James – Scala, London Feb 18th 2016
There are very few bands who have been around for 20 years or more who I would look forward to hearing ten tracks from their new album in concert. In fact off the top of my head it’s probably only James and U2 and of the two it has been the former’s recent output which has been of a much higher quality. Since James returned in 2007 they have released four albums and in my opinion they’ve all been excellent with the last release, La Petite Mort, top of the pile and easily sits alongside my favourite James albums Seven and Laid.
So you can imagine my delight when my wife surprised me with an early birthday present of a ticket to an intimate album preview show in London for their new album Girl At The End of the World. For once I was lost for words. I love seeing bands in small venues when they usually play arena type shows and the fact it was James made this extra special. A grown man of my age really shouldn’t get as excited as I did about a gig but I was like a kid at Xmas.
Everything fell into place perfectly. My hotel was next door to the venue and I was five mins from Kings Cross train station. The Scala has a capacity of around 1,000 people and seemed and ideal venue for this type of show. It reminded me of a smaller scale Academy without the upstairs seating area but keeping the side balcony.
There was no support with James due to be on at 8 but it was nearer 8.15 before the band took to the stage with Tim Booth welcoming us to the James ‘cock up’ show. So it was somewhat fitting that 30 secs into first new song ‘Bitch’ it all fell apart and they had to start again and it wasn’t the last time this would happen. James always live on the edge of things falling apart on stage although they usually hold it together but it’s always funny to see them feck it up and then watch them try and find out whose fault it was. I know off stage they aren’t exactly the best of mates but when they get on stage together something quite extraordinary happens. Everyone has a vital role to play in the band and watching them play the new songs with such energy and excitement really translated to the crowd who listened intently to the new songs and gave their heartfelt and warm approval after each one. Some were better than others but on first exposure to the new songs I didn’t hear any filler.
They made the crowd work though as they started off with five new songs only one of which had been heard before, To My Surprise, a song that on first few listens I wasn’t overly impressed with but live it’s a different proposition. Tim introduced 3rd song as Move Down South before Saul piped up telling him it was actually Catapult much to the crowd’s amusement. The first of the tracks from the back catalogue was sixth song Top of the World and gave the crowd a chance to exercise their vocal chords before it was back into a run of three new songs, one of which, Surfer’s Song, was my favourite of the newbies. A typical James song that builds and builds before crashing into a swirling mix that James are so good at creating.
Then as is James’s want they throw in a deep cut with Senorita from the Pleased to Meet You album before we get the crowd in full voice during Waltzing Along and Say Something with some great interplay between Saul’s violin and Andy’s trumpet as the song comes to a close. The band just sounded brilliant all night. Despite the band now increased to an 8 piece live the sound was perfect all night. Sometimes Saul’s violin or the trumpet can get a bit lost but not tonight.
Last album La Petite Mort is represented by Interrogation (and later by Moving On in the encore) before the main set closes with Attention another song destined to be a live James favourite.
As mentioned Moving On is the first song in the encore and it still sounds as magnificent and moving as it did on first few listens. New single Nothing But Love is the last song on the printed setlist and James can now add mandolin to their instrument repertoire. A really catchy song that the crowd quickly pick up and are soon singing along with Booth on the chorus. The band leave the stage to rapturous applause and this continues until the band return to play Just Like Fred Astaire which seemed the perfect way to end the proceedings but the crowd reaction was such that Booth walked round the band preparing them for one more song which turned out to be a second rendition of Nothing But Love and is clearly a song the band are very proud of. Saul commented that they would ‘probably f**k it up this time’ and in another prophetic statement that’s exactly what they proceeded to do. A nice way to book mark the beginning and end of the set by having to restart both songs. It’s part of the James charm that the fans buy into and usually provides real moments of humour and almost energises the band to step it up to make up for the mistakes.
Then sadly it really was over and I was among a select group of fans who along with those in Manchester the night before were treated to the majority of Girl At The End of the World before its release in March. I felt kind of privileged to be in such an exclusive club. On first listen to all but 2 songs the new album sounds like it will be a another cracker and it’s not often my album of the year has been selected before the album has been released but it will take something really special to shift it from top spot if tonight was anything to go by.
Bitch, To My Surprise, Catapult, Move Down South, Dear John, Top Of The World, Feet Of Clay, Girl At The End Of The World, Surfer’s Song, Senorita, Waltzing Along, Say Something, Interrogation, Moving On, Nothing But Love, Just Like Fred Astaire and Nothing But Love.
Videos Filmed by Gigs (KrisLW)