SetlistGetting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Ring The Bells / Sit Down / Hey Ma / Stutter / Out To Get You / Not So Strong / Sound / Sometimes / Laid
Supportn/a - Festival
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James take to the stage at 4.40 with the backdrop bedecked in some cheap looking inflatable flowers. They start off with Getting Away With It, and the opening bars see the crowd down the front raise their hands and start to clap along, it’s a good indication that James will get the respect they deserve from this festival crowd, which contains a reassuring large number of James shirts in its midst. I have the misfortune to be stood behind a guy who knows none of the words, but sings loudly, so I move away. The sound is excellent for a festival and the band are clearly up for it, Tim prowling the stage, catching the attention of various band members as he does.
Ring The Bells is now a festival staple. It lifts the mood with its upbeat, fast pace and has Tim starting to dance manically. The strobe lights don’t have quite the desired effect in the bright sunshine, but it causes one James virgin stood next to me to ask if the strobe lights set off Tim’s epilepsy. She gets let off as it’s her birthday.
Sit Down is messy at the start, but majestic. Tim comes down to the barrier and interacts with the crowd in a way none of the other performers do today. Whilst Guy Garvey later has them eating out his hand with his charm, wit and uniquely Mancunian manner, Tim goes for the more personal contact. The song itself is ideal for these huge communal singalongs, but doesn’t lose the personal, sad tinge to the lyrics.
Hey Ma again sees hands raised as the song kicks off. It doesn’t feel out of place in the set and people sing along. Tim dedicates the song to Blair and Bush’s fuck ups in Iran, before correcting himself.
The highlight of the set is Stutter. Twenty seven years old and as fresh and vibrant as anything seen on the main stage all weekend, and probably as wild too. The triple drum approach with Saul ending up bashing his drumsticks on Larry’s guitar makes for a huge wall of noise. Again, it’s a shame that it’s not dark to get the full on lights effect.
Out To Get You calms the mood down and results in a sea of arms waving and people singing along. The song’s delivery means it doesn’t lose any of the poignancy. Grown men hug and link arms, you know the kind of thing this song brings out in people.
Not So Strong is introduced as a song about boxing. Whilst not as immediate as some of the hits in the set, the chorus has a singalong quality to it that some of the crowd catch onto towards the end. It really should have sat on Hey Ma, somewhere between Semaphore and Upside.
Sound gets truncated, and I’m having issues with this song in the set at the moment. 12 or 13 minutes long versions take down the momentum, yet the short version makes you feel short-changed. Something like Tomorrow would have fitted better to bring the crowd back up for the climax of Sometimes. There’s no singalong, there’s no attempt to get the crowd to it, which would have been interesting. Laid is a perfect set closer. It’s sounding wilder than ever, the crowd go mental and all it’s missing is the mad scramble over the barrier to get on stage, forbidden by the V security and the killjoys of health and safety.
A good solid festival set, one of their better V performances in my memory. It’s never easy to play in bright sunshine at 5 in the afternoon to a crowd that’s not your own. James pull it off, the reception they get at the end tells the story.
Not So Strong was released as a free download from wearejames.com in August 2009.
It was previewed at a gig at Hoxton’s Bar and Grill in June 2007 and was a firm favourite in the festival set-lists that summer. It didn’t however make the final cut for Hey Ma.
|Song:||Not So Strong|
|Released:||21st August 2009|
|Main Associated Album (or Single):|
|First Heard Live:||London Hoxton Bar And Grill – 25th June 2007|
Lose Control / Sit Down / Oh My Heart / Ring The Bells / Come Home / Upside / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Born Of Frustration / Stutter / Not So Strong / Out To Get You / Tomorrow / Sometimes / Laid / Sound
The second of two shows made up entirely of new songs to roadtest them before the recording sessions for Hey Ma, including some that didn’t make the record. The audience were requested to score and make comments on a pre-printed setlist.
I’m going to try and keep this short and sweet. The new album section of the site will be updated with my notes on each of the songs, assuming I can read my notes of course.
With one listen of all the main set songs behind me, things became quite a lot clearer tonight. Songs fitted themselves into categories quite easily. The ready to record, the jam that needs a bit more. The quiet song, the slow burner, the builder and the all out pop classic. The single, the album track, the b-side.
Child To Burn is a very understated start. It’s gorgeous though with Andy’s whistling through the trumpet and Tim’s very pronounced vocal effects. Good Mood Sunday never quite catches fire. It’s got potential but needs some more work to be the finished article to stand alongside some of the stronger songs tonight. But then, that’s the whole point of the evening anyway, so it’s a bit churlish.
Out Of Our Heads could be the album’s Laid. It’s a bit throwaway, but it’s fun. And just because James are older than most of their peers doesn’t mean they can’t have fun. Other bands should try it. And James are definitely having fun. You can see the glances, the smiles and the focus. Although they did fuck it up the first time. But we can forgive them that.
Tim berates an audience member who seemed to spend most of the gig pogoing for his reaction to Tim mentioning the anniversary of 9/11 before Hey Ma, which has the acoustic intro from Larry still. Waterfall sounds much fresher and crisper than the previous night. Some lovely vocal delivery that builds to a crescendo before going back into the chorus which is followed by some wonderful trumpet over the end section.
I Wanna Go Home is probably my least favourite tonight. It starts off slow and grows with almost chanted lyrics. It does divert off a little towards the end, but not enough for it to stand up fully to some of the more rounded and complete tracks tonight. With the right studio treatment, it’ll probably sound fantastic though.
A/B (renamed 72 when released) and Mother’s A Clown notch the speed up. A/B is very funky and has some wonderful backing vocals from Saul and Larry. Mother’s A Clown is the best representation tonight of the addition of Saul’s violin and Andy’s trumpet into the new songs. Watching the interaction between the plan is a pleasure. They’re enjoying this. They know they can do this. There’s a number of people dancing wildly in the middle. I think it’s alcohol-related but it’s amusing to watch in these circumstances.
Better In Black (renamed to Of Monsters And Heroes And Men when released) starts with a stream of consciousness lyric which sounds like random words, but grows in something quite aching and beautiful. Tim even gets in two different pronunciations of either into one line.
Start A Fire is new. It has promise, but needs another listen to appreciate it fully, I suspect. The muddy sound does make differentiation and subtlety in some of these tempo songs difficult without really intense listening, and it’s hard work.
The set ends with four faster tempo songs which grab back the interest of a few chatterers in the crowd. Oh My Heart is more traditional James although it does have a very surprising false end which almost makes it two songs in one, but Whiteboy starts with Tim banging a cowbell and declaring himself “all mashed up”. The latter definitely has single potential, or focus track potential as our beloved friends in the industry call it.
Bubbles has developed wonderfully since we first heard it in July and demonstrates just how much some of the new songs can build on the very sound foundations to become something truly special.
The last track Boom Boom is a pleasant surprise. Sounding a bit weak on first listen yesterday, it’s now powerful and emotive, driven by the bass with spirals of trumpet cascaded throughout it. It’s really quite wonderful stuff.
They come back tonight for a more familiar encore of Not So Strong and Upside Downside (later renamed to just Upside for the album release). Not So Strong seems a bit ragged. But ragged James brings excitement with it, from chaos comes beauty. I’m not entirely convinced the new lyrics are an improvement on those from the earliest performances, but as it’s work in progress still, I’m sure we’ll end up hearing something quite different next year. Upside doesn’t really need any more praise than it’s had already.
So two rather special nights are over. It’s been hard and intense for the audience, I can’t believe how hard it’s been for the band. But everyone’s smiling, the reaction to the new material is great and it looks like a lot of the relationships have been mended. It reminds me of 1992 and what, for me, was James most fertile and exciting live era. The album is going to sound great, based on what we’ve heard and hopefully it won’t be the last we’ve heard.
Thanks to James for being brave enough to go public with their rehearsals and respect to 99% of the audience who listened and took it in with resorting to loud chatter.
Can’t wait for 2008.
Back in 1998, James took a very young Sophie Ellis-Bextor on tour with her band The Audience. Their standout song (Running Out Of Space) started off with the line “I never thought you’d ever let me down. You’re not the sort, but you’ve got the right to astound.” It’s a line that for me could have been written about James. Last night was one of those nights where James just took off and defied all my expectations, took me out of the physical exhaustion of standing in a scorching room after a day on my feet walking round the hills of Edinburgh, the expectations associated with previous experience of Scottish crowds and the rather dreadful surroundings of the soulless Corn Exchange and the awful sound that had not done the otherwise excellent My Federation support slot any justice at all. I don’t think I stopped dancing the whole set (I am using dancing in the loosest sense of the word here). If this wasn’t the best James gig I’ve seen, it was definitely Top 3.
Coming on stage about ten minutes late, Tim appeared in a skirt (it may have been a kilt, I wasn’t really close enough to tell before I get bombarded by irate Scots calling me a clueless Englishman) and a rather fetching t-shirt with a pair of breasts printed on the front. Quite what the message was, I’m not sure. However, Born of Frustration started with the Larry intro that makes the single version of this song the one you really have to hear (the album and Best Of versions are shorter and miss this out). Immediately the crowd go wild. But not in the way they did in Glasgow, this is a celebratory unison, very little of the testosterone fuelled aggression that plagued the Glasgow gigs in April, but based on the joy music can bring to a room full of people. Andy’s trumpet has added so much to the mix, a very vital element of the live 2007 James sound, bringing back the unscripted more random elements into the mix that made the 1992 live incarnation of the band my favourite period to date. Tomorrow doesn’t let the pace off at all. Fast and frenetic, Tim and Saul are almost nose to nose singing the opening lines and the band take over, driving faster and faster to the climax, the crowd is now a heaving mass of arms and celebratory singalong. Two songs in, I’m hooked and looking around, I think every single person in the room is too.
Next comes the song to furl all the James debates. For me, and this comes after years of maybe sitting the other side of the fence, Sit Down has to be played. It is the song that everyone knows and when you take away the excessive radio play and the “I know that song ‘oh sit down'” debates of the past fifteen years, and in this environment standing in a room full of 2,000 people when they realise what Larry’s 1-2-3-4 is leading into is, for me who isn’t really into that thing, an almost revelatory experience. Stripping it to base facts, it’s a fucking amazing amazing song and without it, we wouldn’t be watching James here today. In true awkward fashion, you suspect it’s played at a slightly different pace and the opportunity to develop it into a singalong is denied. But it just makes it all the more powerful by doing so.
Chain Mail starts up. And it’s clear that many don’t know it. But what they do is carry on dancing or they stand and listen. They don’t start chattering or shouting loudly. They listen. The song grows menacingly as Tim and Andy prowl the stage, building to the final chorus which crashes in as the room explodes into a blaze of light. Play Dead follows and again the crowd react the same and by the end I think most people are dancing or standing open-mouthed and staring at what they’re witnessing.
Out To Get You induces the traditional waving of arms and communal singing and grows to a wild improvised ending with Tim stage left, dancing wildly encouraging Jim and Saul onwards as they stand face to face pushing each other further and further.
Tim introduces the first of two new songs getting their first play Bubbles with the sad news that Tony Wilson, founder of Factory Records, long-time supporter of James and Manchester legend, had passed away earlier in the evening. I’m sure there will be hundreds of epitaths for this great man, but dedicating a brand new song to him was somehow appropriate. Tony supported James throughout their career even though they walked away from Factory very early in their careers and he and James shared a rather unique and successful approach to what they do. It was self-evident there was a lot of love between the band and the man.
The song itself is clearly works in progress. The beginning gives this away, but it grows rather splendidly by the mid section and the chorus has grabbed me by the end of the song. It takes a lot of balls with what’s gone before to risk totally killing the atmosphere that has been built up with a run of new songs, but the crowd appear to love it.
The more familiar, but still brand new to most, Not So Strong follows. Again, works in progress, but far more roundly formed already than its predecessor. It’s a great, great song, but is still changing and evolving. Tim has written some new verses since the last UK performance at Oran Mor, and to be honest, they take a bit of getting used to especially as, in my opinion, the old ones were perfectly fine as they were. But part of this set of shows is to roadtest these songs before going into the studio next month.
The third of the medley of new songs is introduced as being about September 11 and its consequences and it’s another first play. The title doesn’t get revealed so we’ll call it Hey Ma as the main chorus line appears to be “Hey Ma, your son’s coming home in a bodybag.” This one appears further progressed than Bubbles and it gets the best crowd reaction of the three new songs. Now we’ve heard what it is probably the basis of half of next year’s album and it’s looking very good so far.
Conscious of the fact they might have killed the atmosphere that had built up (they hadn’t although Tim asking if people wanted another new one before Hey Mom and admitting he sympathised with the “no” answers meant they thought this could have happened) they launched into Say Something. Whether Tim coming down and standing on the barrier wearing a kilt was a wise idea, I’m not sure, but he took to banging people on the head with his microphone who tried to find the answer to the age-old question. The crowd were back into heaving mass mode and from looking at those around me, the joy on the faces and the dancing told you everything about the power and passion that was being generated on stage.
Even Laid, which for me has been the one song that I’d come to the conclusion I wouldn’t miss if they didn’t play it again, is absolutely mental. Total strangers are hollering the song to each other around me and all the way back to the sounddesk is a mass of bodies and arms.
For Gold Mother, Tim and Saul select audience members to join them on stage and dance with them. The song itself is wild. It veers wildly as it moves from section to section, the lights adding more and more to the impact as the song grows and builds with Tim stage right, megaphone inches from Larry’s face, pushing and encouraging him on. The rest of the crowd keep the dancing going or stand in awe at what they’re witnessing.
Ring The Bells and Sometimes bring the set to a close. The extended ending of Ring The Bells with Andy chanting “shoot the fucker” as Tim loses himself in dance and the band ratch the noise up louder and faster. At the end the crowd go mental as the band stand and stare and applaud. It’s been some experience so far, a demonstration of the power of music in the live environment and a band that has hopefully cast off the internal fighting that blighted a lot of the last ten years of their first coming (or second or third or fourth or fifth depending on how you view their history). No other band I have ever seen can live with James when they are on this kind of form.
The encore starts with the song that could hopefully relaunch James into the public consciousness. An unashamed over the top love song about being separated from a loved one, Upside Downside [ed. later renamed to just Upside for album release] has almost everything you could want in a song. It’s brimming with emotion and passion from the lyrics and also the music which matches what is being expressed in the words. I don’t think I can express how great this song is in mere words, so I’ll move on.
Getting Away With It belies its in at 22 and gone the next week status and is sung back with as much enthusiasm by the crowd as anything that has gone before it. Tim strikes and holds the John Travolta pose as the lights flash around him.
The set closes with She’s A Star. I was sceptical of the new arrangement on first hearing, but it’s been beefed up and works perfectly. Larry’s guitar pervades throughout the song and carries the fragility of the new version. The crowd, as they have most of the night, sing along word perfect. And then they’re gone.
It’s now ten the next morning. After a wander round Asda, an hour’s drive to Perth, some southern comfort and cherry coke (not my idea and it doesn’t really work) and a few hours sleep, I’m still buzzing from the adrenalin of the gig. It’s a massive contrast to the feeling at eight last night when I volunteered I might have been happier in a field a hundred and fifty miles north chilling out watching The Magic Numbers than in a hot sweaty room with awful sound and feet throbbing from all the walking I’d done. But that’s what James can do. They very rarely, if ever, let you down, but every so often, they produce a gig that blows away anything you’ve seen for a while. Last night was one of those nights. I can only hope tonight isn’t one big comedown.