Sit Down / Oh My Heart / Curse Curse / Sound / Jam J / Come Home / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Laid
Before playing new song Upside Downside [ed. later renamed to just Upside for album release], Tim dedicated it to Tony Wilson and talked about the spirit and passion that Tony had for music that came from the heart. How ironic that the applause that came back was from the main stage crowd of the most anodyne music festival ever invented (I’ve never been to Stafford, so am basing this off the Chelmsford “experience”).
Glastonbury, Reading and T have their own quirks and charms but they exude a passion for the music and the legacy of the festival experience. They don’t have the complete sanitisation of anything that might make the day a little more interesting. The threat of pulling the plug on the gig if Tim came down to the crowd (who were so far back he could waste a few minutes getting to them) or invited people on stage says everything you need to know. Add to it the people in the front rows who were waiting for The Killers and Kasabian who got upset when people dared to dance near them (I would have loved to seen it when the beered up meatheads appeared as Kasabian came on) and you have the ultimate in watered down emotionless passionless gatherings of people you could imagine. Even Tim’s breast t-shirt was deemed too risque for late night Channel 4 viewing. And the dress provoked some interesting reactions from the hoodies around me until I pointed out a certain Kurt Cobain took great pride at wearing dresses on stage.
A festival with Bacardi tents and The Cider House churning out hours of endless mindless dance “classics” with half the crowd more interested in being seen at the festival because it makes them oh so alternative probably means there’s not a lot of hope for a band like James in that environment. The music demands that you listen to it, it doesn’t just wash over your head, it doesn’t have the easy hooks that The Fratellis and Kasabian who preceded and followed James (and to be fair to both, were reasonably entertaining)..
James response was an uncompromising fuck you approach to the gig. With Tim beset with throat problems, they decided THEY were going to enjoy the set, even if noone else did. And they put on one of the strongest performances of the year. It may have turned a few people, it may have reminded others just how great they are. And Tim’s stroke of genius by ignoring the fascist bully boys and singing the last song Laid from the barrier meant people had something to remember the set by even if many of them hadn’t bothered for the most of it.
Born Of Frustration kicked off the set with Larry’s building brooding intro before crashing into Tim’s trademark yodel. There are pockets of recognition around the crowd, but it’s quite muted. The band don’t seem to care, Andy and Tim prowl the stage, Tim occasionally breaks into dance and the song builds to its epic climax. The sound is dreadful for the first few songs. The opening of Tomorrow is barely audible, but once the guitars are turned up, it’s fast, it’s passionate and yet the crowd are only mildly agitated. It’s not cool to like bands who are as old as your Dad, is it now?
Come Home is the one minor disappointment. For me, it has always sounded best when played fast and hard. The new arrangement has taken some of the edge off it, in my opinion. That said, it probably gets the second best reception of the set. Out To Get You should be a great festival anthem – the swaying masses of arms when it was played at T are testament to this. Here, it’s barely audible because the sound is still so damn poor and people use it as an excuse to chat away and moan when someone dares sing near them. Once the sound gets fixed, the ending goes off on improvised tangents and sounds fantastic.
Getting Away With It doesn’t seem to get much recognition from the crowd, despite the best attempts of the band who play a slightly faster and rockier version than of late. Say Something does at least gets cheers of recognition from parts of the crowd and it’s amusing when Tim starts his improvised end section just as everyone is joining in with the normal words.
Upside Downside doesn’t feel at all out of place in the set. It’d have been nice for James to have taken the really awkward route and played three or four new songs. It’d have been interesting to see the reaction too. But one was probably the wise thing to do, particularly as Upside is the one that’s most ready enough for this size of exposure, brilliant as the other four are. There are a number of arms raised around as the chorus kicks in and it sounds great – not out of place at all amongst the better-known songs in the rest of the set.
Ring The Bells starts the climax towards the end of the set and at last there is some life in the crowd. Tim’s dancing seems to attract the attention of some of the supercool and the hoodies. Tim makes an off the cuff remark that it’s like an intimate pub gig. I think he’s taking the piss.
Following Tim again berating the Gold Mother sees the band invite a number of people on from the side of the stage, including one gentleman waving a homemade James flag and a guy who seems to have boxed himself into some construction involving balloons. Tim wanders off towards the side to sing half the song as the dancers take centre stage. The crowd appear bemused. Noone has done anything today that doesn’t involve standing there and playing the songs. This is something they weren’t expecting. It’s brilliant festival material. Well it would be anywhere else.
The big moment comes as Tim announces they’re going to play the Arctic Monkeys favourite song. I think some of the kids actually believe it too. Larry counts in 1-2-3-4 and Sit Down crashes in. Suddenly there’s more singing along, there’s a bit of a mosh in parts as well. Again, it appears it’s played slightly off speed to put people off the obvious temptation to drown the band out and stretch the song out.
Sometimes seems made for these wider stages. It’s beautifully yearning and the lighting is starting to have an impact as it starts to go dark. The set concludes with Laid. It’s the best performance of the song this year. Tim jumps down off the stage and climbs on the barrier thus committing one of the biggest crimes known to man. To be fair, security do help him until they’re ordered to carry him down at which point Tim runs further down the barrier. The song itself benefits from the extended improvised ending and the bemused reaction on the faces of the crowd.
And then they’re gone. James were great, as they always are in adversity where they always take things on. I’m not sure what came out of the show though. There’s a lot of love and goodwill for James since the reunion and they need to continue to tap into it. T and Belladrum were wonderful experiences with an ecstatic response, and the European festivals appear to have had the same effect. Maybe Tim’s quip that they wouldn’t be allowed back here because he left the stage wouldn’t be a bad thing.
The bald, moustachioed man on the stage wearing the black T-shirt with a pair of breasts printed on it – coupled with a fetching flowing black skirt – is the singer from James. Funnily enough though, for having someone as distinctive looking as Tim Booth, James are musically doing nothing to make themselves stand out. Still, when they play ‘Sit Down’, it all becomes worthwhile, even if we’re not into it enough to give ourselves a muddy bum by joining in.
Virgin VIP Tent – Down To The Sea / Fall In Love / Wave Hello
Music Choice Stage – Eh Mamma / Wave Hello / Down To The Sea / Sometimes / Butterfly’s Dream
Chelmsford, however, made up for it in spades. Faced with a torrential downpour, James took the momentum provided by the rather excellent Stereophonics and bombarded the crowd with an opening medley of Sit Down, Destiny, She’s A Star, Sometimes and Come Home creating a moshpit going back beyond the sound desk. Tim’s dancing seemed even more frenetic than usual and Saul took every opportunity to encourage the now drenched audience. Out To Get You was played to slow things down and seemed oddly inappropriate in the setting and was followed by another excellent version of Surprise.
This audience (myself included) really just wanted to hear the hits in the rain and so Laid and Tomorrow were dispatched as conditions got worse before the opening bars of Sound signalled the show was nearing its end. Tim took the opportunity to tell the crowd that “when you read in the papers how shit we were, remember what you witnessed with your own eyes”. Tim’s megaphone failed and he smashed it in annoyance, so we were treated to Tim hollering without it which made for an interesting take on the song, the sheer awesomeness of the improvised ending not being lost despite the rain and the size of crowd. This was James at their very best and a complete contrast to the day before and the tedious Space and Texas who were to follow later. They were the band of the weekend – but we knew that already.