Albert Hall Manchester, Monday December 18th, 2017.
It’s taken me a while to finally get round to reviewing the James benefit gig for the ‘We Love Manchester Emergency Fund’. Enough time for the euphoria of the evening to subside and a chance to look back on what was, without doubt, my gig of the year.
I had thought I wasn’t going to get my James fix this year. I’d looked at Newcastle and then Hope and Glory in Liverpool but just couldn’t make them work. Thank feck I missed the shambles of the latter. When they announced the intimate Manchester show I’d been given one last chance. Just the small problem of getting a ticket as thousands attempted to snap up the much sought after briefs. Fortunately the good karma ticket god was in a generous mood and I managed to bag one after wearing out the F5 key on my keyboard. Ticket buying for these type of shows is way too stressful.
Fast forward 6 weeks or so and after a stop/start journey down from Glasgow I join a lengthy queue that snakes round the Albert Hall in Manchester. There is a real sense of expectation in the air as we slowly filter into the venue itself. My first visit to this particular venue and although I’d heard good things about it I was blown away. What a stunning venue. An old converted church complete with stained glass windows organ pipes behind an unusually high stage with a balcony curling round the sides adding to the intimate setting. It seemed the perfect fit for an intimate James show.
During the day in the lead up to the show various rumours were flying around about who the special guest was going to be. Liam Gallagher was the front runner for a while before The Slow Readers Club emerged as the worst kept secret of the day. Given their friendship with James it wasn’t a big surprise and at 7pm three of the band strolled on stage and started the evening off with a 6 song acoustic set. I’m not really a fan but I quite enjoyed their slot and it set the evening up nicely.
It was then time for James to arrive on stage for their first set of the evening and in typical James style they don’t take the easy option. The band has talked about doing a few gigs where they would do an improvised show and allow the audience to see how they they create the music that they do. So with the assistance of a drum machine Tim, Saul, Jim, Mark and halfway through joined by Andy basically jammed for about 6 or 7 minutes. Whether anything comes from what they did who knows and it was interesting to see them just play along with no real structure but a full show of it might be pushing it. I’d still go though and kudos for attempting to do it in front of a live audience.
The band are then joined on stage by a string quartet from the Joe Duddell Orchestra who provided the Orchestra of the Swan and choir for the Evening with James tour in 2011. No one’s really sure what song the quartet are playing until Tim sings the opening lines to Seven and immediately the audience are in full voice and the evening really begins in earnest.
Tim informs us that the new album is done and we are treated to the first of two new songs in the shape of Mask and along with the other new song that closes this short set, Many Faces, it’s clear the quality of the recent creative flow is showing no signs of dipping. The first deep cut of the evening is Hello from the Millionaires album and getting a rare outing. Sadly some folk can’t keep their mouths shut and the chatter in the room is quite noticeable and something which Tim comments on. It seems to be a trend these days where some gig goers think their conversation is more important than listening to the band or at least letting others listen to them. A complete lack of respect for gig goer and band alike.
Tim’s introduction to the next song is one of the few times the reason this gig is taking place is mentioned. He explains that this song helped a lot of people in the aftermath of the attack which took place only a few minutes from this venue. Sit Down tonight takes on a new meaning and is just a stunning rendition with the addition of the strings and Tim under sings the song giving it more power and resonance with the crowd carrying the powerful emotion along. All terrorist attacks are deplorable but the attacks on the Bataclan and the MEN Arena take on a special significance to those of us who attend a lot of gigs. The bottom line is you can’t let these cowards win and stop going to gigs. Tonight, Sit Down was a song of defiance.
With the second new song completing the short set it was then time for James Allan of Glasvegas. All I’ll say it was a rather odd set from Allan and maybe in hindsight it wasn’t really the setting for his kind of solo show. It just didn’t work and had a lot of quizzical looks in the audience.
After a short break the full James ensemble take the stage and their set was the usual James eclectic mix of hits, well known album tracks and some deep cuts.
Opener, To My Surprise, has the audience in full voice as they sing along to the ‘Born an asshole’ chorus before the Indian holler that sets off Born of Frustration which has Andy Diagram out amongst the crowd on the balcony. James move the show up a gear or two with the dance beat of Curse Curse and Booth makes his first move to the audience as he moves along the front row being held up as he sings before lying on top of the crowd near the end but not quite crowd surfing.
As is James style just as the crowd get going they bring it all back as Play Dead from Whiplash gets a bit of a makeover . It’s a surprise inclusion but it works brilliantly as does the slower version of How Was It For You that follows it.
The band are in full flow now with another Whiplash song, Tomorrow, giving the crowd the chance to jump around as the venue’s temperature starts to soar. Interrogation gives us all a chance to catch our breath before the coupling of Moving On and Lost A Friend provide a moment of reflection and real emotion.
Attention then sees Ron Yeadon, who is playing his last gig with the band, get his moment in the spotlight as he trades vocals with Booth before Booth then takes his life in his hands as he goes walkabout during set closer Come Home. Some of his clambouring around the balcony had fans’ hearts in their mouths but it all added to the event and he made it back to the stage in one piece as the band left the stage with the crowd demanding more.
We didn’t have to wait long as Saul, Jim, Tim and Adrian on cello returned to give us a stripped back version of She’s A Star that they’ve adopted for recent shows. Adrian’s versatility is shown as he swaps cello for mandolin for Nothing But Love and we know a special night is coming to a close but not before we get one last chance to make ourselves hoarse with the last song of the evening, Sometimes. It’s the moment band and audience become one for a few minutes as the crowd take up the song’s chorus as the band end the song and sing it back to the band who stand watching from the stage with huge smiles on their faces before picking up the beat again and bringing the night to a thunderous conclusion. The videos below show Sometimes from different viewpoints. It was a fantastic end to a brilliant evening
Like a good meal James always leave you wanting more and with a new album on its way and the expected tour dates more is what we’ll get. I can’t wait.
A special thanks to Andy Petrou and Kristian Williams for giving me permission to use their fantastic videos which capture a unique evening perfectly. You should check out their video channels on youtube as you’ll get the whole show from different perspectives along with other videos from various gigs.
Andy’s channel is Andrew Petrou
Kristian’s channels is Gigs (KrisLW)