James conclude their tour with The Orchestra Of The Swan and Manchester Consort Choir with shows in Manchester, Gateshead and London.
By Sarah Walters and Neal Keeling, © 2011 Manchester Evening News
James star in death threats ordeal
“Stalker told me: I’ll kick your wobbly head in”
- James singer reveals email and poster taunts
- Police informed as band perform city gigs
JAMES star Tim Booth has spoken of his ordeal at the hands of a stalker who has threatened to kill him. Police were alerted after posters went up in Manchester saying the singer would be attacked.
Booth, 51, revealed he was being targeted during a James concert at the Bridgewater Hall – after security had been stepped up as a direct result of the threats. The posters appeared ahead of the band’s two concerts at the Manchester venue on Monday and last night. Booth, who joined James while he was a Manchester University student in the 1980s, told the M.E.N: “I’ve been getting some strange emails from someone for about a year-and-a-half that have been getting weirder and weirder, which could be from the same person [as put up the posters] but we don’t know.
”The posters were put up over James posters at the Bridgewater Hall and someone was also handing out fly-posters.
“Someone’s gone to a bit of effort. They detail what they’re going to do to me when they get hold of me.
“It wasn’t a problem for me. I go walk-about in the audience and so that was a bit difficult. I felt it better to announce it to the audience and also if anyone sees someone handing posters out to report it to the police. We have told the police. We reported it here and in Nottingham – you have to report it in the place you’re in. Originally that was Nottingham.
“I’m assuming they’re going to be at one of the shows, that’s why I’m talking to the audience. In Liverpool, people were coming on stage and were grabbing me and security get really nervous obviously. I just felt like I was going to come out and make light of it as well, just inform the audience so they know what’s going on. I’m hoping we can flush him out at a show because he’ll be in an environment where I can deal with him.”
Security staff set up tables outside the Bridgewater Hall to check fans’ bags.
The box office was also screened off from the main foyer so no one could enter without going through security checks.
Security staff were also inside the hall during the show.
Four songs into Monday’s show, Booth produced an A3 poster, handwritten in black ink. He said a stalker was threatening to ‘kick his wobbly head in’ before joking that if he wandered into the audience everyone he approached should put their hands in the air to prove they weren’t ‘concealing any weapons’.
Then he said: “Seriously, if anyone sees anyone putting up the posters, I’d appreciate it if you’d contact the police.”
Yesterday Booth and the rest of the band unveiled a plaque to commemorate their first gig at the Hacienda club in Manchester 30 years ago.
SetlistSet 1 - Dust Motes / Hello / Alaskan Pipeline / The Shining / Fairground / Lookaway / Just Like Fred Astaire / Someone's Got It In For Me / Bubbles / Hey Ma / We're Going To Miss You
Set 2 - She's A Star / Space / English Beefcake / Riders / The Lake / Fire So Close / Of Monsters And Heroes And Men / Say Something / Hymn From A Village / Medieval / Sometimes
Encore - Dream Thrum / Tomorrow / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Top Of The World
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Last time, James played the Albert Hall, it felt like a bit of an anti-climax – the venue isn’t set up for full-on rock concerts, the crowd was a bit mixed and everything didn’t quite gel. The place can be intimidating even for a band of James history, stature and track record of taking on crowds and challenging them with something new and different. So it’s with a little trepidation and a lot of sadness that this could be the last time we see this coming together of three different musical groups into a melting pot of strings, brass, harmonies and rock and roll that we take our seats.
As for the last shows, the band take the sensible approach of starting slowly and getting the crowd to listen to the more tender and fragile moments of the set before turning the volume and pace up later in the set. If you’ve read my reviews so far, you’ll know the seguing of Dust Motes and Hello is a thing of incredible beauty and Barry has got the sound absolutely right to fill the cavernous spaces of the hall. Similarly, when Charlie from the choir comes to the front of the stage to sing her soprano part over the outro of Alaskan Pipeline, it’s almost as if her voice is swirls round the arena. The song itself could melt your heart if you let it, gently lilting, but at the same time swelling with emotion. The choir and orchestra make The Shining transcend its position as a largely-ignored album track and give it an almost anthemic-feel. Anthemic in the vein of Last Night Of The Proms rather than Sit Down.
The whole beauty of this tour is not just in the orchestra and the choir, but also in the way that Joe Duddell has made James delve into their back catalogue, including the parts of it they haven’t really visited at all since the reformation. There’s as many songs tonight off Strip-Mine than there are off Laid and more than off Gold Mother, and Seven hasn’t been represented on the tour at all which is a calculated gamble given it was their most successful commercial non-compilation album so far. Whilst James have always tried to be a forward-looking band, this tour was a fantastic opportunity to show people they haven’t forgotten that it wasn’t just the big singalong hits that got them their following. The cheers of recognition for the lesser-known songs on this tour has been heartwarming. Going forward, it will hopefully mean that James aren’t afraid to go off-piste and throw in a real curveball or two as they did on their US tour last year. That said, that can’t be at the cost of new exciting, dynamic music, whether it be influenced by this experience or whether they do an about turn and produce a hard, balls-out rock record.
Anyway, I digress, Fairground proves that point. Tim dragging David from the orchestra to the front by stealing his sheet music might look a bit cheesy the tenth time you’ve seen it, but it still looks spontaneous and gets a reaction from the crowd, who so far have sat and listened. London crowds have a reputation for being harder work than in other places for a band, but there are people up dancing in the stalls even this early on.
Lookaway also proves the point. One of two songs from the Morning After album, it shows that James still have the ability in them to write a song that could be played on radio and could be a hit, if the radio pluggers and playlist choosers today didn’t have their own agendas, one of which seems to be to kill off guitar music. Tim tells the crowd about his stalker and that The Sun claim he was terrified, and he makes light of it by telling them that it was the spelling and grammar that made him scared. Larry jokes that if anyone sees a red dot on Tim’s forehead that they should get out of the way. The choir bring the song to a crescendo (and the revelation in the soundcheck that that song had been scored but not played makes me sad) and demonstrate yet again how vital they are to this, despite being relatively less experienced compared to the orchestra and choir. Their obvious joy and excitement at being part of this whole thing and unique dancing adds much to the set even on top of their wonderful singing. You can even see Joe singing along at this point.
Tim makes his way into the seats at the side for Just Like Fred Astaire, stopping to sing to members of the crowd en route. It gets a lot of stalls to their seats as well, although there’s not lots of room to dance in the hall. Someone’s Got It In For Me was almost made for shows like this, it has all the gripping drama and tension you need in the music once you let the orchestra loose on it and Tim’s voice is sounding as great as it ever did. Bubbles also has that, the best description I’ve heard of it is from Lee on the Hey Ma commentary where he calls it a smorgasbord of everything about James – it’s fitting then to have the orchestra take it and adapt it to sound different, but retain that feeling of exhilaration as the song takes off.
Hey Ma is spiteful and damning of the Bush / Blair wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it is also an incredible pop song, damned to never get radio play by its chorus. The addition of the orchestra and choir on this one don’t change the song significantly as they do on other songs, but they do is to weave their way into the fabric of the song such that you feel they were there all the time. People are on their feet and dancing and singing along, uplifted by what they’re seeing up their on stage.
We’re Going To Miss You is another song that has been plucked from relative obscurity by Joe and transformed into something magnificent and uplifting. The chorus lends itself to be sung along to, firstly by the choir who put that soar into the song that Kulas did so well on Millionaires and Pleased To Meet You, and then by the audience as the orchestra, then choir and then band leave the stage still singing the chorus.
The second set starts with Tim playing with the orchestra, using the baton, which he jokes later that Joe never uses, before launching them into the William Tell Overture, which causes him to dance. At the end, as Joe comes on stage Tim gives him a present from James – a triangle, which was apparently the first musical instrument that Joe had bought for him.
She’s A Star sees Mark come back to accompany the orchestra. The crowd roar their appreciation once they work out what it is and there’s pockets of dancing around the arena. The song shows the way orchestration and Joe’s scores can breathe new life in old favourites that form the base elements of the normal James set. Larry has watched it from the back and runs down the stall aisle to get back on stage to dedicate it to his step-daughter.
Space has also been a revelation on this tour. Ignored since the comeback, it hangs on a slow build and then Tim taking centre stage with the passion in the vocals over the closing section of the song.
English Beefcake sees Tim go walkabout again, firstly down into the stalls and then up into the side stalls to look up and sing to the choir seats. He dances with a few members of the audience and poses for a few pictures. The inclusion of the song was in some doubt at the soundcheck, but Saul’s perseverance saw it included, and it sounds great with some bits added during the tour, such as Kim from the choir soloing the start of the “there’s nothing to say, I get in the way, unable to break obsession” section before the rest of the choir join in.
Riders jokingly gets dismissed as some shit that was written in the 1980s, which is clearly isn’t. It has some folkier elements which lead themselves well to the orchestration, but possesses an inherent drama and tension that the strings can be used to augment. The choir add menace to the backing vocals, particularly after the dramatic stop in the song.
The Lake single-handedly proves the value of looking at songs that wouldn’t ordinarily get near a James setlist choice. Remember it was not even chosen for the Laid album and ended up on the b-side of the single of the same name. Yet here it is, stealing the show with its control of pace, the subtle fluorishes of brass and strings that add so much to the song without overpowering it.
Fire So Close, introduced as a song written when they weren’t trying to be a folk song and one of the first songs they ever wrote, has to be restarted as Tim is thrown by a crowd member singing the next line at the start ahead of time, which he calls jokingly a “bad echo”. Tim seems to be trying to hold the note in the middle of the song longer every night. David and Larry continue their violin / guitar duel at the end of the song before Tim and the guys from the choir come back in.
Of Monsters And Heroes And Men is added to the set especially for those who bought Hey Ma, and Larry says this is the song he’s told is people’s favourite on the album. Whilst that’s debatable, it sounds fantastic with the additional orchestral instrumentation and some choir harmonies.
Say Something, like She’s A Star, feels the benefit of the reinvention by Joe. The addition of Harriet and Pippa from the choir in the verse and the rich vibrant strings transform the song. The London crowd need no invitation to sing it back and more and more people get to their feet.
As the song draws to a close, there’s a trumpet call from somewhere, but Andy has left the stage. The light swings up to the top circle seats where Andy is stood at the balcony playing. This then goes into a string section that mimics Jim’s bass on the original version of Hymn From A Village. The crowd and choir clap along and the brass section in the background help keep the pace and the chaos of the original.
Medieval is next, “more shit from the 80s”, and it starts with Larry on banjo. It turns into a romp with the choir at the front of the stage, the orchestra standing and joining in the chorus at the end. Tim introduces the orchestra and choir at the end of the song, saying they’re hiding at the back where good leaders should be.
The main set finishes with an exuberant, celebratory Sometimes. Finally, even most of those glued to their seats get up and join in the limited dancing they can do with the space between seats. It’s a triumphant conclusion to the main set, Tim leading a competition to sing the chorus between choir and audience, before Dave brings the orchestra back in for the finale.
The encore starts with Dream Thrum, which calms the mood down slightly before the triumphant romps through an adrenalin and strings charged Tomorrow, which has been perfectly paced for this setting, not losing the pace and dynamism of the original, but different enough to allow the strings to be heard above the band’s guitars. Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) has a similar impact and brings the scripted setlist to a conclusion with a hall full of people on their feet dancing and singing away.
They don’t go straight away though, thanking all their crew and then telling the crowd they’ll do one more, Larry getting carried away thinking James had been together 40 years, not 30. Larry tells the crowd that “you made us feel like this”. No big hits though, we get a fragile, delicate Top Of The World, that will damage the street cred of many of the tougher men in the crowd as it reduces them to tears. And then they’re really gone. The tour is over.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens next with this. There doesn’t appear to be a full show recording for a DVD release because the economics didn’t work, but some of them have been recorded as audio so we might get something seeing the light of day next year if the funds can be sourced to do so.
Whether this happens again will be interesting to see. Tim’s already tweeted about looking for orchestras and choirs in the US, Europe and South America, but it would take some doing to get it to work with language barriers, the time needed to prepare, the lower price of tickets and whether, in some places, they could sell the volume of tickets required to make it viable. Doing this again in the UK would be fantastic, if the setting and setlist are changing. This would be perfect for the Forestry Commission shows in intimate woodland settings across the UK in the summer. Another tour would need to have a different setlist to keep the energy and development in the music going over a period of time.
This tour has been absolutely incredible, a real journey for fans both in terms of the music coming from the stage and the setlist, but it’s intriguing to see how it will impact James going forward. It’s over 12 months since The Morning After so there has to be a look at new material, which was the stated aim of the reformation, plus there’s also the understandable desire to take James to new audiences – successes in South America and Eastern Europe this year open up possibilities there which are both exciting for the band as well as potentially a way of funding the next album.
SetlistSet 1 - Dust Motes / Hello / Alaskan Pipeline / Really Hard / The Shining / Fairground / Just Like Fred Astaire / Someone's Got It In For Me / Hey Ma / We're Going To Miss You
Set 2 - She's A Star / Space / Riders / The Lake / Fire So Close / Say Something / Boom Boom / Medieval / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Sometimes
Encore - Top Of The World / Hymn From A Village / Tomorrow
VIP Soundcheck - Strangers / Really Hard / Boom Boom
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So onto the penultimate show of the tour and it’s a new venue for James, the Sage in Gateshead. It’s a stunning building, situated by the Tyne, and the inside of the venue is no less spectacular. It’s also renowned as one of the best venues in Europe, if not the best, for sound.
Dust Motes and Hello have cemented them firmly in the set as the openers over the second half of the tour and they work perfectly. Tim tells the crowd they’re going to start quietly so people should sit back and listen. The stories regarding the sound are spot on, Tim’s voice is crystal clear and you can hear a pin drop in the Sage as the audience do as they are told. When the drums kick in, you can distinguish the instruments in the louder section of the song. It segues into Hello, which equally benefits from the clarity of the sound. Alaskan Pipeline completes the trio of slower opening songs, the strings and Jim’s bass have the hairs standing up on the back of my neck, such is the intensity of the sound. When Charlie from the choir sings the soprano part at the end, you can almost feel her vocal cords vibrating.
Tim introduces Really Hard as his opportunity to use his deep voice. He rebuffs another call of “C’mon Tim” by telling the shouter that it’s going on, but internally. It’s not had a lot of plays on this tour and has flitted in and out of the set, but it is a great opportunity to show part of Tim’s vocal range that isn’t used too much. The choir’s backing vocals provide a lift without overtaking the song. The male parts of the choir have a similar impact on The Shining.
Fairground is introduced as a song about a time when there was a fight within James and the song was written in the aftermath, which explains its almost lurching rhythm. At the end of the song, Tim picks up lead violin David’s sheet music and draws him forward to the front of the stage. At the end of the song, Tim says he’s tempted to rip up all the orchestra’s sheet music and see how they would cope. It’d be a very interesting experiment, and looking at how they have adapted to the James way of working, you’d think it could actually be something quite spectacular.
The crowd has been extremely attentive up to this point, sitting and listening to the songs, giving them a wonderful response and there hasn’t been too many shouts for hits, although there’s one for Johnny Yen, which makes me wonder if it’s the same person doing all the shows until he gets to hear it. Anyway, Just Like Fred Astaire sees Tim jump into the crowd, serenade a couple of punters in the stalls and then position himself precariously over a couple of seats before making his way back, almost relay style with the microphone, back to the stage. It’s a little bit of theatre that livens the crowd up and gives many of them a great photo opportunity and even the chance to dance with Tim. What it detracts from is how well the orchestration of it works – it’s never been a song they’ve completely nailed live previously.
Tim’s interrupted in telling the story about his stalker by Joe starting Someone’s Got It In For Me, which has all the twists and turns in it amplified by the quality of sound in the hall, there’s so much drama and emotion packed into four minutes that you feel the song could burst under the weight of itself if the orchestration wasn’t spot on.
Hey Ma is introduced as being dedicated to Blair and Bush, but Larry chirps in and says it’s also a love song to your mum, which Tim tells us is a strange paradox. The choir clap along and parts of the crowd join in – there’s no extended harp section today, which is a bit of a shame as it builds a lot of tension in the song before it crashes then into the final section.
We’re Going To Miss You completes the first half of the set, before we go and have, as Tim puts it, cucumber sandwiches and wine. He tells us the story about his stalker, but that he feels safe in the North East because he wouldn’t dare take on the crowd. At the end of the song, everyone leaves the stage still singing the chorus, and Larry even indulging in a spot of jazz hands as he shares his mic with Tim.
For the second half, Tim comes out and asks the crowd if they’re getting it, to which someone responds that he should do “his dance”. He ignores the shout and picks up the baton and there’s interplay with him and the orchestra before they do a short section of the William Tell Overture. As Joe comes out, another heckler shouts to Tim to tell a joke, Tim retorts that what he just did was a joke. He then banters with Joe about the romance and mystery of the orchestra and Joe’s northern roots, him calling the podium a stand.
Mark joins the stage and he and Tim with the orchestra deliver a spine-tingling version of She’s A Star, stripped of guitar and the end section. Larry watches it from the crowd like the rest of us. The crowd go wild for it, Tim acknowledges that he knows the audience want a party and that it will come, to which Saul quips that it won’t, and then Tim tells them they want to show everyone there’s more than one way to be brilliant.
Space and Riders show perfectly that it is the lesser known songs that are benefitting from their reinvention and reintroduction in the set, and what Joe has done, other than create the magical arrangements for the orchestra and the choir parts, is to become the eighth member of James for a few weeks and drive this reassessment of the band’s past. It’s not that difficult to see there’s appeared to have been some reluctance to play lots of Millionaires and Pleased To Meet You since the reformation, but Space is a great little song that, like other counterparts from its album, got lost in the wish to go out with a hits-driven bang in 2001. Riders, like most of Strip-Mine and its b-sides, were almost unique to their time, but fit perfectly into James’ back catalogue and into this set.
The Lake was absolutely incredible again. You feel yourself drawn into the emotional washing machine, as Tim describes what’s going on down on stage. I’m sat writing this on a train off iphone notes and I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it. Tim tells the crowd it’s a little b-side and not Sit Down.
Fire So Close is introduced as one of the earliest songs James wrote. It’s written on the setlists as Why So Close, but the spirit of it is closer to its earlier, faster, more dynamic Factory incarnation with the backing vocals and the energy of the interaction between Larry on guitar and David from the orchestra on violin. It has a new extended outro with just violin over Tim and the choir repeating part of the song, which works really well. You’re also drawn to Jim, sat at the side, tapping his hand on his knee and laughing at the end of the song. Reading Tim’s tweets and listening to comments in the soundchecks, you sense this is as much as a revelatory experience for the band as it is for the fans who’ve seen them plenty of times before.
Say Something gets a huge cheer as the strings transform Larry’s opening guitar section and Harriet and Pippa from the choir accompany Tim in the verses. There’s still a lot of respect though as there’s not much dancing in the crowd at this point, people preferring to listen and take this in.
Boom Boom gets reintroduced after a sole play earlier in the tour in Glasgow. It demonstrates the evolution of the songs throughout the tour as it sounds far more together, and the orchestra and choir led instrumental section at the end is wonderful. The band themselves look almost awe-struck at just how brilliant it works.
There’s a cry from the back of the stalls to play Laid, which Tim politely puts down and introduces Medieval as the song that would have been the big song at the end of the James set in the 80s. Saul stops him to enquire why there’s a centre seat in the second row, which would be one of the best seats in the house, empty and whether the person sat there left half-way through. Medieval has the sheen of the additonal mixing it got on Strip-Mine wiped off it and stripped back to a primal, tribal beat, which turns into all the patrons on stage standing and chanting the “we are sound” refrain. It’s magnificent.
Most of the crowd finally take the plunge and get to their feet as the opening section of Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) starts up. There’s some interesting dancing from one of the girls in the choir who takes Tim on face-to-face. Larry goes walkabout with an enormous grin on his face.
Sometimes brings the main set to its close. It ends with another sing-off between choir and audience, led by Tim, who improves some of the lyrics in the lead-in to the crowd joining in, which seems to half-confuse Larry. It’s not as quite as loud as other night, but you just need to look at the joy on the faces of the people singing it to know that it doesn’t really matter. As they leave the stage, Tim introduces the orchestra and choir again, and then, when introducing Joe, tells the crowd that it’s his fault that they’re not playing Laid.
The encore starts with a very short dedication by Jim to someone who couldn’t be at the gig. Top Of The World sees Tim stay on stage rather than go out into the circle. Andy has no such qualms starting Hymn From A Village on trumpet from the top tier of the venue. The song represents perfectly the chaos of this whole show – there’s so much going on up there, but it all fits together beautifully – a minor 80s indie hit with strings and brass and trumpet and a choir could be incredibly cheesy, but isn’t and it’s testament to the people involved that it isn’t.
The set closes with Tomorrow, which gets everyone back up dancing and has a new end section, led by Dave’s drums that has some of the tribal qualities of Medieval earlier. The crowd, to a man and woman, are up on their feet at the end to recognise what they had just witnessed.
It’s difficult to try and compare this to other shows. The sound quality meant people were much more inclined to sit down and listen and there’s massive respect due to the people of the North East, who are usually some of the noisiest and more boisterous James crowds, that they sat and listened and responded at the end of the songs. There even wasn’t that much dissent for the lack of hits, other than from a few probably inebriated hecklers. You can sense the chemistry up on stage and the bonds that have been formed are getting firmer and firmer and the collective grief, as Tim eloquently put it on Twitter, that this is coming to an end is starting to kick in here too.
SetlistSet 1 - Dust Motes / Hello / Alaskan Pipeline / The Shining / Someone's Got It In For Me / Fairground / Just Like Fred Astaire / Upside / English Beefcake / We're Going To Miss You / Hey Ma
Set 2 - Dream Thrum / Space / She's A Star / Riders / The Lake / Fire So Close / Say Something / Medieval / Tomorrow / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)
Encore - Top Of The World / Hymn From A Village / Sometimes
VIP Soundcheck - Upside / Boom Boom / English Beefcake
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James’ second night blew the first out of the water, so it would be interesting to see if they could repeat the trick in Manchester. It’s always a difficult trick to do for a band like James, who pride themselves in changing their setlists each night to get a balance without compromising both nights. Tonight, we lose Lookaway and Of Monsters And Heroes And Men, which have been two of the highlights of the tour so far, yet we get the debut of Upside and the return of English Beefcake. Heads we win, tales you lose.
The orchestra take to the stage first and are joined by Tim, who picks up the batons at Joe’s stand and starts to conduct them, finally into The William Tell Overture. This works equally well at the start of the show as it does at the end, and lightens the mood for those who are not sure what they’re going to get in this imposing venue.
What they get for starters is an instruction for Tim to sit back in their comfy chairs and relax and listen. Dust Motes and Hello is pretty much the perfect opening combination for this set. It dispels any notion that this is going to be a romp through a greatest hits set with an orchestra throwing some strings in and some pretty girls in a choir singing over the top. We had a fascinating conversation with Simon from the orchestra on the way to the pub post-soundcheck about the way rock and pop musicians view orchestras, with some even having a “no munters” rule.
Whilst Tim’s vocals undoubtedly steal the show on Dust Motes, the choir adds subtlety to the chorus and the orchestration fits the song perfectly when the end section kicks in. Hello is a perfect example of how the collaboration works – if seven-piece James played this live, you’d struggle to want it in the set every night as it doesn’t stand up to a lot of James’ best slower songs. However, give Mark a piano rather than keyboards and move Jim’s bass up in the mix and let Joe lead the orchestra and it turns into something you’d be truly upset if they dropped from this setlist.
Alaskan Pipeline is one of those best slower songs and whilst the arrangement is true to the original, it does allow for an extended opening that sends shivers up the spine, brilliant in its simplicity but flooding the room in emotion. Charlie’s soprano at the end adds an haunting feel to the song, beautifully in keeping with the original but demonstrating my earlier point.
The Shining has been a revelation. Whilst the original leads itself to orchestration, it isn’t one you would obviously pick, the band themselves not really playing this again after the 2000 theatre tour prior to the release of the Pleased To Meet You album. When the choir accompany Tim in the choir, there’s a gospel quasi-religious feel to it, lifting the whole song into the stratosphere, just as well as the seats at the back are about that far up.
Regular readers of these reviews will be aware of Tim’s issues with the stalker who’s been around and Tim once again takes the chance to tell the crowd about it and to ask them to be vigilant and not to lurch towards him if he comes out into the crowd, unless they’re the stalker. He jokes with a man who points at his wife. Larry dedicates the song to Tim. Someone’s Got It In For Me has always been a curious one in James’ catalogue – whilst there’s obviously a difference between how a song sounds in the live environment when the adrenalin is pumping and you have a huge PA to how a song sounds sat at home, this song more than most never quite had the same impact on record. It really doesn’t stand a chance against this version – strings and brass dominate the instrumental sections and turn the inherent drama of the song into an edge-of-the-seat thriller. Manchester responds with wild applause, and you sort of sense there an uncertainty whether people should be getting up and dancing.
Fairground is introduced as a song from years ago. What this does, along with the other Factory and Sire songs that have been played tonight, is to hopefully destroy the notion that these songs don’t fit with the rest of the catalogue. Shout for Johnny Yen all you like, but there’s so much more from that period that is as vital and integral to the James story than that one song. What would be fantastic is for the lasting legacy of this tour to be that these songs do not get pushed to the back of the room when setlists are being drawn up – the songs themselves speak much more for this band than a plaque on a wall and a scripted speech from a music executive who wouldn’t know all the band if they were stood next to them. Tim ends the song teasing lead violinist David by stealing his sheet music, jumping down into the front row and then tearing up the sheet.
As he’s already down in the crowd, he stays there for Just Like Fred Astaire, tonight serenading celebrity fan Peter Kay by changing the line to “just met a boy who believes we can fly” but sadly not able to entice him into showing off his dancing skills. He has more success with a girl in a white dress sat behind Peter, who can actually dance, before he goes down on one knee to sing to another man in the audience. He then makes his way back to the stage over the chairs.
We then get the debut on the tour of Upside. There’s been a bit of a fan-led campaign to convince Joe that this one needs to be in the set and despite a bit of a muddy version at the soundcheck, it sounds absolutely gorgeous in the full room. Saul’s gentle acoustic strum and Mark’s piano start the song off quietly, before everyone else joins in. Tim, thousands of miles away from home and loved ones, clearly feels the emotion in his words. The key change, which had been the subject of much discussion with the song at soundcheck, doesn’t sound at all X Factor.
One of the enduring and exciting features of James live shows has been the constant evolution of songs. Whilst it’s relatively easier to do this with a seven-piece who have known songs for years, it’s less so with a choir and orchestra close to fifty to number, but there’s no fear of trying new ideas from the choir and orchestra. English Beefcake sees the choir take a much more prominent role in the outro of the song, one of the girls taking a solo at the start of the “there’s nothing to say..” section, before the others join in.
Tim again dedicates Hey Ma to Blair and Bush, and he finishes the song embracing Andy, who with his new friends in the brass section, plays such an important role as the songs builds to its climax. There’s still a surreal feel to thousands of people singing songs about bodybags.
The first set ends with We’re Going To Miss You, with the band, choir and orchestra departing still singing the song, and the stage being empty at the end with the song being sung from backstage. It’s a clever well thought out lead into the interval. This song has bucked the trend with a lot of James songs – the recorded album version captures the essence and the menace of the song brilliantly, yet they hadn’t before this tour managed to capture that same feeling live, even dropping it on the Millionaires tour despite it being the current single at the time.
Dream Thrum opens the second set, and is the one slight disappointment. Retracing my view on this from the Zaragoza show, I said it would work perfectly with the orchestra, and it does, but what I get, with the benefit of it being surrounded by so many stunning resurrections and recreations, is the feeling that the orchestra and choir don’t add as much to it as they do to the other songs.
Space, in contrast, is a wildly different beast. The song starts moodily and edgy with an undercurrent of menace, but when the pace is upped, it’s one of themost intense moments of the set, particularly in Tim’s delivery, you sense he’s on the edge of bursting into tears.
Most of the band leave the stage, leaving Tim and Mark with the orchestra for a violin-led version of She’s A Star, that feels even more beautiful and heartfelt every time you hear it. Tim introduces Riders as the “sort of shit we were doing in the eighties”. For those of us longer in the tooth and remember the anarchic days of four-piece James in smaller venues, hearing several of these songs together, rather than as one-off additions to a set, brings memories flooding back. All the drama is still there despite the wider population on stage and the grandeur of the venues. Riders has a hold that seems to go on for ever where the song stops, Larry acknowledging someone in the crowd who shouts the “I threw the sucker to the floor”.
The Lake isn’t an eighties song, but it will be the most unfamiliar song to most of the crowd tonight. It doesn’t matter whether the listener knows it really should have been the centerpiece of Laid or has never heard it before, it blows people away, from its simple introduction through a build where brass and strings come in to Tim taking centre stage with a vocal where you can almost see the emotion coming out of his mouth. I’m running short of superlatives after eight days of this, so I’m not going to try and find another one for it.
More of that eighties stuff next – Fire So Close has to be restarted when Tim gets a line wrong, trying to pass blame to the choir jokingly by saying they need to sing what he’s singing, not what’s in the lyrics. At the end, once the guitar and violin duel has been fought out again, Tim tells us that the one thing they’ve taught the choir and orchestra is that it’s OK to fuck up and start a song again and suggests Joe start a career as a novel conductor who stops classical pieces five minutes in and starts them again.
Say Something starts to see some movement in the crowd, who, whilst listening attentively and applauding wildly, are still reluctant to get up en masse and dance. The two girls singing with Tim add so much to this song and the strings are perfectly suited to the pace and the melody of the song.
Medieval is introduced as “more crap from the 80s”, but is anything but. With Larry on banjo, the song is completely reinvigorated and revitalized, the “we are sound” refrain almost a motif for this whole tour. Whilst some of the moves are a bit dodgy, watching the choir dance to this and other songs shows just how deep the connection has been made between the three groups on stage.
Tim orders the crowd to “just dance” as the string section blast, or whatever the string section equivalent is, out the opening bars to Tomorrow. In an alternate reality version of this tour, you’d have this as one of a string of hits and it wouldn’t stand out, but the clever thing about the set and the pacing of it is that this is the release valve, the reward for the crowd having respectfully listened and taken in what has gone before. It’s wild and the whole of Manchester stands up and dances.
They stay on their feet for Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) which has Tim dancing with the choir and Larry on the other, before Larry goes on a tour round the back of Dave and the orchestra, playing to the crowd in the choir before coming back full circle. Manchester then gives everyone the loudest ovation of the tour so far, and well deserved it is too. The main set has raised the bar every so slightly tonight, the little tweaks and turns being added to the set, making it different each night.
The mood is brought back down for Top Of The World, which again sees Tim out in the circle seats, perched precariously on a balcony, a brave move given his earlier revelations. There’s silence from the crowd as they hang on his every word, before being sucked in by Saul’s stunning violin.
The sound of trumpet fills the air from off-stage and Andy appears at the top of the gallery, whilst Tim makes his way to the back of the choir to start Hymn From A Village amongst the crowd at the back. He makes his way down back to stage from there, avoiding getting lost in the myriad of corridors in the venue as he did last night. Hymn retains the raw power of its original despite being augmented by strings and brass and a choir.
And so onto Sometimes. This tour has proved that the UK audiences have taken this song and adopted it as the real James anthem. The chorus of “sometimes when I look in your eyes, I can see your soul” says everything you need to know about this band. You’d never class James as soul music in the traditional dictionary sense, but that’s where this comes from. There’s head and heart in the lyrics, but you just have to look at 5,000 people singing this back over and over again to know you’re witnessing something truly special. It doesn’t need the easy and understandable tagging of Laid on to it – in fact that detracts from it as it brings the reaction of the crowd to a halt. When the music kicks in at the end, the string and brass sections stand up and throw themselves into it and it feels like a collision of two worlds into one and creating a better place for everyone. Wonderful wonderful stuff.
No more superlatives. This was the best gig of the tour so far. The sound was spot on again, the crowd respectful when they should have been and wild when they should have been. You just need to look at the faces of the band, the orchestra and the choir at the end to know that it’s as special down there on stage as it is up in the crowd.
Australian two-album set featuring Hey Ma and The Morning After as part of 2-for-1 series.
Bubbles / Hey Ma / Waterfall / Oh My Heart / Boom Boom / Semaphore / Upside / Whiteboy / 72 / Of Monsters and Heroes and Men / I Wanna Go Home / Got The Shakes / Dust Motes / Tell Her I Said So / Kaleidoscope / Rabbit Hole / Make For This City / Lookaway / Fear
|Release Name:||Hey Ma / The Morning After (Import, Australia)|
|Release Date:||November 2011|
Australian two-album set featuring Hey Ma and The Morning After as part of 2-for-1 series.
- 72 :2008
- Boom Boom :2008
- Bubbles :2008
- Dust Motes :2010
- Fear :2010
- Got The Shakes :2010
- Hey Ma :2008
- I Wanna Go Home :2008
- Kaleidoscope :2010
- Lookaway :2010
- Make For This City :2010
- Of Monsters And Heroes And Men :2008
- Oh My Heart :2008
- Rabbit Hole :2010
- Semaphore :2008
- Tell Her I Said So :2010
- Upside :2008
- Waterfall :2008
- Whiteboy :2008
SetlistSet 1 - Dust Motes / Hello / Alaskan Pipeline / The Shining / Someone's Got It In For Me / Fairground / Just Like Fred Astaire / Hymn From A Village / We're Going To Miss You / Hey Ma
Set 2 - She's A Star / Space / Lookaway / Riders / The Lake / Fire So Close / Say Something / Tomorrow / Medieval / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)
Encore - Top Of The World / Of Monsters And Heroes And Men / Sometimes
VIP Soundcheck - Just Like Fred Astaire / Tomorrow / Fairground
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So onto Manchester for the first of two nights at the stunning Bridgewater Halls. Tim tells the crowd that they need to allow them to be seduced on a quiet Monday night as they start the set with the combination of Dust Motes and Hello. The sound up in the gods is close to perfect. When Tim sings cuckoo at the start of the Dust Motes chorus and the choir subtlely echo it, it gives me goosebumps as you can hear every detail in the voice, which often gets lost in the more traditional arenas that James frequent. Hello, Alaskan Pipeline and The Shining have a similar impact, the sound is crystal clear and that allows the beauty of the instrumentation to shine through and the soprano ending to Alaskan Pipeline is simply astonishing in its fragility. There’s a comedy moment prior to Alaskan Pipeline when Joe has the wrong setlist and almost starts the wrong song – not sure yet if it’s actually intended as a practical joke as it’s the third time on the tour someone has had the wrong one. Saul jokes that it didn’t happen when Joe orchestrated Elbow here a couple of years ago, probably because they paid him more money. At the end Tim fesses up to making “deliberate mistakes” with the words.
Before Someone’s Got It In For Me, Tim announces he has a stalker who has been distributing photocopied flyers threatening to do him in and that he’s worried because of the stalker’s poor punctuation, grammar and spelling. He asks people if they see anything to report it and if he comes into the crowd tonight to hold their hands up when he goes near them and not to make any sudden movements. He then dedicates the song to the stalker. The song soars in this magnificent building as the choir’s harmonies are layered on top of the string section. Fairground feels like it was written as a folk waltz and Tim says at the end that it’s hard to believe that it was written by ignorant teenagers.
Tim leaps into the stalls for Just Like Fred Astaire and makes his way through and across the seating area, which is a brave move given his previous revelation. Andy starts Hymn From A Village with a trumpet salvo from up in the choir seats in front of the organ. I’m not sure if the organ is a functioning one, but it would have been quite cool to hear Mark use it on a song at some point. The set is building nicely to the conclusion of the first half and this structure, with songs of similar pace being moved in and out of it, seems to work much better than the previous one did. There isn’t much dancing at this point, for most of the first half there’s one lone girl in a grey shirt in the stalls who’s on her feet for most of it, but you can tell from the reception that is forthcoming at the end of each song that people are listening and taking this in. There’s no Friday or Saturday night alcohol bravado in the crowd tonight, but it doesn’t detract from the atmosphere in the first half.
Hey Ma and We’re Going To Miss You take us to the interval. The former, as I’ve said before, is a revelation in this arrangement. It holds all the venom and anger of the original, but with the addition of the strings and the harps, it has a new simmering brooding threat to it as well.
Tim comes back out for the encore with the orchestra and conducts them through the William Tell Overture before berating Joe for not coming out with him, not using a baton and, heinous crime, not wearing a jacket. She’s A Star’s delicious stripped-down arrangement, without guitars and drums, works wonderfully and you feel the crowd is now waiting to be asked to get up and dance, but aren’t quite sure what the protocol is on a Monday night. Space and Lookaway are similar songs in structure, both starting off slowly before building to a crescendo, but are very different beasts, the former showcasing the string section and the latter demonstrating how well the choir is used to lift Tim’s vocals.
Riders is described by Tim as James’ 80s pop hit, although you suspect its theme and the drama of the song as it builds then crashes to a halt before taking an almost sinister turn would turn off the playlisters at Radio 1.
The Lake is again the highlight of the evening. You sense Tim feels a particular sense of pride in this song and the fact he’s won the others over to put it in the set. Whereas the addition of brass and the less sparse instrumentation of this version could have detracted from the spindly beauty of the original, it adds to it.
Fire So Close then rivals it in the obscure song show stealing competition. It’s the type of song James of today would never write because of the seven people in the band, but it has the James spirit that flows through all recordings from Jimone to The Morning After – the edginess of the guitar / violin duel, the passion in the vocals.
Say Something has two girls from the choir come down to sing with Tim, which he jokes is his favourite part of the evening. They, and the strings orchestration, add so much to the song, making it very different from the version that you get at seven-piece James gigs. There’s a few more standing up and dancing at this point, and you can count them on both hands. Tim takes matters into his own hands and tells people they can get up and dance. I don’t think once Tomorrow kicks in, he was going to need to tell people. It’s a great addition to the set, because it, more than any other song, shows the real versatility of the orchestra as it’s the most genuine out and out rock song of the night and they don’t sound out of place on it at all.
Tim orders the crowd to stay on their feet for Medieval, which manages the uneviable task of sitting between Tomorrow and Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) in the set without feeling at all out of place. It’s magical to see choir, orchestra and band singing the refrain to it at the end.
For the encore, Tim appears in the circle seats to sing Top Of The World, wandering down stairs and perching himself on the balcony looking down over the stalls. Saul takes over with the violin as the focus shifts back down to the stage. The song never fails to get a reaction from the crowd, listening in awe to the vocals and the music. It moves into Of Monsters And Heroes And Men, which has a longer opening section because Tim gets lost on the way back down to the stage. He jokes with Saul that he’ll be annoyed because he had to play violin for longer and Saul retorts that playing one note for so long isn’t a good thing. The song itself fits right into the encore, even more so than the normal set.
Sometimes brings the evening to a close with chaos. Tim climbs at the back of the stage to embrace people in the choir seats, ends up in the audience, curates a singing competition of the chorus between choir and crowd, urging the crowd to sing louder because they’r not Londoners. Everyone in the place is on their feet.
Even with a set very similar to Saturday’s Liverpool gig, they were two very different evenings. Whilst the Manchester crowd was much quieter, there wasn’t the restlessness that there’s been on some of the quieter midweek shows. The performance was up there with any of them so far and the audience got what was going on, the older, the more obscure songs getting receptions that matched the more familiar tunes. As this was the “up” set from the two Liverpool gigs, it’ll be interesting to see what changes we get tonight.
James headline three shows in Zaragoza, Thessaloniki and Istanbul as well as playing an impromptu set in a Thessaloniki bar near the infamous White Tower, before returning to the UK for the start of the orchestra tour with The Orchestra Of The Swan and the Manchester Consort Choir playing dates in Cardiff, Birmingham, Glasgow, Nottingham, Liverpool and Manchester.
SetlistSet 1 - Dust Motes / Hello / Alaskan Pipeline / The Shining / Someone's Got It In For Me / English Beefcake / Just Like Fred Astaire / Hymn From A Village / We're Going To Miss You / Hey Ma
Set 2 - She's A Star / Lookaway / Space / Riders / The Lake / Fire So Close / Say Something / Tomorrow / Medieval / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)
Encore - Top Of The World / Of Monsters And Heroes And Men / Sometimes
VIP Soundcheck - Tomorrow / The Shining / Sometimes
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Now, Liverpool that was more like it – what a contrast to the previous night’s show in terms of atmosphere and crowd reaction. From the moment the band first came out, the cheers welcoming the band suggested this might be one of the special evenings that happen when James come to Liverpool. With tonight’s gig, I’ve seen them 19 times in this city, and this one ranks up there with the very best of them.
In partial response to the muted atmosphere the previous night, the setlist has also undergone a revamp. There’s not many changes in the line-up of songs, but the order in which they’re played helps change the response of the crowd. The fact it’s a Saturday night probably helps too as there may be more alcohol fuelling the singalongs and the cheering. The band are also clearly more invigorated tonight than they were on Friday, so it’s a potent mix waiting to explode.
Tim does tell the crowd that they’re going to start off slowly and see what happens. Dust Motes and Hello open the set and there’s an eerie hush across the crowd as Mark’s piano fires the opening bars across the audience. Tim is on great form vocally and Shabby on the sound-desk does a fantastic job in adding some gorgeous reverb onto Tim’s voice. Hello is the perfect accompaniment to it as well, soothing the crowd with its fragile piano and some beautiful strings.
Keeping the pace down and allowing the quality and intricacy of the musicianship to show through, Alaskan Pipeline follows with its extended opening and gorgeous closing soprano section. It’s very interesting to note that the Millionaires and Pleased To Meet You songs that haven’t been much part of the James sets since the reformation have lent themselves to reinterpretation by Joe. The Shining, which gets its first airing of the tour tonight is another example of this – the harp adds dramatic effect to the song and the choir take the song to a new level by accompanying Tim in the chorus.
At the end of an impassioned Someone’s Got It In For Me, someone in the crowd shouts for Say Something, and Saul puts him down with the retort that the song had said it all. Saul is clearly enjoying playing the Millionaires and Pleased To Meet You songs he had such a central role in and finished the song almost on his knees, as Tim continued to dance over the orchestra’s outro. English Beefcake works brilliantly now and it seems to have benefitted from a few performances for everyone to feel comfortable with it. Cruicially for the band, the response was much louder and pronounced than the previous night and it seemed to reflect back on stage and drive the band on, because there was much more energy on stage as well.
Just Like Fred Astaire has the crowd on their feet, even before Tim jumps off the stage and up the aisle. He stops to dance with a guy half way back, has a girl run down to plant a kiss on his cheek. A lot of the crowd stay on their feet for Andy’s opening trumpet call from one of the boxes before the reinvented Hymn From A Village, with its plucked strings replacing Jim’s bass and Tim finishing the song stage centre spinning around.
There’s a false start on We’re Going To Miss You, but once the song gets going, the upper tier starts waving their arms en masse and Tim joins in, as does part of the lower tier. It’s a new reaction to the song, which maintains all its dark, brooding menace that the recorded version has, but again with a new orchestra-led arrangement, the choir contributing to and lifting the chorus.
Tim then tells the story he tried to tell last night about Liverpool crowds and them being the first to Sit Down to it then proceeds to tell them it won’t be played as they think people have heard it too many times before. The logic isn’t difficult to argue with, but you’d have to think the orchestration of it could be something quite spectacular. Instead of Sit Down, the first half of the show is concluded by Hey Ma, which Tim dedicates to George Bush and Tony Blair. It still feels surreal four years on from its unveiling to have the crowd singing along to the chorus. It finishes with an extended harp section before the chorus crashes back in, both Tim and Larry facing the harpist as she plucked slightly quicker, building the tension.
After the interval, Tim comes back out on stage and looks around and tell us how embarrassing it is as the band were behind him before. He picks up the baton and plays with the orchestra using some batons before leading them into the William Tell Overture. The crowd roar with laughter as Tim starts to dance wildly.
Joe and Mark come out and the second half of the set starts with She’s A Star, which immediately has the crowd back up for it. Tim’s voice sounds the best it has on the tour so far and the arrangement works perfectly, different to the original, but retaining the qualities that made it such a great comeback single in 1997. Lookaway sounds like the hit single that never was – the choir lifting the song to new heights as they join in with Tim on the refrain at the end. Despite not being a well-known song, Space gets a great reception and Tim’s dancing and the emotion he puts into the end section of the song means it gets an amazing response.
Riders, like the other two Strip-Mine songs dating from James “folky” period, works brilliantly in this setting, rising to the drama of the dead stop, which is held for several seconds, before the choir and Tim take the song to its conclusion with singing that becomes more intense as the song continues.
The Lake is absolutely absolutely stunning. Poignant, on the edge, augmented by strings and then brass, it makes the fact it’s been overlooked for so long feel almost criminal. Fire So Close gets introduced as one of the first songs they’ve ever written it, but it sounds as fresh as their latest material – the combination of guitar and violin and putting Tim together with four boys from the choir is a stroke of genius. Tim holds the long note in the song for what feels like an eternity before the violin / guitar duel, which ends with the violin playing over the end when the boys kick back in with the chorus. The crowd rise to applaud where they sat down and clapped the previous night – the difference between the two shows is a chasm at this point.
Say Something starts with two girls from the choir coming to the front to accompany Tim, who jokes that his precondition for doing this tour was to be surrounded by attractive females. Joe laughs, as does the crowd, who have mainly stayed standing and sing back every word.
Tomorrow gets its first play of the tour, Joe having stayed up all night working on the arrangements according to Tim. It works brilliantly, fast and frenetic strings at the start, Saul and Larry’s guitar making sure it maintains the pace and power of the original and the crowd going wild, drowning out the choir.
Medieval is almost curtailed by a stage invasion. Whilst the security clamped down on heinous crimes such as standing six inches into the aisle, doing that illegal dancing thing, using a flash on a camera and daring to video a few minutes of the show for posterity, they allow a guy brandishing a 2010 tour fan VIP laminate to jump up on stage to try and join in with an instrument from his pocket. He’s quickly escorted off stage, but it throws Tim and Saul looks furious. The choir take control and sing the refrain beautifully. The main set then ends with Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) and the song soars as the crowd singalong, Tim prowls the stage, making full use of the monitors. As the song finishes, the reaction from the crowd looks to stun everyone on stage.
For the encore, Tim appears at the front of the balcony and sings Top Of The World from there, but making sure that he points out Saul for his violin solo, which again takes centre stage of the song. The song goes into a beautiful Of Monsters And Heroes And Men, which veers from subtle to sinister and back again.
Sometimes seems to have taken on a new life on this tour. With the set shorn of the other perennial favourites, it’s the only one of the real big hitters left in the set. It would take someone without a soul not to get drawn into the singalong at the end, which Tim turns into a choir versus audience competition. The orchestra take to their feet as they kick back in to bring the song to its close. Everyone is now on their feet saluting the band, the orchestra and the choir.
Tonight is a world away from Friday’s gig. The sense of anticipation in the crowd even before the show promised it would be a world apart from the previous night, the changes to the setlist worked brilliantly in building and holding the atmosphere even though only 3 songs changed from night to night and the performance was at a similar level, and there was much more interaction between band and crowd than the previous night, Tim, in particular, being a lot more talkative between songs.
In summary, it was a great gig to go down in the annals of superb Liverpool shows of the past. Tim’s spot on when he talks about the reaction the band get in the city and tonight proved that the rather subdued atmosphere of the previous night was a one-off.
Off to the world’s greatest city for two nights, starting Monday.
SetlistSet 1 - Dream Thrum / Lookaway / Fairground / Say Something / Dust Motes / Hello / Riders / Just Like Fred Astaire / Of Monsters And Heroes And Men / Hey Ma / We're Going To Miss You
Set 2 - She's A Star / Hymn From A Village / Bubbles / The Lake / Really Hard / Fire So Close / Alaskan Pipeline / Sometimes / Someone's Got It In For Me / Medieval
Encore - Top Of The World / Space / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)
VIP Soundcheck - The Lake / Space / The Shining
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The Philharmonic was packed to capacity for the first of two nights. Compared to the rest of the venues on this tour, it’s a lot more compact, holding just over 1,500. The band come on just after 8 and launch into Dream Thrum and there are a few issues with Saul’s set-up that take a few songs to clear up. Despite there being a few people getting up to dance and a couple of exuberant boxes of lads, the response to the first half of the set is relatively muted compared to previous nights and there doesn’t appear to be the same connection and buy-in to what’s going on up on stage.
Once Saul’s sound issues are cleared up, the acoustics work fantastically well. The choir’s harmonies on Look Away lift the song off to a different level. Fairground is almost like a folky waltz and Say Something gets the first big cheer of the evening with more people standing up to dance along.
As Mark’s beautiful piano opening to Dust Motes pierces the atmosphere, you almost feel there’s a sense of disappointment in parts of the crowd that there’s no run of hits to turn the evening into the huge singalong celebration that Liverpool gigs usually are. As Tim later tries to tell the crowd with little success, this was the first place people sat down to Sit Down and the Royal Court gigs count as some of my favourites and the very best. Tonight though, it just feels that the audience’s expectations, as a whole (not you as an individual), are not quite in line with what’s going on. That’s not a criticism, just an observation as this is very different to a usual James gig. Tim is a little quieter than usual during the first half of the first set as well.
The Dust Motes / Hello combination is the centrepiece of the first half of the set and the two songs work beautifully combined together, even though they were separated at birth by 12 years. The orchestra lifts Dust Motes in just the right places and completely transforms Hello from an album track to a thing of genuine beauty.
Riders changes the mood somewhat. Andy’s menacing trumpet sounds build the drama up as the song marches to its first false conclusion and then the choir and Tim take over. Jumping into the crowd for Just Like Fred Astaire gets people on their feet and Tim spends most of the song dancing with a guy in the aisle wearing a pink tutu. You feel this might be the point the gig lifts off, but everyone sits back down for a stunning version of Of Monsters And Heroes And Men. Hey Ma has all the frenzy and build it has had on previous nights but even Tim is taken aback when a group near the front holler the “within, without” part back to him before the second chorus.
We’re Going To Miss You now works really well as the end of the first part of the set. The refrain as first the orchestra and choir and band leave the stage is sung back by the crowd.
For the start of the second set, Tim comes back out and conducts the orchestra through the William Tell Overture, whilst dancing. It’s a great way to get the crowd interested again after the break, but probably not as much as opening the second half with She’s A Star, which gets people up dancing and singing again. The reworking is beautiful, perfectly paced and delivered by the orchestra, choir and Mark on piano and Tim’s voices is pitched in the middle of it, dripping with emotion.
Hymn From A Village follows and starts with Andy in the stalls playing trumpet, before the strings kick in on Jim’s bassline. People sing along around the hall, but generally stay seated.
Bubbles takes the pace down slightly and is superb tonight – it hadn’t quite felt it had been nailed on previous outings, but tonight it drips with emotion before exploding into the melee of orchestra and Tim’s vocals at the end. The Lake is similarly wrought with emotion and passion and although possibly not known by many in the crowd gets a fantastic reaction. There are now however a few shouts for more familiar songs such as Laid and Johnny Yen and you sense a little bit of impatience creeping in.
Really Hard, despite being close to 30 years old, feels like it was written for this occasion. Similarly, its partner in early James crime, Fire So Close, despite Tim bringing it to a halt the first time because his in-ear monitors were being overwhelmed by Larry’s guitar, has that folky edge which has translated, surprisingly for me, brilliantly to this environment due to Joe’s arrangements. Tim jokes with Joe that it must be the first time that he’s had someone stop a song midway through to start again and that’s the price of working with amateurs. He then tells Joe he’s disappointed that he’s not even using a baton to conduct the orchestra.
Alaskan Pipeline, again, is a highlight of the set. Hidden away at the end of Pleased To Meet You, it now comes to the forefront of these gigs. The orchestra are simply stunning yet simple in the intro and the choir deliver beautiful harmonies.
It’s time though to get the place going and Sometimes does exactly that. It ends with Tim, stood aloft on a monitor, conducting a competition between crowd and choir to see who can sing the loudest. There’s not much point in trying to get the crowd to shut up though as they’ve found their feet and voice at this point. The great thing about Sometimes on this tour, apart from being the “big” singalong moment in the gig, is how it’s still different every night, the orchestra and choir being as much part of that as the band.
Someone’s Got It In For Me wrings wet with emotion, dripping from the strings and from Tim’s impassioned delivery. The addition of brass to it, whilst unnecessary to make the song work, adds a lot to it.
The main set ends with Medieval. Tim jokes that it’s only in the set to see if Larry can play the banjo, and, as on other nights, there’s chaos in stage with the choir at the front dancing and singing along, Saul and Mark on drums, and ends with the orchestra up on their feet singing the “we are sound” refrain, which doesn’t catch on as well with the crowd as on previous nights.
The encore is the highlight of the gig tonight. The acoustics of the venue work wonderfully for Jim’s bass on Top Of The World and Saul delivers a violin solo that is special, even by the high standards he’s set himself on this tour. Space builds to a climax which again has Tim right on the edge as he half sings half shouts the outro, and Getting Away With It provides the perfect finale with Tim dancing with the choir, Larry roaming the stage like a minstrel. The orchestra takes the song and hammers their motif all over the instrumental sections.
All in all, a very interesting gig with a very different feel to the other nights. It’s difficult to create a setlist that works on a Thursday night in Nottingham and have something similar that works on a Friday night in Liverpool. Liverpool crowds have been great for James and there have been some fantastic celebratory gigs here – Royal Court in 89 and 91 and 97, L2 in 99 and the 2008 Academy gig and they showed on the 2000 theatre tour that they get James playing new songs, but I left with a feeling last night that the crowd’s expectations weren’t quite met, or had been set in the wrong place for this gig as an orchestrated version of the Greatest Hits was what people wanted. It felt a little more subdued on stage as well, and despite the performance being as good as previous nights, the connection wasn’t there the whole time, although the end of Sometimes was every bit as memorable as the end of the Glasgow show.
It will be interesting to see how the set changes and the audience reaction tonight.
SetlistSet 1 - Dream Thrum / Lookaway / Fairground / Say Something / Dust Motes / Hello / Riders / Just Like Fred Astaire / Of Monsters And Heroes And Men / Hey Ma / We're Going To Miss You
Set 2 - English Beefcake / Hymn From A Village / The Lake / She's A Star / Fire So Close / Alaskan Pipeline / Sometimes / Someone's Got It In For Me / Medieval
Encore - Top Of The World / Space / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)
VIP Soundcheck - Riders / Really Hard / Hello
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After a well-deserved day off and chance to recover from the adrenalin-charged show in Glasgow, James return to Nottingham for the first time in a decade. They come on stage just after 8 and open as on previous nights with Dream Thrum. What’s immediately clear is that the sound tonight is going to be beautiful, crystal clear and the best on the tour so far. Lookaway is nailed to perfection too, from Larry’s plaintive acoustic strum opening the song, to Tim’s half-sung, half-spoken vocals and delicate strings from the orchestra. Then when the choir kick in, the song soars as the interplay between them and Tim develops to the song’s conclusion.
Fairground sees Tim mock conducting the orchestra and dancing with the violinist during his solo. At the end, he tells the crowd that it was lucky they didn’t know the song as they wouldn’t know where he messed up. There’s no sense of relief from the crowd just a ripple of applause of recognition at the string-laden slowed-down opening to Say Something. With the two girls from the choir at the front singing with Tim, it is a world away from the sometimes tired version that whips crowds into delight at regular shows.
At the end of the song, Tim inquires why a guy in the stalls downstairs had been escorted out. When the crowd tell him he was dancing, Tim and Larry aren’t happy and Tim goes down the stairs and into the foyer to bring the guy back into the venue. Larry gets Mark to start the intro to Dust Motes, which he says you can’t dance to, whilst Tim is busy bringing the dancer back into the arena to rapturous applause. Tim jokes that if anyone is going to get thrown out for dancing, it’ll be him. Unfortunately, the guy, who is clearly drunk, takes his moment in the limelight a bit too far and thinks he has Tim’s ear and wants to get on stage to dance. Apparently he gets thrown out again later.
All the drama prefaces a truly gorgeous Dust Motes, with Mark’s piano complementing Tim’s spinge-tingling vocals and some very subtle string accompaniment, until the second chorus where the choir provide a gorgeous lilting backing to Tim and then the drums and the male voices of the choirs lift the song up before it drops back down to its string and piano ending, seguing beautifully into Hello, with more Mark piano and Jim’s bass. Even before the orchestra come in and the choir add some delicious harmonies, the song is a world away from the comparatively suffocated version that ended up on Millionaires.
What is so special about this tour is the way the orchestration works – there are songs, like those two, where the song very obviously fits in with the remit and they are done with precision and care and raise the hairs on the neck, and then there’s the songs that need to be adapted to work with the orchestra and choir.
Riders is next and fits into the second group. Tim explains the song as about a dream where he had two paths to choose between – self-destruction and survival. The backing is quite menacing, with Andy making all sorts of strange noises putting his trumpet through an effects machine and builds, getting louder and wilder as Tim’s vocals get more frenetic until the song stops dead apart from some lovely reverb on Tim’s voice. It then comes back as an almost mantra-like chant by Tim, the choir and Larry. What it does as well is add a little more spice to the first set.
Just Like Fred Astaire is simply beautiful. Tim’s foray into the audience, tonight over the seats taking a camera off a guy half way back and singing to him, slightly detracts from the as close to perfect as you’ll get performance of the orchestra. The “come dance the water’s rising” ending is underpinned by some subtle “just like fred astaire” singing by the choir instead of the obvious joining in with Tim and blowing the roof off. The evening’s first comedy moment is supplied by Tim then being stuck in the middle of the seats and requiring a microphone relay team to get back on stage over the chairs.
Of Monsters And Heroes And Men fits into the first category of songs mentioned earlier, but it is all in the delivery. Tim looks on the edge of breaking down as he belts out the story with some dramatic male choir accompaniment. Andy’s trumpet call helps to build the musical drama to match as the song marches to its finish.
Hey Ma is a revelation. From Larry’s acoustic guitar that starts off sounding slightly battered and bruised, but right in with the mood of the song, through the choir raising the ante, to the harp-plucked build up to the last chorus which sees the rest of the band delaying and delaying the kick back in to the dramatic choir harmonies and brass over the crescendo that is the end of the song. I cast an eye to my left and the fine gentleman in the neighbouring seat is chair dancing, arm waving and singing along, just as I had been.
Tim says to the crowd that it’s tense. I think it’s one adjective of many that could be used. I’d go with dramatic, and We’re Going To Miss You continues in that vein. Strings, brass, drums, guitar and choir fight for position, but never get in each other’s way. Just to cap off the best first half of the tour so far, they get the walk off whilst the song is still going spot on tonight as well, the orchestra stopping playing and going first, leaving band, choir and crowd to finish it off.
The second half starts with just the orchestra on stage and Tim comes on wearing a long conductor’s coat and starts to mock conduct the orchestra through the William Tell Overture whilst dancing at the same time. When it stops, Tim calls for Jim and Larry, looking forlorn and the rest of the band come back out. Tim addresses the crowd, hoping that they are getting what’s going on, and that’s there no Sit Down and they’ll have to come again, joking that the songs were chosen, partly by picking songs they hadn’t played for a long time and partly by lottery.
English Beefcake works a lot better tonight than it did earlier in the tour, some delicious harmonies from the choir, underpinning the strings in the instrumental sections and a simply wonderful outro. Hymn From A Village sees Andy start it from one of the circle boxes, before the song ascends into an almost music-hall rendition of the song. From a spindly mid-80s indie hit to a celebratory romp of plucked strings, blasted out brass, choir and audience clapping. In just over three minutes, it encapsulates the whole magic of this adventure – everyone on stage out of their comfort zones, yet with the confidence in themselves as individuals and as a group to make it work spectacularly.
The Lake, in its fourth ever live outing, now feels like it’s been in the set forever. Eerie in parts, poignant and exquisitely played and sung, it’s an undeniable highlight of the set. Looking at the choir as they add delicate shade to Tim’s vocals, one of the girls is drumming with her hands along to Dave’s beat. Again, Tim looks to be on the edge, in the washing machine as he described it in the soundcheck.
She’s A Star sees most of the band leave the stage, with just Tim and Mark on piano accompanying a string-led reinvention of the song. The opening section pierces the atmosphere in the hall like a knife as the strings replicate the slide guitar, then change pace for the build into the chorus, where the choir again come into their own.
Fire So Close is introduced as a folk song from the era when they were pretending they weren’t a folk band and not being very good at it. Again, the power of the four boys from the choir and Tim on vocals, combined with Larry’s acoustic and David’s lead violin, make for a very thrilling combination that seems to both stay true to the original but also feels reinvented and reinvigorated. Larry and David’s duel seems in particular to be more dramatic by the night.
Alaskan Pipeline oozes and drips emotion from every note, from the orchestra’s extended opening to the song into Tim’s softly sung fragile vocals at the start, which get augmented by the girls in the choir as the song builds. It’s not a complex song, but it doesn’t need to be although the soprano from the choir at the end is so hauntingly and achingly beautiful that it is difficult not to collapse into an emotional heap.
Sometimes was always going to be an interesting one after Glasgow, and whilst it doesn’t quite reach the heights it did there, it’s still quite a cathartic experience, Tim making full use of the monitors to project himself, the choir lifting the song at points, Larry’s guitar in the middle section and the obligatory singalong which goes from choir to audience and back to choir. Tim encouraging the crowd to “help an old man out” and challenging them to be as loud as Glasgow. He aslo ends up dancing with Joe
Someone’s Got It In For Me makes a welcome return. It had always been a track that worked better live than it ever did on record, and with the addition of extra strings, harp and some beautiful brass, it’s more powerful and ferocious than ever.
Tim tells the crowd there’s one song left and is met with a flurry of requests, to which he responds that there’s no requests and the juggernaut isn’t going to be turned round. The main set ends with a beautifully chaotic Medieval, choir at the front of the stage, Mark and Saul on additional drums, and the audience joining the choir singing the “we are sound” as there’s both visual and aural chaos on stage.
The encore starts with another set of requests being thrown at Tim, including Jingle Bells, but they start with Jim’s spindly bass driving a eerie Top Of The World, which again contains a simply stunning Saul violin part and more harmonies from the choir which act as another instrument.
Space wasn’t an immediate thought when trying to pre-guess the setlist and has taken a couple of listens to fully appreciate. It’s clearly one close to Tim’s heart, as when he’s on his knees at the end singing “calling you to see through me”, it looks like he’s going through an emotional wringer.
Getting Away With It is a perfect set-closer. It is almost as if it was written for this occasion – you know when the orchestra is going to kick in, you don’t need to surprise anyone with any clever tricks with the song, simply add orchestra and go. The whole crowd are on their feet for the first time.
So, tonight was in my opinion the best show of the tour so far in terms of the performance and the sound was nailed down superbly, the loudness of Dave’s drums and quietness of the choir banished. The crowd reaction doesn’t match that of Glasgow, but that would be laying down a very heavy marker for any crowd to respond to.