I’ve always been quite jealous of the 40+ age group who, if they didn’t catch the Madchester/Hacienda scene, were at least able to enjoy the full throes of Britpop in all its Union Jacked glory. What did my generation have growing up? Pop Idol. Life’s just not fair sometimes.
Formed in Manchester in 1982, James have always been a band I was sort of aware of, but never got madly into. It seems that way for a lot of people I know. Every time I mentioned who I was reviewing on Tuesday night, I had to sing the chorus of ‘Sit Down’ before the flicker of recognition crossed their faces. This has led me to the disturbing conclusion that most of my friends know nothing about decent music, and they must be jettisoned and replaced immediately.
Maybe it’s a sign of the relatively sheltered musical life I’ve led, but I’ve never been to a gig where the roof came off the place so quickly or so loudly. People who are James fans are MASSIVE James fans. Those ‘seats’ just paid lip service to the word: within about thirty seconds, everyone was up dancing and clapping along, bellowing the words, and looking like they were going off into the kind of trance Tim Booth still works himself into onstage. ‘Dream Thrum’ kicked things off like a Newcastle fan who’s just been told that Sam Allardyce has won Manager of the Decade, and things never really calmed down. Including this track so early on was a shrewd move, tapping into the nostalgia felt by many there, whose heads, although older and wiser, are still “filled with wild ideas”.
‘Walk Like You’, from 2014’s La Petite Mort, is the kind of angry, rebellious anthem that shows James retain both their individuality, and a desire to resist conformity. Booth is dancing furiously by this point, as if the drum beat is presaging his heart about to explode out of his chest.
It’s the fourth track, ‘Catapult’, that leaves me so flabbergasted I have to ask a friend who was there afterwards, “Are ALL their gigs like that?!” Booth clambers down off the stage and goes amongst his people, who strain and stretch towards him in the hopes he’ll cure their scrofula, or just give them a really amazing selfie to post on Instagram later with the hashtags ‘#epicnight’, ‘#lovinglife’, or ‘#NEWCASTLEROCKS’. But never ‘#blessed’. Because James fans have more class than that. Andy Diagram’s later foray into the balcony with his trumpet provoked a similarly joyful response, and no doubt some epic selfies, too.
The effortlessness with which ‘To My Surprise’ follows ‘Catapult’ gives us all a chance to catch our breath and recover from the sight of a genuine rock star being within touching distance of our mortal hands. ‘Curse Curse’ sees everyone fully recovered, and by ‘Sometimes’ we are BELLOWING Booth’s lyrics back to him. He simply stands there and smiles, as if he’s overcome with the cacophony of adoration being hurled at him.
The best part of this experience for me was genuinely feeling slightly removed from the situation. Like I said at the start, I knew who James were, I liked their music, I could hum along with the more familiar ones, but I was never a devoted fan. Seeing people for whom James’ music had been a defining part of their adolescence and young adulthood in such raptures was quite moving for this flinty-hearted bitch. The atmosphere was intensely euphoric, as if I’d been transported to an alien world where the love was almost tangible. I felt as if I was getting a glimpse, however small, of what it must have been like to be around for Madchester and Britpop and not just watching the Brit Awards surreptitiously on my bedroom telly because it was school tomorrow.
Barring a slight technical hitch with the laptop, which caused the music to shut down momentarily, this was a highly polished performance. Booth’s voice held up perfectly for the high notes on ‘She’s A Star’ (I will forever feel smug for informing a muso friend only a week ago that it was sampled on Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’), and the included ‘Interrogation’, “a song we haven’t done on the tour yet, because it fucks up my voice. But I’ve got tomorrow off!” Mr Booth, I hope you had the best of all days off.
Photographer – Victoria Ling
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