Thursday 27 April 2023

James - Cardiff St David's Hall - 26th April 2023

James headed to Cardiff for the second night of their orchestral tour with the Orca 22 orchestra and Manchester Inspirational Voices Choir with a first ever performance at St David's Hall. Tweaking the setlist from the opening night and with first night nerves out of the way, they delighted a sold out audience who found their Welsh singing voices at the end of the night.

With the orchestra, choir and the rest of the band on stage, there's no sign of Tim so Saul tells us that when James started off in 1703 there were just four in the band and now there's 764 of them and still space for more. As the opening bars of Magic Bus are struck up a solitary light shines to the back of the lower stalls and he appears through the doorway that many have entered through minutes earlier and the show opens with Magic Bus. It's more upbeat and a better intro to the show than Laid had been the previous night. What it lacks in recognition, it more than makes up for in energy, both in the music and in the audience interaction of Tim dancing down the aisle towards the stage, the choir lifting the harmonies and making them sound evangelical. 

Dust Motes drops the mood down a little from there, but it's performed to absolute silence. Tim acknowledges the audience's listening capability and promises that the famous Welsh singing voices will be needed later on. The magic of these orchestral shows isn't in the big hits, although some of the singalongs are memorable moments, but the way in which Joe Duddell has sought out songs that have sat gathering dust in the band's repertoire a million miles away from a setlist and bringing them back to life. The Shining is one such example, it positively explodes in the chorus with the orchestra and the lift the choir gives it. Some of these songs feel like they've found their true home and live to their full potential with Joe's arrangements and the energy that comes with so many people on stage. Lookaway, a song that felt it all the hallmarks of one of those big James songs but had an ingredient missing in the recorded version, has found the secret blend. Tim jokes at the end that if people have come for the hits and are disappointed that they should take it up with Joe and not them. 

Tim explains the story behind We're Going To Miss You and the curse that he had put on him and that when he met a shaman who told him the only way to reverse it was to send it back to the person who put it on in the first place. With imposing red lights behind the stage, the extra instrumentation gives it a more menacing feel before the layered vocals reverberate around the room and the Cardiff crowd sit in stunned silence before bursting into applause. The keen-eyed may have noticed Andy's disappearance from the stage but he has made his way to an unused seating area in full view of everyone once the light shines up on him as his trumpet heralds a gloriously wonky Hymn From A Village. For a song forty years old to still have the spirit of the original running through it in such a way is testament to the very special nature of this band. One man stands up in the middle of the stalls and dances. He refuses to sit down when asked by security, but they back off after he appears to gesture something to them. He doesn't stand up again until everyone else does much later in the set. We hope his gesture was that this was his song and he wouldn't cause any problem once it was done.

Laid is next and is met with a roar of recognition and appreciation. It feels more natural here even though the arrangement very pointedly keeps it away from simply being the version the band play live with some extra strings and things on. Saul and Jim stand almost eyeball to eyeball as the song's almost throwaway nature is stripped back to something more beautiful and poignant. That's relative of course to the heartache and loss of Moving On, a song that hits home hard for many around the room who look at the person they're with and remember someone else who's no longer there. The silence of the crowd means every little subtlety pierces the atmosphere and Tim's vocals accompanied by Chloe's express the desperate nature of loss. Say Something has people singing under their breath around the room and making us wish that every gig crowd was as respectful and restrained as this one.

Ten Below almost collapses under the weight of its own power, it feels like a song written for this evening and this full-blown approach. Deeply personal to him as Tim explains it's written about his experiences at the boarding Shrewsbury School, he loses himself in the emotion of the song that he's away from his megaphone that he uses in the breakdown so improvises through his microphone. The first half of the evening concludes with Someone's Got It In For Me, another one that has found its natural environment with the expanded line-up and with a third party in Joe being given creative license to explore the outer boundaries of a song's potential. 

The second half of the evening starts with just Tim and the orchestra as he wanders back out on stage and finds Joe's discarded baton. Every time he moves to pick it up the orchestra ready to play and do so as he touches it. He picks it up and conducts them through an excerpt of Bolero until Joe comes on stage and takes it back from him. As he acts despondent the orchestra strike up the beginning of Sit Down as he sits on the front of the stage where he's joined by Chloe. Where the Brighton crowd took the song from them, Cardiff don't and it's interesting to witness already how audience reactions and responses are different each night.

Beautiful Beaches is a wonderful example of how James are still writing songs that can be transformed into something far from the original yet equally as compelling with the ability to touch the heartstrings and grey matter in a different way. Tomorrow hits hard when the orchestra stand up and really let loose as if they're turning Tim's words first into bold and then into the largest font size they can find. 

Love Make A Fool is introduced for those who think James are a heritage band from the 90s and aren't making new music. The recorded version is out in the world now - "for those who know how to use the internet" Tim jokes - but already we sense they're looking at ways in which the song can grow unchained by the expectations of familiarity that some of the other songs have on them. Alaskan Pipeline and Top Of The World drop the tempo back down, the latter the only addition from the previous night although the set has been radically reordered as they determine what works well and where it does in the set. The former ends with Wayne from the choir and Chloe down the front as Tim sits on the riser and admires the vocal interplay between the two of them with the rest of us.

Some optimistic voice comes loudly from the circle - "do you take requests?". It's either not heard or ignored, hopefully the latter. The Lake takes them to "the further extremes of obscurity" although it lays claim to be making itself the absolute highlight of the set. Joe's arrangements take the story and make it transcend the boundaries of the original, full of drama and hitting hard as well as soothing the silent transfixed audience. "Oasis wouldn't do that" Tim tells us at the end. They wouldn't of course.

Sometimes finally sees the audience participate with a little encouragement. The strings and Dave's subtle slow-build drumming transforming the song. The spirit of the original is there but it's dressed itself in an outfit you haven't seen before and it takes a little while for the audience to recognise it but when they do and join in the chorus at the end it's immensely powerful. The main set finishes with the duo of All The Colours Of You and Many Faces, two of the highlights of their last two records which prove Tim's earlier point. They have the vibrancy of youth that has kept James fresh as they enter their collective forties without entering a mid-life crisis, the loose improvisational nature of their creation giving Joe the space to paint his own shapes across them. The audience take the "there's only one human race, many faces, everybody belongs here" from the band and the eight-piece choir becomes a two thousand and eight piece one for a few minutes.

The band and choir depart leaving the orchestra on stage. As they return Saul jokes that it's not a great encore as they've been left there and chastises them for being "lazy fuckers" and not moving, suggesting they should hide behind their chairs. He tells us they should have recorded the 2011 orchestral tour but didn't yet they haven't made that same mistake this time round. Hello shows that they're still playing around with the songs as the tour continues. Chloe reaches for Tim's hand as they sing the verses and it feels like the aching sadness of the song is being acted out by the two of them before the four female members of the choir come down to the front and the six of them harmonise over the song's final moments.

Medieval may be one of the oldest songs in the set, but it sounds one of the freshest. Gavan's military drumming on the original acts gives the song the structural base from which this monolithic beast has the power to barge aside much more obvious and popular choices for a space in the encore and if you had to encapsulate everything that's magical about this collaboration into two minutes, it would possibly be the conclusion of this song.  The night finishes on Nothing But Love, a glorious coming together that feels like they're throwing everything including the kitchen sink at it yet it all comes back down in one piece and in perfect shape. Everyone's on their feet and stay that way as they take their final bows.

James played Magic Bus, Dust Motes, The Shining, Lookaway, We're Going To Miss You, Hymn From A Village, Laid, Moving On, Say Something, Ten Below, Someone's Got It In For Me, Sit Down, Beautiful Beaches, Tomorrow, Love Make A Fool, Alaskan Pipeline, Top Of The World, The Lake, Sometimes, All The Colours Of You, Many Faces, Hello, Medieval and Nothing But Love.

James' official website can be found here. They are on Facebook and Twitter.  Some of the band - TimAndyChloe and Dave - are also on Twitter.

The orchestra tour calls at York Barbican (April 28), Edinburgh Usher Hall (29), Glasgow SEC Armadillo (May 1), Newcastle City Hall (2), Sheffield City Hall (4), Birmingham Symphony Hall (5), Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (7), Manchester O2 Apollo (9/10), Blackpool Opera House (12), Nottingham Royal Centre (13), Bath Forum (15) and London Royal Albert Hall (17). They also play a festival exclusive orchestral show at Latitude Festival (July 23) as well as a show in the stunning setting of Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens, Greece (July 10).

They also play non-orchestral shows at Swansea In It Together Festival (May 28), Wolverhampton The Halls (June 20), Bristol Sounds (23), Liverpool Pier Head (July 2), Halifax Piece Hall (7/8), Thessaloniki Moni Lazariston (12), Laois Forest Fest (21), Dundee Slessor Gardens (28), Y Not Festival (29), Darlington Arena (August 5), London Crystal Palace South Facing (11) and Jersey Weekender (September 3).

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.


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1 comment:

  1. what fantastic night- and a brilliant review captures it perfectly.