.[Laughs.] Yeah. It just wasn’t my time to go I guess.
You could probably get three more songs out of that alone.
It doesn’t work like that. My life is so intense I get experiences like that every week. Don’t worry, I’m not short of material. [Laughs.]
What made you start with that song?
The lyrics came out in the first jam. Then I woke up around 4 am and wrote some more. I tend to wake up at 4 am just hearing some words. When that happens you know you’ve got something good and you don’t mess around or you’ll be betraying your muses, you just go with it.
When you think about it, every time you get in a car, you’re just a few inches away from death at any given moment sitting in several tons of metal moving down a highway.
Yes, but I think even more than that, the bookends of life: birth and death, and we don’t know where we come from and we don’t know where we go to. In between one of the strongest connectors is sex. The French call it ‘La Petite Mort.’ Little Death. All of Aristotle’s work really is living life as if you’re preparing for death. I think that’s what we have to do is live life like we could go at any moment. Because it can. I got that from my mum dying two or three years ago in my arms and how beautiful and peaceful that was. Then my friend dying and my not getting to say goodbye to them and how devastated I was from that experience. Really if you want to live, in the philosophical way is to live every day as if it is your last.
These themes were present in your solo album Love Life, the last James album La Petite Mort and now with Girl.
I’m a one trick pony! [Laughs.]
No, the opposite actually. You’ve taken those themes but they sound different on each album.
I think I’m honing in on something and getting clearer and putting it into the way I live. Most of this record isn’t about death. It’s more uplifting. Though there are two songs connected to that element of la petite mort
Do you have material from this album left over, or will you start from scratch on the next one?
Usually we start from scratch, but there is at least one song that we still have that we worked with Brian Eno [on] that we couldn’t figure out.
That’s very intriguing!
He worked with us on “Nothing But Love,” on that small arpeggio that I think is important to the song.
How hard is it to get ahold of him, since he is such a busy man?
When I’m in London I ring him up for dinner or I go ’round. He also has an a cappella group every Tuesday where these people go to his house. They’ve been coming around for about 15 years and singing a cappella songs. I’m invited to that when I’m in London. I go over and wind up singing these songs I’ve never heard before trying to wing it with these really good professional singers.
Wow. I’d love to be a fly on that wall. He is without a doubt one of the most interesting men of our time.
He has the most fascinating brain I’ve ever encountered. He’s always working on projects that most people will never hear about, and they’re always intriguing. I took my then 10-year-old son around to meet him last year. They were both born on the same day. For about two hours, Brian was like some mad magician from a Disney film. There we are in a dark room full of incredible pulsing lights sort of like stained glass windows that are computer generated. [He was working on this for] hospitals, so [that] people have a room where they can be really peaceful as they wait for scary diagnosis or test results. We said something like, ‘Brian, the only thing you’re missing is smell, and he says, ‘Oh come on in here and I’ll show you my smell laboratory!’ He takes us into a room where he’s created all these smells that don’t exist in reality, and he shows us a scent like motorbike fire and violet. My son was a wide eyed 10-year-old realizing [it’s possible] to live in a constant state of creativity and excitement, somewhere between an artist and a scientist.
What an inspiring experience at that age.
Yes and then he stayed for the a cappella group which was amazing.
What an amazing friend to have.
THEY’RE best known for their breakthrough hit, the crowd pleaser Sit Down, as well as Laid, Come Home, She’s A Star, Born of Frustration and Say Something.
But 1990s favourites James are not a band to rest on their laurels.
One of the UK’s most creative bands, known for their diverse style over 13 studio albums, they’ve been back in the studio, are back on the road and back on the festival circuit.
Girl At the End of the World is the latest offering from the seven piece Manchester indie band.
They’re touring the UK with it, heading to Bournemouth’s 02 Academy on Tuesday, and are playing the coveted opening slot at Glastonbury this year.
And guitarist, violinist and percussionist Saul Davies is thrilled with the band’s 14th offering.
“I think it’s a development from our last record and it’s a really good record. I’m proud to have been partly responsible for making it and it seems to be getting a very positive response from people, which is not something we take for granted.
“It’s a brave record in the sense that sonically it probably doesn’t sound like a traditional James record. I guess some people might find that a little bit annoying, but I like it a lot. We’re very happy with it.”
The band, who rose up through The Haçienda days, have racked up 12 million record sales and weathered a five-year split, have been in the rehearsal room putting the finishing live touches to the new tracks.
But they’re careful not to over rehearse.
“A real stage energy works well for us, the sense of surprise, the feeling that something might go wrong. A lot of energy comes from that and it’s one of the reasons our live shows are really good. It’s a mixture of confidence and familiarity and a bit of danger! It’s what being an artist is all about!”
Davies retains a hint of the Liverpool accent of his birth, although he now lives in Scotland, where he grew up. Talking with an occasional stutter, he tells me: “I’m more nervous in every day life than I am being on stage. Nerves are not something we suffer from, more a nervous energy. If you walk into our dressing room with five minutes to go before a big show, it would be more like expectation than anything. ”
James originally signed to the iconic Factory Records in 1982 and went on to produce a string of massive hit singles. They have always been renowned for their stunning live show.
More than 30 years on, has it every gone horribly wrong?
“Oh yeah” laughs Saul. There’s been tech that breaks down or worse. In the early 90s, half of us were playing Born of Frustration in the wrong key and it sounded awful. We started having words!
“We headlined the Saturday night at Reading Festival once (in 1991) and not many bands get to do that. Say it’s been going from 1970 to 2016, then only 46 bands can say they have done that and we’re one of them. How amazing is that?
“But we basically played every song on a new album (Seven) that we hadn’t even finished recording yet and we didn’t quite know how to play it. It was a challenging show. Although one of my mates who was backstage loved it when I thought we’d blown it, apart from the b side Maria’s Party.
“You can’t please everyone all of the time. But we love digging up ancient b sides and making them into classics. Our audience demand the unexpected. The last thing James want to do is trundle out all the hits, but you should certainly expect some surprises.”
English rock band James originally signed to the iconic Factory Records in 1982. They have since gone on to produce a string of massive hit singles, including Sit Down, Come Home, She’s A Star and Born Of Frustration. Now, 34 years on, they’re touring in support of their 14th album, Girl At The End Of The World.
Lauren Foster catches up with the band’s violinist and guitarist Saul Davies…
James’ 14th album, Girl At The End Of The World, was released earlier this year. For those who haven’t listened to it yet, tell us a bit about the album…
Bands always say that their latest record is the best one they’ve ever made. I’m not saying it’s our best record ever, but it’s certainly been met with a really warm and positive response, so I would say it’s a good record. For us, the album before, La Petite Mort, was a real watershed moment. It was a different kind of record to anything we’d made before. I think A Girl At The End Of The World accompanies that record; it could almost be a double album in some ways, although they were written at different times. There’s nothing on this latest record that was written previously. This one has got a more electronic sound, which pleases me because I have to play less guitar – less is more, ha ha. I think it’s a really interesting record. It’s quite a typical James record because stylistically it isn’t one thing. Some bands make a record on which, in a good way, all the songs kind of sound like they’re from the same band, and that’s great. When you hear a Suede album or a New Order record, they make great records but you know that’s what it is and you have that particular type of mood or sound in your life for 40 minutes. I think we always make it a little bit more difficult for our listeners because we’re not consistent in that way. Our records kind of lurch from one thing to another. It’s very much a sign that we make records that we ourselves like. We won’t omit something from a record because we don’t think it fits the tone of the record. We’ll only omit something because we think it’s shit. At the same time, if we like something collectively then we’ll put it on a record, even if it slightly disturbs the balance of that record. That’s what we do, really – we make quite unbalanced, weird pop records.
You joined James in 1989. What was it like becoming part of an already-formed group?
I’d never been in a band as such. I’d done little bits and pieces but I hadn’t really been in a proper band, so I didn’t really have any preconceptions about what it would be like. Also, the band was going through a massive flux at the time. Gavin, the original drummer, left, and Dave, our current drummer, joined at the same time as I did. Shortly after, Mark the keyboard player joined. Then Andy the keyboard player joined, so it was very much in flux – a watershed period for the band, I suppose. Dave is a very different kind of drummer, so it became more muscular and more direct. Gavin was more skittery and odd. I joined at a point where the band was changing from being a very, very indie, very scratchy, low-fi thing to something a little bit more muscular – not that muscular, let’s face it, but something a little bit more dreamy. Gold Mother – the first record we ever made – has got some more reflective moments on it, like Top Of The World and a song called Crescendo; they’re more expansive. Other influences were coming in too – the post-punk thing, the skittery rhythm thing. The Orange Juicey type stuff that they’d been doing was giving way to something else that was a little bit more solid. I must’ve contributed to the process; I was there.
You were discovered by band member Larry Gott at Manchester’s Band On The Wall. What did you play on the night to catch his attention?
We laugh about it sometimes, how moments in people’s lives define how the rest of their life will be, and how, as you approach that moment in time, you have no idea that that’s what’s actually happening. I say this to my kids. You’ve got to try everything because you don’t know what the domino effect is going to be. I’d left Manchester by then. I was living in the south of England, working down there, and I went back up to Manchester for the weekend and went to Band On The Wall. We used to go to Band On The Wall all the time because it was cheap to get in and full of loons. Larry was there, and his mate asked if anyone wanted to get up out of the audience and play something. I had my violin with me. I hadn’t wanted to leave it in the car because it could’ve got nicked. Larry’s mate said, ‘Tell that bloke there to get up, I wanna hear what he can do’. So I ended up on stage, playing. I found myself just getting shoved quite reluctantly onto the stage. I couldn’t really hear anything and I didn’t really know what I was doing, but it worked out well. I played one note, I think it was a G, and I just played one long note for about a minute, which I thought was quite cool. Larry also thought it was very cool. The thing is, I could play properly, but it’s only when you get to the point where you can play really well that you play less. So he obviously thought, ‘This guy must be really good because he’s chosen to play only one note’. Either I was fucking useless and could only play one note or I was near genius.
And you were offered the job on the spot?
Yeah. I had lots of people come up to me, about eight or nine people, asking whether I wanted to be in a band, and I was like, ‘No no no, I don’t want to be in a band’. Then Larry was like, ‘Do you want to be in a band that’s signed to a major record label?’, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I do actually’. The next morning, I went into a room with Larry, Jim and Tim and we made a racket together. Although it was just a jam, it was also an audition. We were just making noise together, but they only wanted to work with people who could improvise, who could just get in a room and make a noise that might have some coherence about it, without it being the form of improvisation that commonly people think of. Anybody can do something flash, whether it’s football or whether it’s music. It’s a different language when you get together in a room and communicate through music; when that music is meaningful. In our case, it’s usually about finding simple things, finding parts of a jigsaw that fit together to make something which, further down the line, people will hear on a record or at a gig.
Where was your first gig with James?
Within 10 days of meeting these guys, we were on tour. I know we played Hull University and Newcastle, and the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, which is now a hotel. The Mancs have got no sense of their own history. How can they just turn The Hacienda into flats, the Free Trade Hall into a fucking hotel? The city will come to regret the fact that those landmarks don’t exist. They can’t even be visited. You can’t go to where The Hacienda was. You can’t come over from Seattle with your kids on some musical pilgrimage, to see where all that late ’80s, early ’90s British indie music you loved actually came from. The Mondays did the Hillsborough gigs. I went to both of those gigs at The Hacienda – legendary cultural moments – and now the place where they happened has gone, so there’s no reference to them other than the anecdotal history. The scousers did it with The Cavern – knocking it down, then building it again down the road and saying, ‘This is The Cavern’. Well no, it’s not.
Why do you think James have managed to survive for so long, through so many scenes?
Because we genuinely weren’t really part of anything. We knew that at the time, in Manchester. I remember doing lots of interviews in the early ’90s, especially after Sit Down kicked off. Obviously other bands around us were doing brilliantly well and gaining international recognition – The Roses and The Mondays and the rest of it, The Smiths to some extent. The media was very keen to find a capsule and try to lump everyone together. There were those things going on in Manchester, that’s absolutely clear – and it wasn’t only then but later on as well, with Oasis and all the rest of it. We’ve always said that we’ve got nothing to do with those other bands. They were bands we took on tour, they all supported us. All the bands, to some extent, looked after each other. We all went to each other’s gigs. I remember going to The Mondays’ sold-out gig at G-Mex. I went there with Jimmy and got on his shoulders. It was brilliant – we were down the front, just going mental. Similarly, the year before, we’d sold out two nights at G-Mex and I remember The Roses and New Order being there. James’ real gig was supporting The Fall. If James wanted to be anybody, it was The Fall in ’82/’83 – although that would be hard to imagine, listening to our music and listening to Mark E Smith. It was about clever, gobby, working-class lads sticking up two fingers to everybody, and some of it became real pop music. The attitude was all the same – that feeling of being very alienated and very northern. Everybody knows about all this stuff.
That’s why, to some extent, we still have a voice, because we have this incredible fan base that weirdly has grown. We’ve sold more tickets on this tour than any other UK tour. It’s also weird because it’s not like we’re becoming more mainstream; it’s not like we’ve suddenly made some big pop record. We haven’t suddenly become a band looking to have mass appeal, but we’re certainly finding a wider appeal. One reason why that is, in truth, is that we’ve had unbelievable support from 6 Music, and that really does help.
Are there any songs you’ve grown to dislike over the years?
No, not really. We’ve got quite a big catalogue. We play everything, so it’s really nice when we get to the point where we go, ‘Actually, on this tour, what we’ll do is give songs X, Y and Z a rest and bring in some of these others that we haven’t played for a while’. We’re constantly chopping and changing our set. In that process it’s really nice when we reach the natural point at which we want to leave a song behind – not because we don’t like it, just because we feel we’ve probably gone as far as we can go with that particular tune for the time being. When our fans start to expect a certain thing, I think it’s right that we change it. That way, we can keep ourselves and everybody who’s into us on their toes a little bit. So for example, we’ve got a big tune called Getting Away With It. It’s a massive live tune but we’ve played it quite a lot on the past couple of tours, so we won’t play it this time. There’s also a song called Come Home, which was always a massive tune for us, but we probably won’t play that. We probably won’t play Laid or Sit Down either. We’re taking out all our biggest hits and replacing them with other big songs that we don’t play as much, like She’s A Star, Born Of Frustration, Sound, Say Something. These are all huge songs, Top-40 songs. She’s A Star was a massive song for us but we almost never play it. So we’re thinking we’ll do something weird with it on this tour by playing it with violin and cello and piano. That sounds like it could be sugar-coated nonsense, but because we don’t play in tune very well, it’ll be slightly underlying, which will be great. It’ll probably sound more like The Tindersticks than Elton John, I would imagine. We’re constantly trying to change things around, simply because we get a little bit bored with it. The obvious one is Sit Down. Other than when the tune first came out, when we were promoting it, we’ve never actually felt obliged to play it. We’re very aware that some people are coming to see James for the first time, so we’ve got to get the balance right between playing our new record, giving people songs which they’ve perhaps forgotten about and also playing to the gallery, but not doing it in such a way that we feel like we’re playing on some fucking cruise ship.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen to the music industry over the years?
I think that’s simple – buying has gone to streaming. For some years, as sales were declining, everyone was like, ‘What’s going to happen in its place?’ and it’s clear now that, in 2016, streaming is the industry. The industry is basing itself around how to maintain a business around streaming. The other thing I would say is that it’s gone from the record being the thing that makes money. In terms of paying your bills and all the rest of it, as a musician, that’s what you do, but now the only way we can make money is by playing live, so that’s a big difference. People used to lose money playing live, but that was a way of driving sales of records. Now people stream stuff, listen to it, then go and see the gigs. Consequently it’s knocked away a lot of the complacency that the industry had about itself. I think now a lot of the people left in the music industry – the people we work with, for example, BMG – are real music fans who’re dedicated not just to having a viable business – which means at least breaking even if not making money – but also to the genuine old ideas. They want people to hear our music. The same week we released our record, they released the Primal Scream album. They want to get this music out to people, not because they think they’ll make money out of it but because, culturally, they sense it’s important that bands’ music, as long as it’s good, gets heard.
James are opening Glastonbury festival this summer, playing the Other Stage at 11am. It must be such an honour to be asked to open one of the best-loved and most prestigious festivals in the world…
Of course it is. I think the trick for a band or an artist is to let the punters and the media get caught up in the euphoria that exists around those kind of events, especially Glastonbury, then turn up, play and keep level-headed about it. We’ve played at Glastonbury four times before but not recently. I think the last time we played was ’98. We’ve always done really well at Glastonbury and we’ve always really enjoyed it. I think there’s something quite nice about us playing at 11am – apparently there’ll be 40,000 to 50,000 people in front of us, which will be great. I suspect it might be a little bit overwhelming to know that, not necessarily in front of us but around us, there are 175,000 people! I might find that a little bit claustrophobic. What some people find very special, I might personally – and this is not a James perspective – find overwhelming. I’m talking to you while looking out of my window in the middle of the highlands of Scotland. I quite like solitude and not being around people. But of course it’s an honour to play Glastonbury. The festival has its detractors but, rightly or wrongly, it has a really important place in British culture. It becomes a focus for the whole of the summer, and to be involved is fantastic.
And finally, what are you looking forward to the most about being back on tour?
We’ve done three or four warm-up gigs with this new record, so we’ve kind of learned it and know what we’re doing. We’ve got some rehearsals coming up next week which will cement that. I can’t wait to be armed with a mood; with some lights around us and a mood in a room. There are three or four songs off this record which I’m genuinely looking forward to playing because so far, when we’ve done them in these tiny little gigs, there’s been something happening. I think some of that is our audience going, ‘I can’t believe they’ve done it again, this is great’. That’s the feeling I get. If you love a band, there’s always some trepidation around a new record because you’re wondering whether it’ll be as good as the last one. So it’s always a relief to find out that it is. That supercharges the room a little bit, and that’s what I’m looking forward to the most.