James' summer of promotion of their new album Living In Extraordinary Times continued in the picturesque surroundings of Scarborough's Peasholm Park in the Outdoor Theatre. A perfect summer's evening opened by Get Cape Wear Cape Fly and Badly Drawn Boy saw the band mix tracks from the new album with old favourites in a spectacular set.
Get Cape Wear Cape Fly open proceedings and make a very positive impression with the growing James crowd. They mix light-hearted banter about someone heckling the violinist about her dress resembling pyjamas with a more serious message about breaking down borders and people being who they want to be and living their lives how they choose to. Sam talks from personal experience on Glass Houses whilst they finish with the audience singing along to the refrain of their final track. It’s tough to keep an audience engaged whilst dealing with serious subject matters, but Get Cape Wear Cape Fly were the perfect openers in the late evening sun.
Badly Drawn Boy endears himself immediately by telling the crowd what an honour it is to support one of his favourite bands before delivering a forty minute set of many of his best-known songs. As self-deprecating as ever, telling the story of how he wrote a song for the Hugh Grant film About A Boy because he was cheaper than using a Bob Dylan song and moving to his keyboard because he’d “had enough” of playing guitar, he plays the likes of The Shining, Born In The UK and Silent Sigh before finishing with a cover of The Stone Roses’ I Wanna Be Adored that has the audience singing along. It’s been a long time since any new material, but hopefully the very obvious love and affection the audience showed for Damon might accelerate that process.
Just before the set Tim Booth tweeted that James have too many songs for an hour and a half set. What we get is a rich mix of seven songs from their new Living In Extraordinary Times, including the debut live performance of the (sort of) title track to open proceedings, and a selection of some of their biggest songs, some of which had been stood down so far this year.
They start with a trio off the new album though and immediately it’s clear that they’re really up for it, the moat having been covered over since their last visit making it feel as intimate as you can in a large open air theatre. Extraordinary Times sets the tone, loose, lithe and taking both audience and band on a journey, held together by concrete but with enough give to allow them to improvise as the will takes them, something they’re forced to do later as Tim is manhandled in the seats during Come Home. Hank is a cacophony of drums, battering out the tribal beat that underpins it whilst Better Than That sees Tim take his first foray out onto the barrier. The album’s lead single now feels like such a fixture in the live set, a moment where the euphoria reaches one of its many peaks, that it’s usurped some of the old guard. The songs are aided by a crystal clear sound mix out front and a lighting show that really captures the mood and spirit of the night.
If you’ve got time constraints on your set the rules say you probably shouldn’t take your fourth song and stretch and twist and turn it in so many directions that you take up quarter of an hour of the set, but Sound was so good they could have played it to the curfew and never stopped exploring new avenues with it. The way they interact when they’re in this rich vein of creativity is what makes them stand out from the crowd. Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) has benefited from a rest, it feels rejuvenated with the life breathed back into a song that’s got a longtime endearment to the hardcore James fanbase.
Leviathan was voted as the fans’ favourite song off the album in a recent poll and with new recruit Chloe joining Tim at the front of the stage, it manages the neat trick of sounding like it could have been, expletives not withstanding, a huge hit at their commercial peak, but also overflowing with the vigour and energy and fire that burns at the very heart of James in 2018. Coming Home (Part 2) is stripped right down to its bones, slowed down and feeling even more emotionally connected for it. The crowd almost drown Tim out where we are such is the impact of the new material.
Then some familiar bars strike up and thousands start “I sing myself to sleep..” which can only mean one thing. This “piano Joe” version of Sit Down is how you take an albatross, twist its neck, turn it inside out and transform it into a beautiful swan. Spine-tingling keyboards, ice-melting cello and violin replace the anthemic stomp of the original as the crowd’s joined in unison by this song of solidarity and love. Rather than leaving the stage, Debbie and Dave come and sit at the front of it, a small thing on its own, but a sign of where James are today.
Debbie’s brought to the front for Attention as Tim announces her departure from the band. Whilst she’s only been with James a few short months her mark will be indeliable, her infectious energy behind her drum and percussion kit will take some replacing as she immediately got the James ethos and helped reshape it.
Something amazing happens during Many Faces when the crowd unprompted takes the “there’s only one human race, many faces, everybody belongs here” off the band and make it their own for minutes. “Heritage” bands, a nonsense term, shouldn’t be writing songs that have this impact, but James are at the vanguard of the nineties bands writing the best material of their career. It’s easy to overlook that since reforming they’ve been around as long as the period from Gold Mother to their 2001 stop. They follow it with a winding biting What’s It All About that’s got as many twists and turns as others fit in an album or career.
They’re freewheeling now, deciding the next song on the hoof for an audience that they’ve completely connected with. Moving On is soaring, uplifting and affecting. Tim sings a large part of it to Jim and all round the arena people remember those departed.
Tim’s out and about again for How Was It For You?, it’s close to man down as he surfs out over a sea of arms and iphones to the back of the standing area and then into the seats. He decides to stay out and walk round there and they change Heads for Come Home in another off the hoof setlist change. He’s grabbed by some idiots at one point, knocking him and the song out of their stride, but they recover and he moves on, somehow finding his way back to stage.
Unsure of how long they’ve got left they plunge head first into Tomorrow, another recent absentee, and it’s propelled forward by the unstoppable adrenalin-fuelled momentum. This overspills into Sometimes, tonight shorn of its singalong ending, either because of the curfew or because there was no need for it.
James had come, seen and conquered, a band at the very top of their game, armed with a new record that they have absolute faith in and backed by an army of fans who connect to the spirit, fuel and are fueled by the passion and soak in the energy and then send it back amplified like the most kinetic of relationships.
James played Extraordinary Times, Hank, Better Than That, Sound, Getting Away With It (All Messed Up), Leviathan, Coming Home (Part 2), Sit Down, Attention, Many Faces, What’s It All About, Moving On, How Was It For You, Come Home, Tomorrow and Sometimes
James play a festival show at Drumlanrig Electric Fields (30) before heading around the world in November to Auckland Powerstation (November 11), Christchurch The Bedford Marquee (12), Melbourne The Forum (14), Sydney Metro Theatre (16), Brisbane Tivoli (17), Adelaide The Gov (19), Perth Astor Theatre (20), Dubai Irish Village (22), Cape Town Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden (24) and Pretoria National Botanical Garden (25) before returning to the UK in December for shows at Glasgow Hydro (5), London Wembley Arena (7), Manchester Arena (8) and Leeds First Direct Arena (9).
James' official website can be found here. They are on Facebook and Twitter. Some of the band - Tim, Andy and Dave - are also on Twitter.
We also run the One Of The Three James archive, the most detailed resource for information about the band, and the site also has a Facebook and Twitter page.
TimBoothLyricADay, whose posts often lead to Tim explaining his thought processes behind the lyrics, can be found on Twitter and Facebook.
Badly Drawn Boy's website can be found here and he is on Facebook and Twitter.
Get Cape Wear Cape Fly's website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.