INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
The Event Guide APRIL 6, 2007 - by Siobhán Kane
COME HOME JAMES
Perhaps their new website says it all, rather than being called 'James' it reads 'we are James', and that sentiment is key to understanding the band's iconic stature among many music fans. James inspires a kind of glassy-eyed loyalty, and many will remember dancing around in bedrooms and indeed their own minds to James' immensely romantic back catalogue. They formed in Manchester around 1981 and signed to Factory Records, releasing a snatch of singles and an EP JimOne, then after moving around various labels including Rough Trade (and finally Fontana) began their recording career in earnest. Part of their charm is their willingness to persist in the face of adversity - which for them essentially means the 1980's. They were formed by Paul Gilbertson and Jim Glennie, who eventually recruited the rest of the band such as Gavan Whelan and, after a string of vocalists that never quite fitted - Tim Booth. They saw Booth dancing at a student disco, and his own brand of fiery whirling moves impressed them so much they asked him to join the band as a dancer, and the rest is history (and to think they initially played gigs as 'Venereal and the Diseases').
Booth became the person that James is most synonymous with, and his creativity filtered into electrically charged live performances, an intense vocal style and a key role as main songwriter. Booth arguably also imbued the raw sound of the band with a more artistic sense, and certainly provided something of a missing link. After a series of name changes including Tribal Outlook, the band settled on James and after the EP release on Factory they supported The Smiths on tour. However after this, several weird things happened - Paul Gilbertson who had founded James had also found drugs and left the band, and Booth and Glennie's eternal search for spirituality found them involved with a very bizarre group called Lifewave. All of these factors threatened the band's stability and their burgeoning popularity. However, as can often be the case - music saved the day.
While their follow-up EP James II was well-received, the general feeling was that James' progress was too slow. The band left Factory for Sire, believing it would give them more dynamism - unfortunately it would prove the opposite. Sire were also frustrated with James' slow-moving improvisational technique and although they released the Sit Down EP and the band's debut album Stutter in 1986, they failed to put their heart behind the promotion, and after one more album Strip-mine in 1988 - the band left the label, feeling quite low.
Around this time, a dichotomy arose where James were known as 'Manchester's best kept secret', with a live reputation that diminished all others. Word of mouth was spreading through those that responded to the emotional truth in the band's musical imaginings. The band managed to get a bank loan, and financed a live album One Man Clapping which went straight to number one in the Indie charts, distributed by Rough Trade. However James found themselves at another crossroads when Whelan left, but they weathered the storm by recruiting new members, and since their sound was always about improvisation, perhaps this could be read as a natural continuity of that ethic.
Most of James' records have essentially been improvised, and it is quite poetic that they got their first real break supporting The Fall. This improvising probably saved their career, as they did not fit with any of their contemporaries and never replicated sounds they heard - their music came from a deep well of creativity and indeed emotional intelligence, and from that came some of the most interesting music of the '90's. It is so strange to consider that time now, because what happened afterwards would mean as much to the music-loving audience as it did to the band. When certain bands have the capacity to provide a kind of soundtrack to your life, you remember them well, both fondly and powerfully.
Gold Mother announced itself with the joyous calling of songs like Sit Down and Come Home that still sound both familiar and ethereal to this day. Since Geoff Travis of Rough Trade thought the band could only reach a small audience, James cannily bought the rights back to their album and made it work in a FUBU kind of a way. Perhaps it was a case of timing, because as soon as the '90's arrived, so did the 'Madchester' scene, and suddenly an embarrassment of bands were throwing themselves into the mix. The media had previously though of James as too 'slow-moving' to get their attention, but now the focus was firmly aimed at Manchester, and James were centre-stage. Other singles such as How Was It For You? all gained chart recognition which (even though it was never their focus), must have been satisfying considering their rocky history.
Another triumph would come in the form of a rereleased version of Sit Down which became one of the biggest selling singles of the decade, and would pave the way for their next album Seven (1992). The album got the public vote with brilliant tracks such as Born of Frustration and Sound, but the critics weren't as enthralled, and by the end of the year the band went back to their roots by working with Brian Eno (who they had previously wanted to work with around the time of Stutter). This was a master-stroke, because Eno brought out the ambient flourishes that the band had previously flirted with but never committed to, and which culminated in two albums - Laid (1993) and the more experimental Wah-Wah (1994) - which the band have stated provided a "journey of self-discovery."
Again there were maladies along the way - landing a huge tax bill, and Booth temporarily leaving to record an album with Angelo Badalamenti, but the ship still left the dock to create the understated 1997 record Whiplash which contained the hit track She's A Star. In 1998 a Best Of was released which brought the band firmly back into the public eye, and to number one - reminding people why James were so good in the first place. Their next album Millionaires was released in 1999, but they came full circle and returned to Brian Eno to record the 2001 album Pleased To Meet You. Sadly, the album essentially went under the musical radar, which signalled the 'end' of James as we knew them. Tim Booth also announced his departure (to work on various other projects) and the band embarked on a farewell sell-out tour, which reaffirmed their status as a real fans band.
All of this makes their newly announced tour (sold out across the water), compilation record (Fresh As A Daisy - The Singles) and a new album all the more pleasing. The line-up is as the one who recorded Laid, which means that some old hatchets have been buried, and some new creativity found, and since James is the fans band - there will surely be shouts of 'you are home, James'.