Saul Davies from indie band James on 34 years of making music, why they owe everything to their fans and how he was discovered at a blues night.
YOU could say that James owe everything to their listeners.
More than three decades have seen the Manchester indie band rise up through The Haçienda days, rack up 12 million record sales and weather a five-year split.
They are well aware that fans have stuck by them through thick and thin.
But do not ask the Manchester indie band what their secret is because they are still trying to work it out for themselves.
“We might be one of the luckiest bands in the UK,” said Saul Davies, guitarist, violinist and percussionist.
“So many of our peers have dwindled and 34 years of a band existing and making records and doing great gigs is quite unusual.
“People take that for granted and even we do as a band, Maybe that’s right that we just get on with it and don’t think about it too much.
“But nevertheless we’re in some exalted company of bands that have been around that long and still make records.”
The band have recently announced their 14th album, Girl At The End Of The World, which will be out on March 18, 2016.
The seven-piece band’s tour will also take them to Manchester Arena on May 13.
Saul added: “We’re putting more tickets on sale for this tour in May than we’ve done for any other UK tour in 25 years.
“We’re not sliding away. It’s the opposite if anything and it’s a very interesting phenomenon. I don’t know what we’ve done to make that happen.
“We’re a band that you either get or you don’t and the people who have got us have stayed with us. That is quite a remarkable thing as a lot of bands gradually lose people.”
The Girl at the End of the World is James’ follow-up to 2014’s La Petite Mort which again saw them team up with long time collaborator Brian Eno and producer Max Dingel, who has worked with The Killers, Muse and White Lies.
Saul said: “It felt natural. We knew his working methods and he knew ours so it made it easier.
“Those who are familiar with our last record will find some similarities but this is more of a pop album.
“La Petite Mort was darker in many ways and I think this shows another side of us. I’m quite looking forward to people hearing it and seeing what their reaction to it is.”
James are also one of the few bands who have consistently put out records every two or three years.
“I would say that we’ve always wanted to stay creative and busy,” added Saul, whose favourite artists are Duke Dumont and Hurts.
“It’s the industry around us that has dictated that there are big gaps between our records.
“But we’ve had a lot of support from our record label BMG and so they’ve encouraged us to release another album relatively quickly
“We also felt that we’d gathered some momentum after La Petite Mort so it felt sensible not to leave it too late.”
And despite having massive hits like Come Home, Sit Down, She’s a Star and Laid, Saul said the band never feel pressure to play the old favourites.
“That’s also testament to the audience,” he said.
“We have a big bag of tunes. I think we had 17 top hits and that’s pretty healthy. We don’t play all of them and I think our audience would be annoyed if we did.
“We’ve made our way through our career and through the industry by being a little bit difficult
“There are some big arenas we’re playing and there will be many people who have come to hear the new record.
“It’s amazing that we’ve managed to create that bond with the audience. We look forward with a great deal of anticipation to being on stage as I genuinely think we are a much better live band than we’ve ever been.”
Arena tours are a far cry from Saul’s beginnings at Band on the Wall in Manchester. He was discovered by James’ Larry Gott during an amateur blues night.
“It used to be amazing there,” added Saul, who started to learn the violin when he was eight.
“They had bands there six nights a week from all over the UK. Larry was intrigued by a violin that I had with me. I just brought it out the car as I didn’t want it to get stolen.
“But he persuaded me to get up and play and then all these people suddenly gave me the opportunity to join bands
“I think nine people asked me as soon as I walked off stage.”
It was, of course, Larry’s offer that Saul accepted and soon enough he was swept up in the ‘Madchester’ scene of the late 80s and early 90s.
“It was a culture shock,” said Saul, who now lives in the Highlands of Scotland.
“This was during the time of the Haçienda and when Afflecks Palace was big and all this mad stuff was happening.
“It was an exciting period of time.
“We, as a band, were probably on the outskirts of all of that stuff that was going but nevertheless we were involved in it.”
Saul’s first Manchester show was at the Free Trade Hall.
He added: “I remember Morrissey came to see that show and New Order were there.
“I’d only been in the band for two and half months and given that The Smiths and New Order were two of my favourite bands it was amazing to me.”
Full album promo
Bitch / To My Surprise / Nothing But Love / Attention / Dear John / Feet Of Clay / Surfer’s Song / Catapult / Move Down South / Alvin / Waking / Girl At The End Of The World
|Release Name:||Girl At The End Of The World (album promo)|
|Release Date:||December 2015|
Watermarked full album promo in card sleeve
James announce the release of Girl At The End Of The World in March 2016 and a fifteen-date UK tour to follow in May.
The first single from the album, To My Surprise, is released with a video by celebrated New York director Kris Merc.
New Album Released March 18 2016
James are proud to announce their new album Girl At The End Of The World out on BMG Recordings on 18th March, plus a major headline tour for 2016.
James are one of the UK’s most creatively restless and loved artists. Known for their unique and diverse style over their 13 studio albums, they’re both critically acclaimed and commercially successful, having sold over 12 million albums worldwide. The band originally signed to the iconic Factory Records in 1982, and have since gone onto produce a string of massive hit singles, including: Sit Down, Come Home, She’s A Star and Born of Frustration. Now, 32 years on they have come up with a record that the band consider their best ever.
Girl At The End Of The World sees the band team with producer Max Dingel (The Killers, Muse, White Lies) with the legendary Brian Eno infusing his unique influence into the blend. The new album is both anthemic and euphoric, with it’s simmering electronica continuing James’ long connection to the dance floor. The band’s trademark songwriting and Tim Booth’s distinctive vocal & evocative lyrics prove once again to be amongst Britain’s finest.
“Bands talk about that difficult second album but it’s the trickster 14th one that’s the real M*&^%R F&%$#R,” says Tim Booth of the making of the new record. “As always with James it’s a collaborative process allowing ample room for improvisation, intuition, skill and dumb luck. From the outside our process looks like chaos but chaos is our friend and we have a history that gives us confidence that something magical will eventually appear. Most of my best lyrics are unconscious typos so don¹t ask me what it’s about; your projection is as good as mine. This was perhaps the most difficult and stressful album we have ever made. I hope you find it as rewarding as we do. OYSTER- GRIT-PEARL.”
Jim Glennie says ‘The essence of James is live. The pleasure never diminishes. I can’t wait for us to get our hands on these songs in front of the best audience a band can have’.
The Girl At The End Of The World Tour spans the UK, including a giant hometown show at Manchester Arena and a 3 date takeover of London at O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, O2 Forum Kentish Town and O2 Brixton Academy.
Psychedelic indie rock survivors James are heading back to Hull for the first time in 25 years – and it’s set to be a wander down memory lane for guitarist Saul Davies
James openly admit they’re not the easiest of bands to support.
The Mancunian indie outfit, best known for trippy pop masterpieces such as Sit Down, Confusion and Laid, has never been an outfit to settle for the easy option.
Instead of resting on their considerably bushy, multi-harmonied laurels and pumping out crowd-pleasing “best of” tours and rose-tinted 90s love-ins, they’ve refused to play the nostalgia game; deciding instead to confront fans with new material and shy away from their best-known chart hits.
But for James’ Hull-raised guitarist Saul Davies, the band’s membership of the awkward squad is something all veteran bands should aspire to.
“We’ve never been ones for just going out and doing the old hits,” he says.
“If we ever turn into a tribute band to ourselves then I think that’s the point when we should give up.
“But I think we’re lucky we have the fans that we do. It’s quite dangerous to go in front of 20,000 people and play a lot of songs that no-one ever heard before. But, when we do the new stuff it gets a really good response and, I think, because we know we’re a good band we have the confidence to be able to go out and try new things.
“You don’t want to be trapped by the past.”
Saul, a former Sir Henry Cooper School pupil who spent much of his youth growing up in Hull after his parents moved to the city for work, says he will always remain thankful for the legions of fans who have stuck by the group.
“We’ve done a lot to alienate them down the years,” laughs Saul down a shaky landline from his home back in his native Scotland.
“We’ve not always taken the most obvious route, but they’ve still backed us, they’ve still turned out to see us.”
Saul and the rest of the seven-piece outfit will be hoping the bedrock of fandom is still there when they release their new – and 14th – album, titled The Girl At The End Of The World, in 2016.
The album hasn’t had the easiest of gestations admits singer Tim Booth – and this is from a band that’s endured more then its fair share of troubles down the years. They even split in 2001 before tentatively reforming six years later.
“Bands talk about that difficult second album but it’s the trickster 14th one that’s the real nightmare,” says Booth of the making of the new record.
“As always with James it’s a collaborative process allowing ample room for improvisation, intuition, skill and dumb luck,” he adds.
“From the outside our process looks like chaos, but chaos is our friend and we have a history that gives us confidence that something magical will eventually appear. Most of my best lyrics are unconscious typos so don’t ask me what it’s about; your projection is as good as mine.
“This was perhaps the most difficult and stressful album we have ever made.”
The album will be swiftly followed by a UK tour which, as well as taking in some of the country’s enormo-dome arenas, will also be dropping in on Hull’s more intimate Hull City Hall on Monday, May 16.
Tickets for the show are on sale and the album is available to pre-order now.
Next May will be the first time in 25 years that the group has graced the City Hall stage and it looks set to be something of a homecoming for Saul.
The guitarist says he didn’t insist on the band playing Hull – “if that were the case, I’ve been doing a pretty rubbish job for 25 years” he laughs – but he was delighted when he saw it pop up on the tour itinerary nonetheless.
“We haven’t played Hull City Hall since 1990,” he says.
“And I absolutely can’t wait. Our other guitar player Adrian is from Hull too, so the guest list is going to be a big one that night.”
Saul’s memories of Hull are happy – often musical – ones.
He joined his first school band in Hull, its name lost to the mists of time, and he marinated his youthful talent in the city’s buoyant music scene of the time citing groups such as The Red Guitars as early influences.
“I went to a lot of rock gigs at Hull City Hall when I was a kid. Wishbone Ash, Uriah Heep,” he says wistfully.
“I went to everything, no matter how preposterous it was. Then I discovered The Welly and all the bands playing there. That was my early musical education really.”
Despite all the huge success James has enjoyed since forming in 1982, selling 25million albums, scoring 19 UK Top 40 singles and playing to hundreds of thousands of fans around the world, Saul admits that one of the proudest moments of his career was returning home to play at City Hall after joining James in 1989.
“It was weird for me,” he explains. “Going away to Uni in Manchester, joining some odd, spiky, pop, punky band and then coming back to play where I’d seen all these amazing gigs; to come back and actually be on the stage instead of watching it.
“I’ll admit when I saw it on the tour list for next year I cackled. It’s going to be a real wander down memory lane for me.”
One-track radio promo CD
To My Surprise (radio edit)
|Release Name:||To My Surprise CD promo|
|Release Date:||November 2015|
The single was edited to replace the word Asshole with Black Hole to ensure radio play
- To My Surprise :2016
To My Surprise was issued as a preview track a few months ahead of the Girl At The End Of The World album.
To My Surprise (Radio Edit)
|Release Name:||To My Surprise|
|Release Date:||November 2015|
|Related Release(s):||Girl At The End Of The World (Album)|
Issued as a preview track for the forthcoming Girl At The End Of The World album.
- To My Surprise :2016
James headline Bingley Live with Mike Vennart on guitar duties as Adrian Oxaal had prior commitments.
They then head to Portmeirion for Festival Number 6 where Tim, Saul and Jim are reunited with Joe Duddell for a half-hour set with a classical ensemble in the Town Hall on the Saturday before co-headlining the festival with a full-band set on the Sunday.
A special performance to around 200 people in Portmeirion Town Hall with an eight-piece classical ensemble
Alaskan Pipeline / Say Something / Fairground / The Lake / Laid
Festival headline slot with Mike Vennart on guitar due to Larry’s sabbatical and Adrian having prior commitments
Tomorrow / Curse Curse / Laid / She’s A Star / Johnny Yen / Walk Like You / Out To Get You / Interrogation / Sound / Sit Down / Moving On / Come Home / Sometimes
Entering the last weekend of their festival season, James had been invited back to headline the Friday night of Bingley Music Live by popular local demand. Their set featured a selection of their greatest hits as well as tracks from last year’s La Petite Mort album and there was an unfamiliar face on guitar.
Bingley Music Live is a curio in the music festival circuit. Supported by the local council, a rarity in these times shrouded under the cloud of austerity, it effectively takes over a picturesque park in the centre of a Yorkshire market town for a weekend. Tickets are kept ridiculously cheap at £49 for three days of established and up-and-coming bands and it’s got a family-friendly atmosphere as evidenced by the number of young faces in the crowd with and without their parents. There’s the ubiquitous folded chair brigade as well as the organisers somehow deem them less dangerous a weapon than an umbrella.
James are preceded by The Beat who bring back memories of the 1980s and get young and old dancing whilst Cast plod their way through their catalogue of sub-standard Britpop dirge unable to shake off the impression that they somehow conned us all by recycling a La’s b-side for a decade. But as night starts to fall, the band most people are here to see make their way to the stage.
“Hi hooligans” shouts Saul as he bounds on to the stage, perhaps not a wise call after the violent incidents in the crowd recently in Edinburgh and James’ history with the Leeds wrecking crew that adopted them in the 1980s, and they launch in Tomorrow. And it sounds awful. It’s not the band’s fault, nor is it the professional sound man whose reputation could be ruined by one of these gigs where they’ve got no time to set up properly and they have to react to the cards they’re dealt with. It’s so muddy that instruments merge into each other. As they move into Curse Curse, the sound man performs Herculean miracles and manages to knock it into something appropriating shape so that signature keyboard line of Mark’s pierces the fog. Tim comes down to the barrier for the first time and goes crowd-surfing without dropping a note.
Given that Mike Vennart, who is standing in for the resting Larry Gott, has only had an hour and a half’s rehearsal time with the band, it’s no surprise that tonight’s set is focused towards the greatest hits and two of their biggest follow – Laid and She’s A Star. He masters Larry’s signature opening guitar salvo in the former and, now we can actually hear him rather than an amorphous mess, it’s great to hear that he keeps faith with the originals whilst also adding his own little touches and stamp to Sound and Sometimes later in the set and managing to capture that beautiful intimacy on Out To Get You. Whilst it feels strange seeing someone else up there playing other than Larry (or stand-in for the other shows Adrian who was of course with the band between 1997 and 2001) and weird seeing someone play left-handed in that position, his performance is admirable in the circumstances once we can actually hear what he’s playing.
The crowd does drop a little mid-set after a raucous Johnny Yen which sees Tim prowling the stage, encouraging, challenging his band mates, driving them along on a wave of adrenaline fuelled by the love that’s coming from the crowd. The less familiar Walk Like You and Interrogation do mean that some decide it’s time to chatter, but a fierce proud Out To Get You, characterised by a frankly jaw-dropping violin solo from Saul, in between has Bingley waving their arms and singing back the refrain.
Sound battles hard against the sonic obstacles thrown in its way and emerges victorious at the end if a little battered and bruised. All such concerns are well and truly blown away as Sit Down concludes the main part of the set and everyone joins in unison from the kids down the front to the parents in their chairs on the hillside.
The encore starts with Moving On, a beautifully poignant song that doesn’t feel at all out of place around the big hits around it in the set and, judging by the audience’s reaction, one that has struck a nerve with most people at some time in their lives. Bingley goes bonkers though as the opening strains of Come Home bounce around the tree-lined park and Tim braves the hordes and their camera phones protuding in his face to dance on the barrier. Fittingly, the evening finishes with a communal singalong of Sometimes, which has become their major anthem these days, the line “sometimes when I look in your eyes I can see you soul” a metaphor for what James’ music achieves.
This show ended up in some way being a triumph against the odds. With the excitement of a new album in the final stages of being recorded, the personnel issues in the band this summer and the uncertainty that creates, a guitarist who has never played on stage with them before and has had little rehearsal time and tonight’s issues with the sound, James have a lot to contend with. Whilst this wasn’t their best gig ever, the thousands of beaming faces as the set concluded and we dispersed into the night says everything you need to know about how this band battles what fate and circumstance throws at it and usually comes out on top.