December 2000, by Catherine Ashcroft, © Manchester Evening News
Sit Down was a smash hit for James … now a former member of the Manchester band is taking the song title to heart, aiming to be a big hit again – as a furniture designer. CATHERINE ASHCROFT investigates
In the early nineties, rock band James were on top of the Manchester scene, supporting The Smiths and hanging out with the Stone Roses. Classic anthems like Sit Down and Come Home made the group huge stars and they packed out venues wherever they played.
But after 14 years, songwriter and lead guitarist, James Gott, turned his back on fame and fortune and decided to quit at the height of their success.
Now, four years on, the 42 year old has just graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a degree in 3D design, and his original style of furniture is taking the design world by storm.
What made him leave the heady world of pop superstardom to go back to school and embark on a whole new career?
First, to clear up any confusion for die-hard fans of the group, while in the band, James was called Larry, which is his middle name. He decided to go back to his first name for his design work to avoid people thinking he was relying on the band to succeed.
“Staying in the band would have meant a steady income but I just felt it had run its course and the thrill had gone,” he says. “At first, it was like a fairground ride, but eventually I wanted to get off the rollercoaster.”
White knuckle rides are something Gott knows more about than most people, as he left school at 14 to join a travelling fair. “I hated school. It just didn’t interest me.” he admits.
His inspiration for the guitar came from Jimi Hendrix in the film of the Woodstock festival. Gott taught himself how to play and spent a year busking around Europe with a mate.
A series of dead end bands followed and days on the dole seemed endless. Then James, the band, was born and battled for years to break into the mainstream market, eventually being rewarded with a massive American recording contract.
But it was before the big time that Gott developed an interest in design.
“In the early days we would buy furniture from junk shops and do it up to save money,” he says. His decision to leave after the success of James’ Greatest Hits album was an uncertain time.
“I quit the band with no idea of what I was going to do next, which was quite scary. I had a lot to prove and had to validate the reason I left the band,” he says.
Finally, he decided on the 3D design degree at Manchester, which, was according to him, the best move he ever made.
“It was like being let loose in an artistic sweet shop, expressing myself in any medium I wanted. Design allowed me to reveal parts of myself which I never really got to do before.”
So far, though, it appears he doesn’t need luck or the kudos of being an ex-member of James to succeed. His talent has already won him the prestigious FX/Allemuir Furniture for Manufacture Award and his work has been snapped up by the Design Initiative, a charity which promotes designers in the North West.
On top of this, he has been in discussion with high street stores.
One of Gott’s more stunning pieces is described in publicity as “a softwood reclining chair” but when you see it close up, it becomes clear what an innovative idea it is.
The chair looks like a sleek and sexy sun-lounger but alters its shape to suit the way you are sitting. Relax and it relaxes with you, sit up and it will modify itself accordingly. Gott explains proudly how every aspect of his design is there for a reason not just for the look.
“The plywood covers the foam-like card so you don’t sink into the upholstery and it doesn’t get dirty while the charcoal laminate of the foam acts as a protection against UV rays to prevent colour loss.
“I designed it to react to moods by adapting to personal movement.”
Gott has no plans to leave his Manchester home. Currently using studio space at the city’s prestigious Ferrious showrooms, he is planning a design cooperative with other students.
“I was stunned by the amount of talent these young people have and a lot of them want to stay in the city to work.”
But if the design business didn’t work out would he consider going back into music?
“Not on a professional level. Although I did miss the music at first, I don’t anymore,” Gott admits.
“It was a bigger buzz rising from our humble beginnings than the fame itself.”