Oh My Heart / Born Of Frustration / Sit Down / Curse Curse / Johnny Yen / Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) / Tomorrow / Laid / Come Home
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.
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.
Upside love you
Downside Miss You
A more appropriate lyric was never written to describe the way I feel writing this review. The love I feel for this band is that unconditional kind of love usually only given by pets and babies. I guess the only difference is that my love includes an overwhelming pride and a protective quality, akin to a lion with her cubs. I even feel that the love is requited. Not on a personal level, that would just be weird, but band to audience. That’s the upside. The downside is that I’m gonna miss them like crazy. Yes, they need to disappear and write an album but these weekly James sojourns have become addictive and habit forming. Not seeing them again for a month or so, I could handle but next year just seems so far away. So, how do they leave me feeling after our final tryst of 2007? Read on if you care.
It’s a bloody miserable day. It rains in a way that suggests that ‘somebody up there’ doesn’t much like music festivals. There is really no need for it, although the rain has caused far more despair in the UK this summer than in my living memory. And I’m not trying to compare a muddy festival to the flooding of peoples homes, I’m not (quite) that crass. However, people look forward to events like this and it is heartbreaking to see such abject despondency. One guy even sells us some beer tokens at a reduced rate because he is “giving it up”. Even Peter Kay walking on the stage to introduce our heroes can’t bring a smile to the faces of the masses. James do though.
The setlist is the one that james have been taking around Europe over the course of the summer. No alarms and no surprises here. They do play Bubbles and Upside Downside [ed. later renamed to just Upside for album release] in the middle of the set, which is a brave move in the early evening slot of a major festival. It is clear that the crowd wants the hits but whilst the new songs are not given the hushed reverence that they were given in Edinburgh, the chattering is kept to a minimum. The band has earned this level of respect due to the opening salvo of monster hits. Born of Frustration throbs and swaggers, Tomorrow soars and Sit Down bounces along in time to the crowd. Or something. Then they play Out To Get You and I look around at thousands of people mouthing the words “Insecure, what you gonna do?” and can barely believe that this was once an obscure b-side, before it’s Laid treatment. It thoroughly deserves it’s place on the Best Of album. Bubbles sounds better with every listen and I have made my feelings on Upside Downside known on many occasions before. Nothing about today’s performance alters my opinion (humble of course) that this could be a hit of epic proportions.
The new songs are followed by another run of james classics and the crowd lap it up. Ring The Bells is greeted like an old friend, Gold Mother sees dancers brought on from backstage because the festival consider the, now customary picking of people from the crowd a “health and safety issue”. Getting Away With It receives a more lukewarm reception than of late. Laid doesn’t. Sometimes is introduced by Tim as the final song and I believe him. Afterall, their allotted time is up. So, will this swirling epic be the final live james song for me this year?. The lyrics certainly hold great resonance today in the pouring rain. However, the festival allow them to run over time and the band choose to close with Come Home, just as they did in Belladrum. Some time after they finish playing, whilst walking in the mud, I decide that this is a far more appropriate way to part from my lover. I just hope that they come home soon.
So there’s no Play Dead or Chain Mail, which the bloody-minded james of yesteryear may have indulged in. Today is a day for giving the people what they want, not a day for blowing a great opportunity. Maybe, just maybe this time the band want it enough to succeed. Tim, Jim, Larry, Saul, Mark, Dave and Andy, you are loved more than you’ll ever know and the upside will always outweigh the downside.
As Tim Booth gazes out over the crowd presently lapping up ‘Sit Down’, his alien eyes take on a wistful, dewy look. He’s missed this, you sense. This is what he lives for, hell, what he was born for.
That’s nice, Tim. We’re happy you and the dream have been reunited, and this state of affairs can probably persist for another few festival seasons. There may yet be enough residual love out there. But only, only, if you play hits and nothing but.
To general head-scratching, James bounce from hit to bellyflop to hit, following ‘Sit Down’ with… something… about eight minutes of violin, flute, Boothy crooning the secrets of the cosmos, and some indistinguishably woozy baggy, yup, something, that hangs in the air like Eau de Shaun Ryder’s Corpse. After ‘Sometimes’, we are coached through their forthcoming single ‘Who Are You’. It’s not a lesson we will forget.
Best Song: ‘Laid’
Best Moment: The way that Boothy’s dancing has lost none of its hippy-dippy tinge. After all these years, he still comes on like a trout attempting semaphore. On drugs. Naturally.
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.
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.
Moving onto Leeds and James were disappointing. The audience did not even appear to recognise opening track Sit Down and seemed more concerned in when Robbie Williams was coming on. Persistent technical problems plagued the show. ensuring that the original set list had to be tom up and Surprise had to be ditched totally to keep within the time slot. With the threat of imminent rain, Tim tried his best to incite the crowd into activity with frenzied dancing, but the technical problems meant that whenever they gained momentum it was lost between songs. Destiny was dedicated to the “freaks” that like James. After the high of the previous night, this show was better forgotten.
And they do at least have one thing going for them: they aren’t JAMES. Oh yes, despite being a band who began as brittle artisans with aromatherapy workshops, James have amassed a stonkingly huge vault of poptastic hits. Alas, not many are recent, as the clunking ‘She’s A Star’ and the rank ‘Destiny Calling’ prove when measured against the old belters. It’s a workmanlike set, pressing familiar buttons, low on surprises. And is it just me who remains unconvinced by Tim Booth’s conversion to glam-rock tart, an even more belated and half-arsed U-turn than Bono?