SetlistI Know What I'm Here For
- Venue: MTV Studios, Berlin, Germany
- Date: 22nd October 1999
Saul : There’s a band called James. They’re amazing. I bought one of their t-shirts. Look. It’s amazing, look.
A few years ago, James t-shirts were selling faster than their records. It seemed everyone in England’s North West was walking around with Come Home emblazoned across their chest.
But they survived the Madchester backlash and went on to establish themselves as one of Britain’s premier guitar bands with their million-selling last album Seven. Now they have a new LP Laid produced by Brian Eno, a new single Sometimes and have recently completed a tour of the States with Neil Young playing acoustic sets.
Tim : There’s kind of a confidence you get when people like Neil Young invite you to tour with them and when Brian Eno rings you up and says he wants to make your next LP with you. We had that confidence in ourselves but when it kind of becomes publically recognised, that was a big boost to us.
Something that we learnt quite a lot from the acoustic shows in our ability was our strength. When you go on stage and you’re really naked and you’re just presenting something very simply to people, the power of that and that was Neil’s big lesson to us. Those shows. And you can’t get that with electric.
Saul : I suppose it taught us we could play less and still be very effective. Live at least, and we took that into the studio and Eno took hold of that and that was a really wonderful marriage there as we were all going in the same direction, we were all wanting the same thing in a way.
Despite spending only six weeks in the studio with Eno, the band managed to come up with plenty of material.
Tim : We ended up with a double LP and a single LP in six weeks, which normally it would take twelve weeks to come up with one LP. We were very happy with that.
With Brian, it was like, he’s not into perfectionism at all which nearly every producer you ever meet is into it – metronomic perfectionism. He just kind of wants to capture some kind of atmosphere, almost some kind of hesitancy so we often chose takes where people were hesitant, where they didn’t know what they were playing.
Now James are off to the States again to play on the North American WOMAD tour. The invitation to join Peter Gabriel’s World Music project came when they were recording Laid.
Larry : We did a concert whilst we were recording as well at a local club and he came to that and he liked what he saw so that was why we got invited to the WOMAD tour really. I think he just picked up on an energy or something about us he liked.
Tim : We’ve actually always had quite a lot of communication with WOMAD because basically we like going to the festival ourselves so we tend to want free tickets and they say we have to play if we want free tickets.
But even if Laid flops and they end up subsidising their income with t-shirt sales again, the band have enough confidence in their own ability not to quit.
Larry : You’ve just got to do what you feel like at the time. It’s either going to hit with people or it isn’t. If it doesn’t then you’ve got another chance.
Tim : This is the first time we’ve ever played in America and we had a really strange day yesterday. We thought San Francisco would be kind of loads of sunny beautiful place.
Reporter : It is, most of the time
Tim : Our flight got to San Francisco and it couldn’t land because of the storms so we were taken to Sacramento and it ended up being a sixteen hour flight so we were all kind of jetlagged and then we also had trouble getting visas for half our people, our crew couldn’t come and it’s been like complete chaos but wonderful chaos. And the performance today, it was good chaos. It wasn’t like a real James performance but it was good fun. And that’s kind of our first performance in America, it bodes well, I think.
Born of Frustration, the single, I don’t really know what it’s about. I wrote the lyrics very unconsciously. It’s something to do with being born of frustration. Something to do with seeing all these possibilities but not being able to reach out to them, not being able to meet all your desires, being stuck inside a human body and I think that’s about it really. It’s about as much as I can say about it. That sounds pretentious enough as it is.
Jim : We started about nine or ten years ago. First single came out in 83 on Factory Records. Myself, Tim and Larry have been together for pretty much all of that, eight years. Met Tim at a disco in Manchester. He was dancing and we were pretty impressed with his dancing so we kind of called him over and had a chat with him and asked him to come down to the rehearsal room and try and write some lyrics for us because we weren’t very good at that sort of thing in those days. And that was it really, we were off really. It was very much done for fun in the early days. We did take it very seriously in the early days, we didn’t concentrate on pushing it out into the world and selling ourselves, it was very much more, you know, concentrating on the music and writing the songs and we had problems getting concerts. The greatest buzz for James in those days and probably now was playing live. We had real problems getting any live work. We thought we needed a single out so we released a single and it got loads of attention in England, it got Single Of The Week and suddenly we were thrown into the spotlight. And we decided to retreat a little because it seemed a bit quick for us. It took a while playing live in England, I mean for us it was basically there was a knock at the door and the guy from the record company and he said “Hey, I think you guys are brilliant”
It’s taken James nine years, four record companies and the rerelease last year of Sit Down to achieve success but now nominated for Best British Band category at next month’s Brit Awards along with Dire Straits and Queen. The backlash has begun.
Tim : I think in England there’s a particular thing with a band having success which is hard for a lot of people to take especially when you see it come up from something small. You’ve been their property, their private band, the band that they always loved and nobody else knew about. When you become public property, something else happens. It’s quite scary for us too because we’ve always liked bands that never made it.
Singer Tim Booth, in particular, has been accused of being pompous and taking himself too seriously. He allegedly threatened to commit suicide if he didn’t find the meaning of life.
Tim : I’d got everything I wanted and I found I still wasn’t enjoying it. I wasn’t enjoying life. You kind of think that’s a bit ridiculous and just try and like enjoy it really. I was giving myself too bad a time as well really, I was taking it too seriously. I was taking the responsibility of the band too much on my shoulders . It’s part of my upbringing as well, it’s just that if you do this thing really well, it’s serious and well it’s the whole of the upbringing, it’s the whole thing with religion. Well I don’t trust any religion now without a sense of humour so that kind of knocks them all out really.
Whether you think James have a sense of humour or not, one thing nobody disagrees over is what James are like when they play live. Their fanatical following and the intensity of Tim Booth’s performance means the band’s concerts can resemble religious celebrations.
Tim : There’s a certain range of feelings and emotions that a mass of people can get at a concert that I think they should almost be getting from religions that they don’t and I don’t see anything wrong in that as long as there’s a sense of humour there as well and people aren’t taking us too seriously in that way.
Even if the band do come from Manchester and the James rise came at a time when Manchester bands were constantly in the media spotlight, the only thing James have in common with the Happy Mondays is the town they live in.
Tim : We felt we were before all that anyway. Well, obviously for a start, we’ve been going eight or nine years and we feel as much connected to Joy Division and The Smiths than we did to the Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses and so we didn’t want to get caught up in that wave because we felt once it had passed there would be a backlash and we didn’t want part of it. We were offered press that was linked with it and we’d turn it down.
But there are some things James have not managed to avoid. Sit Down, the single that turned James into stadium stars, became their unofficial anthem is probably one track they’ll have to play live for the rest of their lives.
Tim : We tried not playing it, we tried doing acoustic versions, we’d open all the sets with it and then we kind of realised to an audience coming along, it was fresh, it was something they hadn’t experienced before and it was us that had experienced it a few nights running and we ended up feeling like killjoys at a party, so we kind of accepted in the end that the song had gone public.