The things Tim Booth’s been up to since you last looked. There’s the acting award, the screenplay writing, the DJing. But more, much more than these, he ultimately couldn’t resist getting back to his own music. Just don’t call it a solo record. We tried that once, and he chased us out of town brandishing a stick of Brighton rock.
Alright, we embroidered a bit, but now that you’re reading, ‘Bone’ is the happy accident that happened when the man-about-the-Sussex seaside got together with some friends, barely aware of their creative scope or his own subconscious hunger to make music again. “I’m not in control of this, it was a complete accident,” he says with enthusiasm and genuine surprise. “It’s not a solo record, it’s a collaboration.”
Booth is back three years after his departure from James prompted the end of one of the longest adventures in modern band history, a tale of wilful obscurity, indie heroics, mainstream adulation and the occasional sparkly dress. ‘Bone’, his debut for Monkeygod Records / Sanctuary Records, arrives at its own unhurried speed and to the considerable surprise of Tim himself.
“I thought what was going to happen was acting or writing,” he says. “I wanted to give myself time to write a lot, which I did, and had a great time. I had a film script that got optioned, and I do acting training once a week, because I love it, I love the fear. A few years ago I won an award for best newcomer to the stage, for a play I did in Manchester [Edward Bond’s production of ‘Saved’] and loved it. Scared the fuck out of me, but I loved it.
“So I’d been running three things at once and not panicking, really very happy, having a great time with family and friends. This one bit first. So I’ve not had a sense of waiting for something.”
That feeling of spontaneity is all over ‘Bone’, produced chiefly in a Brighton bedroom by Lee “Muddy” Baker and featuring several song-writing collaborations with Kevin ‘KK’ Kerrigan. “We wrote ‘Down To The Sea’ together and a few others. I knew they were great songs, but we couldn’t finish them,” says Booth. “Lee came along and gave it a sexiness. He comes up with the most amazing bass lines.
“We’ve got a lot of grooves on the record, and James didn’t have grooves. James were hard to dance to.” Ah yes, but people did. “They did. I did. I DJ and I use masses of music that’s going to get people dancing, and that got me into groove. I love not necessarily straightforward dance music, but music that makes you start to move your hips. I said to Lee, I love these songs but I also want people to feel a little infectious movement from them, and he came up with all these great drums and bass lines. So that’s a huge difference.”
That “accidental” line about this record is no spin. “I met all of the band last year, they all make their own records and do other things. Lisa Lindley-Jones (a.k.a. “XAN”) was going out with a friend of mine, and she sings like an angel. Milo (Michael McCabe) is a stand-up comedian. I met Lee in a cafe, I heard him talking about music.
“My idea at the time was I didn’t want to sing the songs and I didn’t want to tour, so we were going to find some band and get them to do it. Then when I met Lee, he said he’d love to produce it and play every instrument.”
“Muddy” Baker not only gets the producer credit, but the one for reintroducing Tim to the idea of being an active participant again. The friendship was already locked in by the time the working connection was starting to grow. “We have a fantastic piss-taking relationship,” says Booth. “You can see it on stage, you can’t insult people that openly unless you’re good friends. I had no intention of playing live again, but he rekindled my desire to sing them and take the songs out and tour.”
So, courtesy of Booth, here’s a 60-second tour through ‘Bone’. “I think with a song like ‘Down To The Sea’, you can see it comes from James,” he says. “I see it coming from ‘Sometimes’, that sort of area. Then there’s a lot on the record that don’t sound anything like James. ‘Hard Love’ is obviously about addiction and love, which is a theme I love.
“What happens is, the launch place for the lyrics probably has a strong connection to me, then I’ll start to exaggerate, and by the end of it it’s not really me at all. Like ‘Wave Hello’ is really a love song about the fear of long-term commitment. By the time I’ve got to the line ‘things never turn out my way’, it’s not me anymore, because I’m a lucky fucker. But I don’t care, I’m following a line through.”
The album also contains a new version of “Fall In Love With Me” the glorious ballad co-written for the cult album of Tim’s career: ‘Booth And The Bad Angel’, his 1996 collaboration with classically- trained American maestro Angelo Badalamenti. “I just love that song. When Angelo and I wrote that, we were just dancing around the room, we thought we’d written the song that would break all the walls down. I felt it never got heard properly, and I just thought, ‘I want you to hear this’, because I know it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever written, and it’s a really different version.”
There are also a few songs on ‘Bone’ that address the nature of celebrity. “’Redneck’ was sparked by some friends of mine who are now very famous. I’d rung them a few times and nobody had returned my call for months, then the girl rang back and was so apologetic. Over-apologetic. I thought, they’re scared in case I think they didn’t ring back because they’re so famous.’ By the time I get to the chorus, it’s about the disposability of fame, that we’re just ice cream. One day people want vanilla, the next day they want chocolate. Everybody in it thinks we’re so important.”
It’s something Booth got to view with a rare perspective, because it happened to him and to James such a long way into their journey from Manchester indie hopefuls of 1982. Booth was there through the whole slow burn to the roaring flame of the early 1990s and onwards until 2001. “I had a great time in James and they’re still friends,” he says. “Full respect.” This is the band, remember, that turned down an NME front cover in its early years. “The Fall and New Order had been a big influence in ethics,” he says. “We didn’t want to do it. After a year, we took it and we started playing the game.
“Doors open for you, you get to hang out with people you’re really interested in. I can’t knock it. I take a superior stance in some ways, but then I take the piss out of myself when I do. Having sycophantic people around doesn’t interest me. I don’t surround myself with people who know James.”
The album title? “ ‘Bone’, it’s a good word, isn’t it? It’s something that just works, and it’s something about being stripped to the bone, I think.”
As Booth and the band will be proving soon on the live dates that even he didn’t expect to be planning, ‘Bone’ contains plenty of shadowy concepts and surprising angles, but it’s the album of someone who wouldn’t be hurried. “There’s some dark lyrics on there,” says Tim, “but ultimately, I’m an optimist. I like my happy endings.”