It’s the alt-rock chart battle if not of all time then at least of all second Fridays in June. This week, indie legends James, fielding their 16th album ‘All The Colours Of You’, face off against future rock titans Wolf Alice and their critical smash ‘Blue Weekend’ in the most nail-biting race for the top since The Snuts vs. Dry Cleaning a couple of weeks ago.
Both acts have repeatedly stalled at Number Two, denied their moments of chart-topping glory by goal hangers such as Adele and Shania Twain, so passions are high. By rights, their interviews should be alight with pre-bout disses and burns flying between the two camps like the inhabitants of Northern Ireland discussing the benefits of Brexit. “I’ve had ayahuasca comedowns more enjoyable than this shit!”, perhaps, or: “Sit down… at least five positions below us!”
Instead: reserved, respectful silence. You’d barely know there was anything exciting happening at all. Because, somewhere over the past 10 years or so, we’ve forgotten the fine art of the indie beef.
James have announced the tracklisting for their upcoming mini-album, ‘The Night Before’.
The first of two mini albums the group are set to release, the Lee ‘Muddy’ Baker-produced LP will be released on April 19.
As previously reported, Tim Booth and co will begin a tour of the UK in April, while the group have also been added to the line-up for this year’s Isle Of Wight Festival.
The tracklisting for ‘The Night Before’ is:
Source: NME, 3 October 2010
Sometimes / She’s a Star / China Girl / Stutter / Out To Get You / Junkie / Someone’s Got It In For Me / Tomorrow / Coffee and Toast / Sound / Ring The Bells
Ted Kessler, NME
Time for a rest. Time for couples to smooch in the golden sunset. Time for James to soothe and caress the heartstrings with more poignancy than you thought them still capable of. They nearly blow it with a cover of Bowie’s “China Girl”, but the abundance of singalong anthems clears the palate nicely for the heavyweights to follow.
Mark Beaumont, Melody Maker
And James are the last cigarette for a condemned rock festival, managing to mash a cover of David Bowie’s “China Girl” and a new song that sounds like The Specials playing “Pac Man” between their intoxicating pop bombast.
JAMES plan to return in 1997 with their first single and album in more than two years, as well as embarking on their first UK tour for more than four years. Tim Booth, lead singer of the veteran Manchester band, speaking exclusively to NME, revealed that the new single, ‘She’s A Star’, would be released on February 4 and the new album, ‘Whiplash’, would be out on February 24.
He explained the band had made a conscious decision to take a break from each other and put James on hold, during which time it was agreed he could collaborate with Angelo Badalamenti on the album ‘Booth And The Bad Angel’, which was released earlier this year. “After the last tour we knew we needed to take a long break. We’d never really taken a year or two out for 11 years, so that’s what we did. We felt we’d overdone it, we needed a break and we felt people needed a break from us. Now it feels wonderful,” Booth said.
He added the band had decided they needed a fresh approach to songwriting, especially in the light of the critical mauling the last two James albums (1993’s ‘Laid’ and 1994’s ‘Wah-Wah’) received. “We’re looking to work in a new way, to do songs, then improvise them, smash them up again. The only way we can keep going is make it interesting. I was disappointed with the critical reaction to the last two albums. It can seriously damage your ego,” he explained.
“Will we split up if this album doesn’t do well? No, I think James will go on for a long time. But then, who the fuck knows in this world?” He also hinted there would be more Booth And The Bad Angel material, probably with the release of a re-recorded version of ‘Fall In Love’ from the album next year.
Meanwhile, the new James album, produced by Stephen Hague and Brian Eno, has been described by Booth as very “uptempo”. The tracklisting is: ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Lost A Friend’, ‘Waltzing Along’, ‘She’s A Star’, ‘Greenpeace’, ‘Go To The Bank’, ‘Whiplash’, ‘Avalanche’, ‘Homeboy’, ‘Angel’ and ‘Blue Pastures’. Fans will have a chance to hear the tracks live when the band head out on tour in March, visiting Leeds Town & Country (March 12), Middlesbrough Town Hall (13), Glasgow Barrowlands (14), Newport Centre (16), Exeter University (17), Southampton Guildhall (18), London Shepherd’s Bush Empire (20), Leicester De Montfort Hall (23), Cambridge Corn Exchange (24), Wolverhampton Civic Hall (25), Liverpool Royal Court (27) and Manchester Apollo (28).
The well-mannered madman stands on stage at Manchester’s Apollo theatre staring out beyond the empty rows of crimson stalls into the music hall past, He’s been here before, has Tim Booth.
Back down the still un-enlightened path, when the embryonic pop dervish was struggling against the channeling of a church-going public school education in Shrewsbury, Booth organised a coach party from his school to go on an away-day to a blood letting.
Somehow the school organist was recruited to drive the bus, and Booth and his classmates were shepherded up to Manchester fully expecting to be suspended fom school when their Bach-loving driver realised that the musical recital they were attending was a performance by someone little known in classical circles – the bounding maniac Iggy Pop.
It was some sort of starting point that night. And maybe a step towards a conversion. In the venue Booth escaped from organist overseer, and when the Rock Monkey God himself sprang onstage. bare chested, blood smeared and with a horse tail strapped to his arse, teenage Tim ran with his heart pumping to the front of the stage, whereupon a security guard fisted him in the face and briefly laid him out. Neither Tim, nor the school organist were quite the same afterwards.
“One of the reasons I came to Manchester in the first place was because it had such good associations for me. I’d had such good experiences seeing people play here,” recalls Booth still peering into the shadows of the Apollo, pulling memories from the glittery recesses.
It was in Manchester that he saw The Clash’s ‘White Riot’ tour during the heyday of punk and it was here that he came to see his teenage saviour Patti Smith.
“One night towards the end of school I couldn’t sleep. It was during a time when I thought my father was dying and I went down into the common room and I started listening to this record on some headphones and it was just amazing. It turned out to be a Patti Smith album, ‘Horses’. That record really helped me at that time. I got rid of my record collection and I went and saw her.”
Gradually, out there in the stalls, TIm Booth became convinced that pop music was something that could be used to break through to emotional truth. Something that you could make deeper connection with. His personal compass fixed on a questing path that was to help James to stadium pop success in s Britain and which has more recently taken them deep into the heart of the American experience. But James’ conviction route through modern life has recently placed them at odds with the machinery of pop culture in Britain. The new Eno produced album Laid’ and their current British tour has returned James to us in a mood of dissension.
In the Apollo, years after the Iggy revelation, Booth’s belief in the spiritual power of pop still acts as the band’s guiding light James do pop like they’re doing tantric sex. Like they’re trying to reach some higher state. On stage in the empty theatre where the six members or James and a technical crew have convened for a pre-Christmas tour rehearsal, Booth leads the band into ‘All Out To Get You’. A flickering, see-sawing lullaby for the insecure, it build. tremulously out of Larry’s shivers of slide guitar and Saul’s tender violin strokes.
With his eyes shut, Booth rocks from side to side, flowing with the feeling, waiting for the emotional current to push him into one of his mad dances Watching Tim alternate between standing stock still and jerking into spasms of dance it occurs to me that James must be one of the few bands in existence who treat soundchecks as major catharsis.
Each song rehearsed, from the bluesy, plainrlve ‘PS’ to the glistening, abstract ‘Sklndivlng’ is like a mini strategy for transcendence. Compared to the James of three years ago, swaggering through their powerhouse hits, this subtle, interactive, organic ensemble playing bruised, aching devotional songs from ‘Laid’ is a different band entirely.
A LOT has happened to James in the years since their ‘Sit Down’ and ‘Come Home’ hits turned them into a major-league group. They have gone through a perspective shift which has affected them musically and mental1y. The simplest way to explain it is like this. James left home.
“We spent like nine, ten years desperately trying to get some success in England and then got it and that gave us the freedom to move abroad and we have done,” explains bassist Jim ,” Glcnnie. “It’s just that if you move out of the limelight, you move out of concentrating 24 hours a day on England, then it’s going to make a difference. It just seems a small part of something much more large-scale really when once it was everything.
“We knew that from ‘Seven’ this didn’t become the most hospitable place for us in terms of the media and things like that,” says Tim. “It was kind of practical as much as anything else. It does affect you – whether you feel wanted or not. We go to places where we feel wanted.
“The ‘Sit Down’ thing came on the back of years of touring (that built to a head around that period, and since then we’ve been really trying to build up something in Europe and America. I know people in Britain tend to feel rejected when they read that, but that’s how it goes really. The media in Britain encourages a fashion music industry. I don’t think it’s got that much to do with music and we knew that it was our turn to get hit.”
Timing is sometimes everything. James did well out of the rise of Madchester and baggy pop. Their pre-history as fidgety Factory Records folk oddballs kept them at once removed from the baggy fad but by the time it had run its course they’d sold enough T -shirts to revive the Manchester cotton industry and were big enough to play Alton Towers, In the following 12 months, however, while James toured the world, the British charts sucked in a host of new favourites, from Suede to The Lemonheads, and James came home to what they regarded as a hostile critical reception.
ON THE surface James are the same unaffected and pelitely prickly group that they’ve always been. At their converted warehouse offices in a Manchester suburb, they mill around amiably. Avuncular guitarist Larry jokes about how they were going to set up an organic farm in the back yard just to confirm the veggy cliches about James. Hyperactive multi- instrumentalist Saul chats about doing ambient music with Youth under the Celtic Cross guise. Jim turns up still glowing from his weekend run.
It’s a happy family kind of an atmosphere that persists even when Booth’s car alarm persistently goes off on the drive across town. But there’s a defensiveness there that quickly surfaces. The new James T -shirts come with two slogans; one says ‘Get laid’, the other ‘James Suck’, According to Martine, manager of James and mother of Tim’s son, the ‘James Suck’ design is “because we want to sell T -shirts to people who don’t like James as well as people who do”. But maybe there’s more to it than that.
In the 1ast two years the longest consecutive time James have spent at home was the three months they took off earlier this year after they’d finished ‘Laid’. They have been busy. The period leading up to ‘Laid’ saw them spend five months touring America, including the lengthy set of acoustic shows with Neil Young, as well as playing in Europe and Japan, They were so “wiped” by , the time it came to start recording ‘Laid’ that Eno took one look at them and suggested they postpone the sessions.
They went ahead, however, and in the six weeks that they spent in Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios near Bath, they attempted to record three albums’ ‘Laid’; a double album of experimental ambient industrial jams which they now don’t know how to release; and a live album recorded at Bath Moles club. The live set didn’t materialise due to their over-estimation of their readiness to play new songs, but it did persuade Peter Gabriel, who saw the show, to book them onto the recent WOMAD tour of America.
A few days before I met them they had returned from playing in Los Angeles where they’d also appeared on the high profile TV show Tonight. The idea that since ‘Sit Down’ their career has drifted badly is therefore not something that they’re amused by, As Tim points out, ‘Laid’ is Top Ten in Australia, Number One in Portugal, and doing well in the States.
“I think we’re hitting our peak in a way,” says Jim, “I don’t know how long it’ll last but I think we’re coming into our peak of songwriting. If England can’t handle that because we had a hit single two years ago then hard shit, we’ll go somewhere else where people can appreciate it”
“The other thing is we’ve played in Britain such a lot that Britain becomes less of a mystery to us,” adds Tim. “The mystery comes from playing with Neil Young around America in weird venues you’ve never seen before, on mountainsides, rea1ly quiet gigs. Being forced to play acoustically and enjoying it. That’s where the mystery comes from. It comes from going to alien cultures. We’ve always said that. We want to tour in Egypt and India, places they’ve never heard of you and see whether you can translate, see whether you can communicate with those people.
Listening to the hushed strummed atmosphcrics and Ry Cooder guitars of ‘Laid’. It’s hard not to assume that Jamcs simply shipped home the influences of their American travels and Neil Young dates to the studio. Previous album ‘Seven’ had, after all, been roundly ticked off for being ‘stadium rock’ Were the acoustic shows an acknowledgement of that criticism?
“It had nothing to do with it” says Tim. “Neil Young basically asked us to play acoustically on his acoustic tour of America and so we said yes”
“It was either do it acoustically or not do it,” explains Jim, “We were forced into it and we were f—in’ scared to death We’d never played gigs acoustically berore and suddenly there you were in front of 10,000 Neil Young fans. It’s not something we’d have chosen but you have to make it work or you get f-in’ bottled off stage. Fortunately it worked and it led us in a direction which we really liked. It was fresh and it was different. It was like ‘F-in’ hell! This is exciting’.”
“I think we recognised that there was a simple undeniable power about when we played acoustically,” says Larry “And there was some recognition of the criticism that you talked about – the stadium thing. It’s like, if anybody came and saw James do this they wouldn’t be able to level those criticisms at us. It almost became a joke, like what would we be accused of next? Stadium folk?,’
BRIAN ENO, who the band had tried to involve as a producer as far back as the ‘Stutter’ LP in ’86, was drawn to work with them after seeing one of the acoustic shows. He encouraged them to keep things simple in the studio – something which was assisted by the fact that trumpet player Andy Diagram had left to play in his own band earlier in the year – and the blue thrummed plateau of ‘Laid’ was born.
Inevitably, thanks to Eno’s work with U2, there are those who have drawn comparisons. Tim and Larry will have none of it. The songs which people cite as sounding similar are usually ones that Eno didn’t work on, they say. There is an aghast silence when I mention The Edge to Lany. “No, he doesn’t play like The Edge, he just looks like him,” says Tim. And no, James are not planning on acquiring supermodel girlfriends. Subject closed.
They are not easily accounted for , James. Collectively they have a level of protectiveness about what they do which borders on the pathological. Mention the word ‘maturity’ and you’re likely to get drilled to death by Tim’s glare. “Maturity’s a dirty word! Only on the NME!” It would be preposterous if you didn’t know that they had something worth protecting.
“You’re judging everything off ‘Laid’, argues Tim. “But we made another double LP at the same time which is totally different, which is more like a Tom Waits or industrial type record and it also reflects us working with Brian at that time and if you put those two together then there’s so many contradictions that you won’t be able to come to a linear conclusion – that James have turned into this mellow, mature band because the other LP is crazy! It’s like we don’t know what the f– we’re doing so how are we meant to give you an answer!”
If anything, they argue, the move away from their celebratory stadium style shows to the current live mix of part electric part acoustic smouldering atmospherics, is proof of their desire to continue to challenge people.
“I think there was a stage when people came to a James gig and they thought ‘Celebradon! Party! I know all the songs and I’m going to go along and have a sing-along’ and there’s something inside or me that wants to go, ‘Yeah, well we’re going to stretch this’ says Jim
“But there’s no point in going on stage and talking in a language that no-one understands” adds Tim. “It’s a matter of communicating.”
Certainly Booth was impressed by U2’s Zoo TV shows, but they were mostly he says about ‘image’. And image is something that he claims to have little interest in.
“I think ultimately we’re more likely to head towards the Neil Young thing or stripping it all down. But it’s really hard to talk about because we stumble into things rather than consciously set out plans and we like that”
For Booth to claim ten years into his pop star career that he has little interest in image manipulation might sound somewhat unlikely. But the story that surrounds the sleeve of ‘Laid’ supports the idea that James just stumble into things. The cover photo of them wearing floral dresses and eating bananas came from a long session in Marseilles where Booth suggested they wore women’s clothes for a few or the shots. They already had a sleeve for the album but when they saw the photos from Marseille everyone liked the shots. It was not a calculated act, they claim. Andy Diagram had worn dresses for years. They just liked the photos
“It was done berore Kurt Cobain turned up in a dress and the guy from the Manic Street Preachers, so we thought it was quite original,” says Tim “And the picture goes with the title ‘Laid’ so well,”
“We have a really hard time with our own, erm, image,” squirms Larry “We’re still awkward in front of cameras We don’t take great photographs usually. We get them back and we look at them and we think there’s nothIng special about them.”
“We see bands time and time again reaching a huge public, seemingly with some good photographs,” adds Tim. “Not with the music but because they look great in the photographs. And we always think ‘Shit! We do not understand this language’ And we were just very happy with that photo.”
Aren’t you being a bit coy about the sexual role play aspect? You wore dresses in the video for ‘Laid’.
“We’re not coy”. answers Tim “We just don’t want to have to give some great answer, some serious uptight answer about sexual politics.”
“We’re a bit confused, as you might say,” concludes Jim.
IF JAMES have returned to us in a slighdy confused state, at odds with a pop machine which they believe wants to reduce them to something convenient, fashion friendly and superficial, then you can probably blame Booth. Driving round Manchester, Saul and drummer Dave think back to photo sessions past.
“Do you remember that one where Tim’s standing waving in that arch looking like a complete f-in’ homosexual?”
“Which one? There’s loads like that?” they chortle.
The rest of James might share some of Tim’s disaffection with the dirty old music business but their sensitivities are less offended by it.
Booth presents himself as a man who has no time for the ephemeral. His interest is in the deeper things. With the exception of the unreleased Kristin Hersh solo LP (produced by ex-James producer and ex-Patti Smith band member Lenny Kaye) he says he’s found little to inspire him in pop recently. Bjork’s career has been boosted by her photogenic qualities, he says. PJ Harvey doesn’t deserve the Patti Smith comparisons. On The Beat recently he stared down at the philistines who were shouting for The Wonder Stuff with an expression that screamed forgive-them-for-they-know-not-what-they-do. Booth expects James to try to be something more than just a rousing pop group. You get the feeling that he wants them to set souls on fire.
Often they succeed, like with ‘Sometimes’ or ‘Five-O’ from the album. Occasionally they fail. What is clear is that Booth pours masses of heart into James. Life and death stuff. Talk to him about the tone of the last two albums and he’ll say that ‘Seven’ was “depressed” while ‘Laid’ is “sad”. Even the most amateur psychologist could deduce that those moods partly reflect the fallout from the break up of his relationship with Martine.
“Sadness is a real emotion. It’s like joy or anger , it’s valid,” says Tim. “Depression is a black hole And it’s kind of a null. It’s not feeling. And I sung most of ‘Seven’ in that state. And on ‘Laid’ it’s almost like I’m confident enough to do some sad songs”
Check the lyrics of ‘Laid’ and you’ll find a songwriter trying to wrench meaning from a car crash of sin, sex, faith, love and loss. ‘Low Low Low’ he says is inspired by the fact that there’s apparently one gene difference between humans and apes. “I swing from seeing human beings as apes to seeing them as divine depending on what day you catch me” And ‘One Of The Three’ is a mixture of a Godot quote about the chances for redemption and a contemplation of Terry Waite’s near martyrdom. “He seemed to have been teeing up his whole life for it.”
Dirt and divinity! Sex and destiny! Can a mere pop group support the weight of this? How weighty should pop music be?
“How Terry Waite-y? Ah, you mean are those themes the correct dialogue for trashy pop music?” he laughs. “I just don’t care. I really don’t know how to explain it. Obviously if you’re brought up on a diet of frothy pink pop music you might accept ‘Laid’ but you won’t get some of the songs. I don’t mind that at all. Noone has to understand my lyrics. I just hope people get useful images from them.”
Did you sit down with Brian Eno and discuss the meaning or pop music?
“Oh we talked about culture a lot. We had good evening meals. He’s a wine connoisseur and we’d all get drunk, well not drunk but high, and discuss things. We had great ones on culture with Brian.”
In his tawny non-pop clothes, with his weather-beaten hair and stubbly chin, Booth looks out through philosophically sunken eyes on the tacky high speed vanity fair or pop and frowns. He doesn’t think he’s part of all that. One day he’d like to be in the some position as REM, just making good records and good videos and not explaining himself. He doesn’t think he had any mileage out of presenting an easy caricature for the papers. “I think we’ve failed to present a coherent myth,” he says. All that non-drugging, non- drinking, meditating vegetarian Buddhist stuff was grossly exaggerated. He got off the path to enlightenment years ago and anyway, he eats fish.
As for the recent reports of his interest in Tai Chi and martial arts and sharnanitic dancing..
“I wish I’d kept my big mouth shut. When we were meditating, we never talked about it ever. We only talked about a year after we’d stopped so we couldn’t be seen to be selling it. So no. I’m a person who gets very enthuiastic about things, whether they’re films or plays or whatever. I become quite obsessive, but it’s not an a attempt to.. it’s just b enthusiasm”
So what’s the current enthusiasm?
“Football. That film, The Piano. Just whatever I love good work. DV8, the physical theatre group, I’m going to see them in London. It’s a piece on cottaging, sounds really heavy. I think there’s much more interesting things going on than pop music. I think that the comedians in this country are much more interesting than pop music. I’d rather go and see any of them than go and see nearly any British band at the moment. I think that the whole ground for pop music is very superficial at the moment. It’s not worth it. And I think it’s to do with record companies, bands and music press. And it’s particularly bad in this country.”
“The fast turnover of frothy pop is what is promoted and encouraged at all levels. I don’t believe it’s just a matter of us having become a 30-second attention span culture. A few quite heavy and deep things break through, like The Piano. I believe it’s to do with what people are fed. Obviously consumerism is speeding up. It’s getting faster and faster and you can feel it in the media, there are so many magazines and papers and they’re feeding off whatever comes along and it eats it up for a couple of months and then on to the next thing and the next thing. It’s like a hungry shark. But at the same time there are things of depth that get through. And they should be encouraged. And of course…”
AND OF course, James are one of them. A few days after the meeting in Manchester I talk to Booth again on the phone. He explains that it’s a weird time for the band, that they’re going through some sort of change. It all sounds a bit confused, secretive, obsessive, hyper-analytical, determined, mad. He says of himself “I really don’t have any sense of how I’m seen and of course I’m bound to see the contradictions in it because I’m me and I know I can be a shit and I’m very confused. I’m actually quite a ball of confusion”
The curious thing is that after all the years on and off the path to enlightenment James have arrived in l993 with almost no certainties.
And because they are in this state of anxious flux, displaced by travel, unsure of their own sound, suspicious of the media, and surrounded by “froth”, and because Tim insists that they should strive to reach into the depths of experience, this is probably the best time ever to go and see them. Their December shows should be astonishing.
James who made a low-key appearance at Manchester Polytechnic last Saturday as a dress rehearsal for their forthcoming dates in America, have announced details of a date at Alton Towers in July.
As predicted exclusively in NME last week, Tim Booth and co headline the outdoor gig in the 500-acre theme park in Staffordshire on July 4. The band will be supported by two major acts, yet to be announced.
Tickets for the concert and admission to the park for the day (including free access to all the rides) are available for £25 from Alton Towers box office on 0538-702200.
James guitarist Larry Gott was victim of an armed mugging in Los Angeles last week, just three hours after arriving in the States from Manchester.
Gott was held up at gunpoint outside the band’s hotel on Sunset Boulevard by two men who made off with his money and jacket. After giving a statement to police, Gott, distressed by the incident, took the first plane back to England – missing the group’s three-day US video shoot.
Gott told NME: “The robbery coupled with my subsequent experience at the hands of the Los Angeles police left me with an overwhelming sense of fear, paranoia and suspicion of everyone I came into contact with.”
The band went ahead with taping the video for the new single ‘Born of Frustration’ with their tour manager standing in for Gott.
Jim : Crimpolene
Tim : Honey, massage oil, skin
WHAT ARE THE VIBES LIKE WITH YOU?
OK, thank you
WHAT DID YOU DO LAST NIGHT?
Jim : Got up, brushed teeth, fed cat
Tim : I can’t remember, I was unconscious
WHAT BOOKS ARE YOU READING?
Jim : Wide Ranger
Tim : Quantum Psychology, Kundalini Yoga, Time’s Arrow
WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING A POP STAR?
Jim : Very good
Tim : I’ve no idea. Ask one.
Jim : Dinner time
Tim : Love bites
Jim : To the centre of the earth
Tim : Coming home
WHAT DO YOU ALWAYS CARRY?
Jim : Shopping
Tim : Gravity
WHAT ARE YOU LIKE WHEN DRUNK?
Jim : Axe murderer
Tim : Benignly tearful
WHAT WOULD YOUR SPECIALIST SUBJECT BE ON MASTERMIND?
Jim : Green Green White Red Brown
Tim : The 39 Steps
Jim : Mastermind
Tim : Hunt The Mars Bar, Pick Up The Orange. Potential game show.
FAVOURITE HEAVY METAL ACT
Jim : Metallica, Stutter
Tim : Uranium
WHAT MAKES YOU LAUGH?
Jim : Funny things
WHAT RECORDS MAKE YOU CRY?
Jim : Really bad ones
Tim : Julee Cruise, Mary Margaret O’Hara, “Green Onions”
WHAT RECORDS CAN MAKE YOU DANCE?
Jim : Ones that travel down your legs and make your legs jerk.
KEY FILMS IN YOUR LIFE
Jim : Jacob’s Ladder, Blood Simple, Bambi
Tim : Sky West And Crooked
WHO DO YOU HATE?
Jim : Baddies
Tim : Goodies
PUNCHLINE TO FAVOURITE JOKE
Jim : “Never mind the porridge, who’s nicked the f**king video?”
Tim : “The horror, the horror”
Jim : Questions
Tim : Negative patterns
Jim : Brown paper packages tied up with string
Tim : Bobby Charlton, Anthony Burgess, Morrissey, Ben
FAVE GUITAR SOLO
Jim : So low you can’t hear it
Tim : Breakin’ In My Heart – Tom Verlaine
NAME THREE GREAT SINGERS
Jim : Pavarotti, Domingo and the other one
Tim : Mary Margaret O’Hara, Patti Smith, Black Francis
NAME THREE OVER-RATED PERFORMERS
Jim : Jim, Tim and Larry
Tim : Van Morrisson, Elvis Costello, Paul Daniels, Kate Bush and Prince (Ha Ha)
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE FOR CHRISTMAS?
Jim : Lots of very expensive presents
Tim : Real love. Self-sacrifice
Jim : Remote control model of Cutty Sark
Tim : DAT-Organiser-Video-Walkman-thingy
HOW DO YOU RELAX?
Jim : Sleep
Tim : A large hammer
Jim : Mountaineering, hand-gliding, scuba-diving, parachuting, potholing
Tim : Hunt the Mars bar
WHAT NEWSPAPERS DO YOU READ?
MOST ROCK N ROLL THING YOU’VE DONE THIS WEEK
Jim : Threw my mother’s colour portable out of the window
Tim : Rowed with the guitarist
Jim : James songs, and gigs, and t-shirts
Tim : Joyce, Swaggart, Kirk
FAVE SMITHS SONGS
Jim : “We want to be Smi-i-iths crisps, we want to be Smi-i-iths crisps”
Tim : “Hammer and the Anvil”
WORST SONG YOU’VE EVER RECORDED
Jim : All of them
Tim : None of them
FAVE THING FROM THE BODY SHOP
Jim : Dodgy, recyclable plastic bags
Tim : Sexy massage oil
WHEN DID YOU LAST BREAK THE LAW?
Jim : It was him, honest
Tim : Yesterday
Jim : Drinking
Tim : Favourite what?
Jim : Sahara and Gobi probably
Tim : Chocolate ice cream, cheese cake
Jim : 3.15am
Tim: The beginning of life on Earth, pre Greenwich Mean Time
FAVE PUNK GROUPS
Jim : Pistols, Clash, Old James
Tim : The Stooges
WHAT ARE YOU BAD AT?
FAVE KARAOKE TUNES
Jim : Never heard of them
Tim : Kara Oke. Some strange Japanese singer who never turns up for his own gigs
BEST ADVICE YOU’VE RECEIVED
Jim : What you need to do is try a cover version, have a hit then try one of your own
Tim : You’re on your own. There are no rules
Jim : Number One, Number Six and 11
Tim : Necks, hips, geranium, hair, bodies
FAVE SEASIDE RESORTS
Jim : Anywhere sunny
Tim : Beirut
WHEN WAS YOUR LAST OUT-OF-BODY EXPERIENCE?
Jim : Being born
Tim : Now. Are thoughts out of the body?
WHAT SCARES YOU?
Jim : Bogeymen and people shouting “Boo” loudly
Tim : Paranoia, no love life, help doctor
FIRST RECORD BOUGHT
Jim : Sit Down
Tim : Paddy McGinty’s Goat
Jim : My Mum’s Sound of Music
Tim : Theme from Cuckoo Waltz
WHO WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO SIT DOWN NEXT TO AND WHY?
Jim : The pilot
Tim : Robert Anton Wilson, Gordon Strachan, Jodie Foster, Ben, Martine, Kylie, Liz McColgan
Jim : October
Tim : August
WHAT WOULD YOU FAX KENNY THOMAS?
Jim : Who?
Tim : A condom
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED?
Jim : Who?
Tim : As the one that got away
FAVE CLASSICAL MUSIC
Jim : Ask Saul this one
Tim : Nick Cave’s “The Ship Song”
Jim : “Life’s what you do when you can’t sleep”
Tim : “Can you turn your guitar down Larry?”
Take our hand and let us lead you through 72 hours on the road with James – herbal tea and guarana-driven wholemeal bread-heads back from the dead and on a hometown rampage in a Ned’s t-shirt (small).
“It’s such a feeling yeeeah! It’s such a feeling Wooooah!” Blitzed out of their minds at two in the morning, a group of sleet-soaked lads in office suits stumble merrily through the gnawing cold of central Manchester, belching out the rising coda to How Was It For You?
Three hours after witnessing the celebratory communion of James final G-Mex show, they have alco-smashed out of company-car consciousness into a state of heightened oblivion.
The song that they’re bellowing is a viciously penned meditation on the psychology of abandoning yourself to drink and drugs, but I don’t think they can give a flying f__k about that. They’re having a fine time as it is. Probably better than if they’d been to see Gary Glitter’s Christmas Gang Show.
That was the last warbling echo of three days on the road with James that had started on the most chilling note possible, and ended with a grin. The 48 hours that turned in 72 hours had been but 30 minutes old when the dread realisation dawned that it would be absolutely unthinkable to ask Tim Booth the top pop triv question “What did you have for breakfast this morning?” Armed with a battery of crushingly banal enquiries the journalist sloped into the backstage catering room of James gig at Brixton Academy, prepared to smugly trivialise into Milli-Vanillidom the Oedipally fixated, quiche eating, earnest pop misfits James, with their holier than thou Jesus sandals intelligence and intacto integrity. Un-funnily enough, that isn’t how it worked out.
Fifteen minutes amidst the backstage atmosphere of veggie cooking, polite sobriety and intense preparation and the journalist is listening straight-faced to Tim Booth explaining that they have a masseuse backstage to help them relax before a concert. “Better than getting stoned,” suggests the snide journalist. “We don’t do drugs,” snaps Tim, convincingly. Then he’s off, enthusing about David Lynch’s re-invention of 50’s pop, speculating on the expected weirdness of the band’s pre-Christmas tour of Russia and dipping into a quick appraisal of Czech novelists. “I’m more into Kundera than Kafka,” says Tim, like someone who’s actually read the books. “Kafka’s not very good with sex, is he?” And finally, the hammer blow to mockery is delivered in the form of an innocent looking fax.
The fax is a letter from the family of a young James fan who died tragically this summer. The kid had a ticket to see James in Manchester and the family’s request is that Tim dedicated a song to him at their G-Mex show. It would mean a lot to them. There is a gobsmacked silence backstage as Tim stares at the letter.
“We’ve had a few like that,” he says. “I’d rather you didn’t mention it, actually.” Many hours later, when I suggest to Tim that it must be frightening for a mere pop group to become involved with such serious feelings, he agrees to having the letter mentioned.
“I’m just worried because there’s a real fine line between something like that happening and exploiting it,” says Tim. “I don’t want to be like the politican after a disaster, turning up at the hospital to kiss the injured. But it has happened a few times and it’s really touching and things like that really move you.”
You’re not scared by it then?
“No. Because when I was 17 someone like Patti Smith was hugely important in my life. Hugely important. Like a complete lifeline in an environment that I felt was totally hostile. And there was suddenly something that I could totally relate to, and made me feel that I wasn’t crazy after all. And I feel that we supply that for some people, and in that respect, I don’t see us like a pop group at all.”
“That’s what Sit Down’s about, and that’s why they particularly respond to that song. Y’know ‘I’m relieved to hear that you’ve been to some far out places/’Cause it’s hard to carry on when you feel all alone.’ It’s a song for the darkest hour.”
“So it doesn’t frighten me. I’m really happy when people take us that seriously. Because I’ve taken things that seriously, and they’ve helped me that much, and stopped me going crazy, and made me feel that I could keep going.”
Spending three days on the road with James at this stage of their existence is like watching the tightrope walker half way over towards applause and bow-taking. Ahead of them lies a prize that says “Most Important Band Since…” Beneath them on the sawdust lie the mangled windbag bodies of Rock Hams who overdid it – Bono, Kerr, Gary Glitter and friends.
In the past 12 months, James have gone from being a seven-year running, cult Manc soap opera to prime-time networked public exposure. This year, resigned to a major label, they hit the Top 40 for the first time with How Was It For You? and Come Home. Their summer World Cup tour ended triumphantly with two glorious nights in Blackpool. Their Gold Mother album, the first time they’d come close to capturing their deep power on an LP, went silver. And their T-shirts were everywhere.
Now, on a brief pre-Christmas tour of major league venues, including two sell out nights in the enorma-dome of G-Mex, they are being interviewed and videoed like never before and meeting the kind of over-the-top audience reaction that would’ve embarrassed Christ into retirement.
At James Brixton show, despite the set lacking their usual fire (although Tim is as fascinatingly energised as ever) the entire audience follows the pre-set tradition of folding to the floor and dancing cross-legged on their bums for Sit Down. They look like worshippers at the feet of Maharishi Tim. When Sit Down’s euphoric, anthemic rallying cry for the alienated (with its Gary Glitter Rock n Roll Part One drum intro) is re-released next year, James will have to dance pretty clever to avoid becoming the type of band they’ve always hated.
“I feel embarrassed when everyone sits down,” says Tim. “That’s probably the primary…. No it isn’t… You get mixed emotions. You’re really touched, a bit embarrassed, and you’re a bit frightened. Ultimately, it’s really moving, but I’m up there panicking, thinking ‘How long before it becomes a cliche?'”
“We’re worried about this song. I’m frightened of Sit Down becoming the only song that people want to come and hear. But, James is so awkward that I swear that if it got out of hand we’d stop playing it.”
“It’s getting that balance between showmanship and it being real. Like tonight, you could say I was performing, and in one way I was. but I felt totally convinced of what I was doing.”
Are you ever worried that you’re turning into Gary Glitter?
“F–k off! But on other nights I’ve gone on and felt really embarrassed and my body’s felt awkward. Everything I’ve done has felt like a performance. What I’m trying to do is make a distinction between hollow theatere and …. Well it might just be the distinction between bad theatricality and good, between striking postures and poses, which is what most rock is about, and a theatricality where I’m totally into what I’m doing, so I’m totally convinced… And it’s a weird state to be in.”
These are indeed weird times for James as they attempt to cope with the transition into the big rock world without becoming caricatures. They do, however, have certain built-in advantages in that respect. Like an off-stage unobtrusiveness that borders on invisibility.
The ‘after gig drink’ at Brixton Academy is about as wild as a Sunday afternoon spent reading the papers in a country pub. The next day’s flight up to Manchester passes completely without incident. And when they arrive at the airport, Tim, who is yet to sleep after the Brixton show (having eschewed the traditional frontman’s post-gig relaxant of eight cans of Red Stripe and a spliff) heads for bed.
Then, in the afternoon, the arguments start. After soundchecking (intensely) in the imposing empty hulk of the G-Mex the band sit in the catering room, running through the day’s business. First up is a lengthy and unresolved discussion over who should produce the next single. I vote for Lee Perry, but noone seems to go for this. Then the daily grudge match over the set list (which they change every night) begins. Starring Tim, guitarist Larry, bassist Jim and James manager (and Mum to the Booth family baby) Martine, it goes like this.
“Are these just songs we can rearrange in any order then?”
“I’m doing that because I’m a difficult bastard”
“I’m not happy. There’s too many slow ones.”
“I’m going to do that one if I have to do a f–kin’ vocal solo.”
“What about the lighting people?”
“Alright then. Write the f–kin’ thing out yourself.”
At the front of G-Mex, £40,000 worth of James T-shirts are being set out on the merchandising stalls. In the production office, the video crew for the next night are fighting for backstage passes. Does it ever bother you, I ask Jim, trumpeter Andy and garrulous violinist Saul, that Tim gets all the attention/.
Jim : “No. Well, a teensie weensie bit. But it’s just one of those things. We know what we put into James but it’s just like you’ve got to remember that. Then there’s like a f–kin’ article in the paper and it’s like ‘Tim Booth and his backing band’ But you can’t get too pissed off about that.”
Saul : “He’s very popular on the roar-o-meter”
Do you ever worry he’s turning into Gary Glitter?
Jim : “All the time, actually. Yeah, if he wears any more…. No, but do you think it’s a bit over-dramatic? I think sometimes we walk a fine line, especially when gigs aren’t going well. We act.”
Saul : “We’ve become really big, like this big powerful sound. I’d like to hear it going a bit weirder.”
So you argue a lot?
Jim : “Yeah, all the time”
Andy : “We do hate each other. Quite a lot.”
On the first night at G-Mex, the Booth-chosen moody intro track of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game gives way to the screams and hooting claxons of the footy-sized and predominantly dead young James audience. In a set of escalating brilliance, the band carry off their mellower moments (like the haunting new single Lose Control) with ease. They adrenalin whip through the rush and rattle songs (Whoops, Bring A Gun, Johnny Yen) and supply anthems-a-plenty with What For, Come Home and Sit Down. Spasm dancing like a man with 40,000 volts up his bum, and even clambering into the crowd at one point, Booth is a consummately wired focus.
James show no sign of having a problem with projecting themselves into the hall of Rock Hugeness. And it is something of a medium-sized miracle to witness a band who have made few – if any – accommodations to bagginess, putting over songs about God, sex, soul-suffering and madness to 9,000(ish) Manc raver teens. Especially since that band comprises (trivia fans) a worrying guilt-racked Correspondent(RIP)-reading singer (Tim), a Jack Nicholson fan, family-man guitarist (Larry), a sly, Viz-reading bassist (Jim), a dress-wearing trumpeter (Andy), a neurotic Nabokov-reading violinist (Saul), a non-talking keyboardist (Mark) and a right-on drummer (David) who plays Welsh dance music in his spare time. It’s all a bit ‘against all odds’.
But there are moment at G-Mex, like when Tim sombrely introduces Stutter as ‘a song about losing your faculties; and a unseemly number of fans scream “Woooaah! Yesssss!”, when you have to wonder. You have to wonder whether James newly widened audience actually gives a nana about all that agonised stuff.
After the first night in Manchester, The Most Intense Man In The World, now in the grip of post-gig adrenalin fever, eyes me even more intensely than usual. So I put it to him that some of the fans seem to be just waiting for the sing-a-long songs. And mighn’t he just as well be singing ‘We’re all going down the pub’ as ‘God only knows’?
“Is this a wind-up or do you actually feel that?” says Tim, taking a deep breath. “A lot of my lyrics are quite dark and quite sad, but the audience take it and turn it into a celebration. And that’s lovely. So the more twisted we can make it, and it still be a celebration… That’s a wonderful contradiction.”
“It’s harder to pull off slow sets in Britain now, because people are used to the adrenalin buzz with James. But we can play slow songs and hold an audience. Maybe you have a point, but I’m not interested in that. I’m not interested in becoming a figure of popular appeal if that means we get castrated in the process.”
The Saturday afternoon following the first G-Mex show, Manchester is lashed by the sleet and snow of the nationwide cold snap, presumably summoned up by James new line in snowflake T-shirts. Two hours before the G-Mex doors open there are already 20 or so of the younger and bloody stupider of the woolly-hatted hordes getting ice-whipped outside the venue.
Inside, James have reconvened to go through the day’s picky preparations all over again. There is an added tension in the air caused by the presence of the video crew, there to document the show. After a sleepless night spent wrestling with erotic thoughts in a hotel room which “smelled of sex”, Tim Booth is nevertheless up for a chat about, erm, sensory depravation tanks and mind expansion.
There is a none too serious but noticeable difference between Tim and the rest of James. You talk to Larry about his family. Saul will joke around confessing to scenes of “disgusting greed” when the band were recently presented with a roomful of free Levi’s gear. With Tim, however, the tone is unavoidably analytical. Tortured, almost. Already on this tour, he has lost enough weight to mean that his free Levis no longer fit. Usually he loses about a stone on tour. The previous night, Tim had been led to ponder on how a weirdo (anxious, doubt-ridden variety) like him, copes with being in showbiz (sort of)
“Erm…Phew! I think I’m probably fairly schizophrenic. So I can switch into another mode as well. There’s a whole load of politics that go with being in a band that we payed no heed to for the first seven years, and as a result didn’t get anywhere near publicity. Now we pay heed to a whole load of games…. interviews, photographs, shaking hands, kissing babies… eating babies. And only once or twice does my… I mean, I have done some things which are diplomatically highly incorrect.”
You seem like this controlled person who’s fighting a constant battle to maintain that control. “Mmmm Lose control? The image of Lose Control is I think more important to me as an idea of breaking out of personality, breaking out of physical limits. Not so much going mad, just wanting to push reality to its limits, to see if there’s anything more.
“I’m quite confrontational. I’m not a particularly easy person to be around. And to really want to push a song, like OK, where’s that going to?… And the same with myself. Push my body. Y’know, how much can I do? That’s really a big drive.
“That’s the idea of losing control…. ‘Shake my body, release my soul’ Y’know, break out of this, Because I think a lot of the time, people are really trapped within their own personalities. Really bored with themselves. And I can get really trapped in myself and it’s like wanting to f–kin break out… and to scream. Some people have said I’m starting to repeat myself in songs, but I think I’m getting more to the point of what I want to say. I’m saying it more clearly.”
Isn’t it all impossible? A bit mad?
“No, I don’t think so. And listen, I think it’s very common. I think that’s why people drink. I think that’s why people take drugs. I mean everyone’s trying to do it all the time. But I don’t want to do it artificially. Or at least, not very often. Because it has too much of a damaging effect. You know…. be careful, it’s big medicine.”
Sixty milligrams of Coenzyme Q 10 natural energy capsules have just slooshed down into Tim Booth’s stomach. Around him in a non-smoking zone dressing room littered with Guarana packets, health drinks and the odd beer, the rest of James are getting ready for the final show. Larry has been put into a state of nerves by the video crew who asked him how it felt to be adored by 9,000 people. “I didn’t know what to say,” he confesses. “I just sort of sat there looking embarrassed. I thought I’d get used to it all by my age.”
Dave is pulling on his ‘F–king F–k’ sloganed T-shirt. Saul is worrying that the snow has kept the fans away. And Tim is standing in front of a mirror trying to work out what to wear. “Motherf–ker! F–k I’m angry tonight. Or at least I’m trying to get angry. Bollocks.” Tim sighs, frowning at the pile of shirts crumpled on the floor. “It’s just the idea that it’s going to be on video. I wouldn’t give a shit otherwise.”
The doorway that opens onto the backstage area at G-Mex sends a sunburst of white TV camera lights out into the darkened arena where the swaying hollering James fans wait in near hysterical mood for the band to walk on stage. Eight years ago, James first photographs were taken outside the G-Mex building when it was still Manchester Central Station. Then they were still too self-effacing to even look at the camera. Tonight they jog on stage to face the crowd roar with a TV camera shoved up each of their noses.
From Tim Booth’s entrance on top of the speaker stacks, through to the moment near the end where he dervlish-dances himself into near unconsciousness and has to crawl stage-side for oxygen, the final show is pure drama. A truly uplifting mesh of black thrills and ecstatic pop. Fainting teenagers are dragged out of the crowd throughout. When James drop the volume half way through Sit Down, the entire audience sings the chorus, unaccompanied, for a full five minutes. It is shamefully, inescapably moving.
Tim Booth dedicates the encore to three fans who have died during the year and somehow, one James-ette dodges past the security men to scramble on stage and skip around madly during How Was It For You?. Bono would have made a show out of that. Booth, the canny bastard, just carries on dancing himself stupid. For two hours at G-Mex, James were the most important band since….
“You slag Morrissey off you do, you f–king bastards”
A sweat-soaked James cub standing next to me at G-Mex has sussed out that I work for the NME and is spitting Moz fervour in my ear. So I ask her James Corps friend, who seems a little less likely to stab me, if she thinks Tim Booth is like Gary Glitter.
“Naaah” she says “Gary Glitter wears platform boots. Tim Booth wears Jesus sandals.”
Thank Christ for a sense of humour.
“We were very naive back in 83” Tim had told me earlier. “We thought we’d be stadium level… I was dragged to a Bruce Springsteen concert, and I thought ‘Corny old American’ but it blew me away. Not really the music because it wasn’t very original, but it was more the heart of how much he was giving. I always wanted to be in a band that was like that.”
Surely though, Tim, you can’t expect that the commitment and intensity of James is all that’s going to come across? Isn’t it OK to be a clown as well as a poet?
“No, the jester thing I didn’t like. Being a jester sounds too weak. It would have to be more like a psychotic jester, nearly getting executed for saying all the wrong things at all the wrong times. Humour is very important, but becoming a wacky band, or donning loads of costumes… ‘know, it’s got to be hard. The songs have got to be hard.”
So in that case it wouldn’t really be appropriate to ask you what you had for breakfast?”
“Hash browns. Button mushrooms. Baked beans.”
And for the one and only time in my three days with the nearly un-mockable James, Tim Booth actually laughs.
JAMES venture behind the Iron Curtain (R.I.P.p.e.d.) this week for a seven-date tour of the Soviet Union, which will include gigs at a seaport in the Arctic Circle and an aircraft factory in Kiev.
The band will be braving sub-zero temperatures (minus 20!), playing to average audiences of 2,000 per show.The first gig is tomorrow night (Thursday) at the Culture Palace Of Construction Trust in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Manager Martine McDonagh told NME that the dates were not part of a promotional jaunt, as James’ records are not on sale in the Soviet Union.
“It’s an opportunity for the band to do something a little bit different,” she said. “It’ll be a weird tour. Apart from their own instruments, they will have to use the equipment at the various venues. It’ll probably be pretty bog standard stuff-a real back-to-basics tour.”
James are due to return to Britain two days before Christmas and will have a short break before starting work on their next album in the New Year.
“Nobody’s heard of us in Russia so it’ll be really interesting for the band to see the reaction” Martine added.
JAMES, THAT PETROL EMOTION, MARC ALMOND and THE ADVENTURES OF STEVIE V play London this week to draw attention to World Aids Day on Saturday. The gigs, under the banner ‘Serenaids’, and organised by the Terence Higgins Trust, start tonight (Wednesday) at the Brixton Academy with Almond, Mica Paris, Everything But The Girl, Carmel, Jools Holland and Working Week. They continue on Thursday with James, That Petrol Emotion, Billy Bragg, New FADs and Stereo MCs on the bill and concludes on Friday with The Adventures Of Stevie V, Bass-0-Matic, MC Kinky and Cabaret Voltaire.
JAMES will headline an AIDS benefit show at London’s Brixton Academy on November 29.
The Manchester band(singer Tim Booth pictured right) are the latest addition to the three-day Serenaids Festival in support of the Terence Higgins Trust.They will be supported by That Petrol Emotion, Billy Bragg, The New Fast Automatic Daffodils and the Stereo MCs. Mica Paris has also been confirmed as special uest for another of the shows at the same venue on November 28. She’ll appear on the same billas Marc Almond,Everything But The Girl, Carmel, Jools Holland and Working Week.
Tickets for all the shows cost £10 each and you can book on the credit card hotline by calling 071 734 8932.