James – HMV In Store & Quay Sessions, Glasgow March 23rd 2016
So 18 years after their last No 1 album James look like they are going to reach the top of the charts once again with their new album Girl at the End of the World (and from now on known as GATEOTW). It’s a remarkable achievement in so many ways. A band like James, although there aren’t any other bands quite like James but you know what I mean, just don’t normally compete with the likes of Adele, Coldplay and the franchise Now albums for the top spot and even if they don’t quite make it the fact it was even a possibility is astonishing. The resurgence of James isn’t an overnight phenomenon they’ve been slowly building to this point since they reformed back in 2007 when they released the brilliant Hey Ma album. It was a statement of intent and the four subsequent releases have reinforced that statement. The loyal core fan base was always there but they now seem to have picked up a new generation of fans and some of the older generation lost after the first split have returned.
The fact they returned, not as a nostalgia act but, as a band determined to make new and exciting music that could stand up with the best of their early material is for me at the root of their increasing popularity. They could easily have come back and done the greatest hits set night after night tour after tour and I’m sure they would have made a comfortable living like so many bands do from that formula but James never like to take the easy route and are now reaping the rewards from sticking to creating and playing new material live and the fans just absolutely love it. I’ve also watched with interest how they promoted last album La Petit Mort with the radio sessions, interviews and the general marketing of the album that had the fans desperate to hear the album on release. For GATEOTW they seem to have perfected the art and took it to a new level. The intimate shows in Manchester and London, getting on prime time TV, a plethora of radio sessions and interviews and the in store showcases and signing sessions. It has all come together perfectly to push the band further into the mainstream and possibly to the top of the charts.
And the great thing is, it has all been done on their terms. No sell out, no easy option just hard graft and a love of making great music backed by a fan base that just ‘gets it’.
Since discovering James all those years ago they were always in my top 10 favourite band list but in recent years they have forced their way further up the list and although I tend not to say I have a favourite band as such they are definitely my favourite band of the moment. There are few bands I’d travel from Glasgow to London to see perform the majority of their new album and be genuinely excited about the new songs but James just bring out that sense of anticipation that few bands can match these days.
It was that sense of anticipation that I had when queuing for 2 hours outside HMV in Argyle St yesterday. I knew I was only going to get 4 or 5 songs (turned out it was 3 but who’s counting) and I knew it was going to be a stripped down James with only 5 or 6 member playing (it was 6 including sometimes member and roadie, Ron). No Andy Diagram or drummer David Baynton-Power but we got Tim, Saul, Mark, Jim with Adrian Oxaal still filling in for the absent Larry Gott. I wonder if and when Larry returns there maybe a place in the band for Adrian. He brings a different kind of sound and also a cello and mandolin which he put to good use here and later at the BBC Quay Sessions. There was a pretty lengthy queue outside as we were eventually allowed into the store. It was interesting watching folk coming up asking who we were queuing for and once told some of them showed a sign of recognition while other drew a complete blank. It wasn’t long before the band took the stage after everyone had filtered in and in true James style Tim got the first song wrong. A 3 song set and he couldn’t even remember which was the first song. It’s another one of the reasons we love them. He introduced the set as 3 miserable songs and the first song was Feet of Clay with Jim providing the insistent bass line, Adrian providing cello and Saul swapping between guitar and violin.
The violin became a topic of conversation at the end as Saul thought it wasn’t working and a few expletives were released and much good humour ensued. They might write some sad and despairing songs at times but they are funny guys. Some of their songs may be a little on the dark side but the band themselves seem to be in a very good place and the closeness and tightness of the band comes across in the relaxed performances they played both here and at the BBC. Dear John was 2nd song and a backing tape provided the backbeat. Mark was playing some kind of air keyboard and not the invisible kind like an air guitar but one he had to blow into. No idea what it is called. Then last track was the title track on the album and Tim’s introduction and explanation of the song about the last thing you remember before dying gave the song a great context and it was an absolutely brilliant version and real goose bumps and hair on back of neck moment.
Then it was all over and a large queue snaked around the store to get various bits ‘n’ pieces signed. I was lucky enough to be fairly close to the front and got a quick chat with the band about the album and its definite overtones of krautrock. There seems to be a few krautrock fans in the band by the looks of it. It was then a quick dash to the BBC for the Quay Sessions later.
It was my second visit to the Quay session with my previous visit being last year to see Public Service Broadcasting. This was much busier and later found out over 4,000 applications were made for 200 tickets. I had 8 applications in including various friends and none of them were successful but luckily a mate offered me his plus one. The good karma ticket god working his wonders once again.
We did have to suffer Red Sky in July who were a pleasant enough Americana/country band who featured Ally Mcerlaine formerly of Texas playing guitar but it was a bit dreary and repetitive for me.
Due to the number of attendees we were relegated to standing quite a fair way back with only a small viewing window on the stage James were due to play on but just before the band came on one of the BBC staff managed to get us into the standing area right in front of the band. Absolutely perfect viewing point and eternal thanks to her for doing that. Made the night.
A slightly more orthodox set up this time with a scaled down drum kit that roadie Ron was playing and Mark having full keyboard. GATEOTW opened this time and it would have been hard to sustain the emotion of the version played but a few hours earlier. From memory and maybe not in order they played Just Like Fred Astaire, a cover of Glasvegas’s Daddy’s Gone, Getting Away With It, Dear John, Feet of Clay, which they played twice as Tim thought he’d messed it up then they argued about which one was better. Catapult, Say Something and Nothing but Love. I don’t know if it’s the necessity of not having a full band but the new songs sound brilliant in stripped down mode even allowing for the odd breakout at the end of songs.
The proceedings were halted for while for an interview with host Nicola Meighan and she also picked up on the krautrock influences on the new album. Tim also explained the recording process they go through and how songs form out of studio jams and said they wanted to do an improvisational show in Glasgow, Manchester and London. James just like to do things differently than other bands and it’s another thing we love them for.
The band were so tight and together the whole night and they just seem in such a good place. The creative juices are flowing, their fan base is increasing, they could be sitting on a number 1 album and if any band deserves their moment it’s James. Through hard worked and sheer bloody mindedness they have achieved what very few bands of their age can claim. They are still relevant, in an ever changing musical landscape and they are now getting the success and recognition they deserve.
A fantastic day in the company of James and I’m already looking forward to the next album.
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