Translated from French (by Goggle Translate, with as few edits as possible for meaning by OneOfTheThree.com)
Interview with Tim Booth of James, who were there before The Smiths; and all Mancunian groups are indebted to them
Posted on 12/06/1991
By Thierry Coljon
Later is better for James
The city of Manchester will never stop surprising us. After revealing the Fall, Buzzcocks, Joy Division / New Order, The Smiths and A Certain Ratio, the city invaded the British dance floor with the Stone Roses (a contractual dispute gagging since their first album), Happy Mondays, Charlatans, Inspiral Carpets and EMF to name only a few. The new musical scene only just started when James were already successful veterans.
Eight years ago, we were not yet talking about The Smiths but about James whose fourth album, “Gold Mother”, appeared in England more than eight months ago, finally after long years of contract issues were put behind them.
The sustained sale of great t-shirts kept them alive and the recent success of three titles, “How Was It For You”, “Come Home” and “Sit Down”, all taken from “Gold Mother”, finally allows them to taste the success which has to this point benefited all the other Mancunian groups which they had previously helped. And to hear the perfection and the freshness of all the titles of “Gold Mother”, it is difficult not to be under the spell of the strong personality of Tim Booth, the James writer and singer, when we interviewed him:
Thierry Coljon: Today, you’ll release, on Fontana / Phonogram, a new version of [the album] “Gold Mother”, with the addition of “Sit Down”. Is not better to leave the version of Gold Mother that was released a year ago behind and include “Sit Down” with a new album?
Tim Booth: It has always been thought that this record [Gold Mother] would sell. More than seventy-five thousand were sold in the UK last year, and then “Sit Down” later became a hit. Phonogram wanted it included right away in “Gold Mother”, we said no because it was not very fair for those who had just bought it. So we agreed only on the condition that people could exchange the old for the new. In Europe, it was more complicated because you had to negotiate with different firms but if some of your readers have “Gold Mother” without “Sit Down”, they can bring it back to England and exchange it.
TC: Your relationships with record companies have not always been simple. You left Factory to record two albums, “Stutter” and “Stripe Mine”, on Sire who did nothing to promote them. You slammed the door on [Sire] in 1989 [and self-released] the “live” “One Man Clapping”, and then left Rough Trade, who released the singles “Sit Down” and “Come Home”. Why did you leave Rough Trade, which still gave you your first successes?
TB: Sire had seen in us a light pop band from the north of England. That’s what they were looking for. It was fashionable at that time. They found our albums not commercial enough for their taste and did not do anything about it. We had to go elsewhere and find another contract with people more in harmony with our musical ambitions. At Rough Trade we found some lovely people who helped us a lot but they had a reduced idea of what James was. They did not think we could ever have a massive success there.
Rough Trade loved our music but thought we were just a band for musicians and journalists, an alternative band when we were convinced to make music to please everyone. Rough Trade was not ready to do with us what they did with The Smiths because they did not believe in us.
They did not want to see us big, unlike Phonogram who believed it right away. Now it is all fine. We have proved that we were able to sell today more than The Smiths in their day.
TC: But how did you manage to preserve that energy and freshness for so long while seeing other Manchester bands come into your charts?
TB: We always believed a lot in what we did. We knew we would have a day of success but weren’t sure when. This confidence allowed us to survive, but also the concerts that we never stopped giving, initially supporting other groups or at festivals. The surprising reaction of the public assured us that we were in the right. We also had a lot of fun working, repeating four, five days a week. We managed to live, some members of the group had kept a part-time job.
In eight years, the band stopped for two or three months in the summer. It was obviously frustrating to see the others on the hit parade, but we were never convinced that they were successful because they were better groups. For three years, we have only spoken of Manchester. We knew we had to take advantage of this fashion and quickly get attached to it because one day nobody will want any more Manchester groups. But we always intended to be there afterward. We have already proven that it is possible to survive The Smiths and Morrissey. The most embarrassing is that some people think that we are inspired by the known Mancunian groups while actually we were there before them, but with time history will be clear.
TC: You who have been here for a long time, how do you see Manchester’s scene, its history, its personality?
TB: We only know the groups that have appeared in the last twelve or thirteen years. We have the impression that there have always been groups in Manchester seeking to be original. That may be what brings them together. Putting them in one bag is a mistake. We speak quickly of “musical scene”, three groups are enough for that. When we started with The Smiths, we were already talking about the Mancunian scene. I find that the groups in Manchester have in common their belief that they never needed to change their style to be successful.
TC: You have been supported by bands like Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets, who appear on “Gold Mother”, in “How Was It For You”. You’ve said some pretty fierce things about the neo-psychedelic fashion influenced by the Sixties that most Manchester groups adopt?
TB: It is precisely so that they do not get lost in an excessive desire to appear. Fortunately, their music is more important than their sweatshirts and haircuts. And I don’t always like everything that comes from Manchester…
On stage, I change the lyrics of a song. What I write is less important than the interpretation of those who listen to it.
TC: You like to write words that easily become mantras or slogans when you set your music, in the same way as U2. You do not hesitate to take a stand. “Government Walls” is a committed political song …
TB: Slogans are unconscious. All is nonsense. That said, writing a pop song does not have to be an encouragement to cheap culture. I do not force myself, everything comes naturally from my head, I write as it comes to me. “Sit Down” is a celebration. I try to be positive but I do not believe in creating “happy” songs.
“Government Walls” comes from a very specific English fact: MI5, the English secret service, was used by the political right to scare the Labour party. The book that revealed the whole thing is still forbidden here because it says things we should not know.
“God Only Knows” speaks of rotten preachers. We immediately think of the Americans because there it is very obvious but it exists everywhere in a more subtle version perhaps.
The song “Gold Mother” is perhaps the most beautiful song ever written about the woman, the mother …
She talks about the birth of my son. It is a celebration of the courage of the woman. We never talk about the courage it takes a woman to bring a child into the world while we spend our time celebrating the courage of man when he goes to war or dies …
James: “Gold Mother” (Fontana, Polygram distr.)
Original Interview was at this link (now dead link): http://www.lesoir.be/archive/recup/mieux-vaut-tard-que-james-le-groupe-de-tim-booth-etait-_t-19910612-Z0428N.html