Sunday 30 April 2023

James - Edinburgh Usher Hall - 29th April 2023

James’ tour with the Orca 22 orchestra and Manchester Inspirational Voices Gospel Choir headed up to Scotland on Saturday night for the fourth night of the tour in the resplendent settings of Edinburgh’s Usher Hall. Tweaking the setlist as they go and starting to take more risks within songs, the set featured both some of their greatest hits reimagined as well as others plucked from the depths of their forty-year back catalogue and given central billing.

There’s an expectant atmosphere within the hall as stage time approaches. Weekend seated gigs are a different challenge to weekday gigs because people will have had the opportunity to have been in the pub all day so expectations are often a little bit more vocally expressed and singalongs a little more raucous than on weekdays. James see this as a challenge, refusing to load the set up with hits - Laid, for example, is taken out tonight and Saul very beautifully puts down repeatedly shouts for Curse Curse by thanking the fan for their long-term support, agrees with him that Curse Curse is his favourite song too, but is very firm that they won’t be playing it tonight, but they will in the future. Tim even relents for one song on the request for no phones, telling us we can take them out for Love Make A Fool half way through the second set, but reminds us of the deal at the end of it. Mostly, as at other nights, it’s been respectfully adhered to.

The trio of Magic Bus, Dust Motes and The Shining open up the evening as if to make a statement of intent - album tracks that blossom when the focus is shifted from their more popular brothers and sisters on the records to shine a light on them. The reinvention of Magic Bus is laying down a marker that this is simply no layering of strings atop a band version of the song, but a reimagination of them. Dust Motes’ tender innocent beauty is amplified by the strings that make the feeling of sadness and emotional breakdown even harder hitting, whilst The Shining builds and builds until the chorus explodes in beautiful glorious light, uplifting and powerful.

She’s A Star in its stripped down form hits home hard. The audience sing along, but not at a volume to drown out the orchestra as well as Chloe who joins Tim in the breakdown. The magic of this treatment of the song is the absolute control they possess on it. The magic of James is often in songs breaking free from their skin and heading in new directions, here it is often pushing them as far as they can go without that happening.

The Lake is simply stunning, a woman behind us comments that she’d watch a gig of that song being played over and over and over again and nothing else. The poignancy of the original, hidden away on a b-side of the Laid single, still underpins it but the stings, brass and the gospel vocals elevate it to a different plain completely. It’s a million miles from the 90s hit machine side of the band that grants them the commercial power to do this type of thing in 2023, but it’s the true essence of this band and one that is quite often easily overlooked. By fools.

Someone’s Got It In For Me, a later pre-split album track from Millionaires, could almost have been written for this tour. The latent drama in the song, a story of victimhood at the protagonists own hand, is dialled up by the orchestra and the lift that the gospel choir give the chorus vocals.  We’re Going To Miss You is impacted similarly - the magic is in the way Joe has taken these two songs, stripped away the fat and rebuilt them more robust, stronger and forceful. Even the hit expectors around us are stunned into silence for a while.

Hymn From A Village starts with Andy on the balcony playing a snippet of Dirty Old Town before the stripped down version of James (Tim, Jim, Adrian, Debbie on drums and Saul on cowbell) plus the string section make the oldest song in tonight’s set feel like it was written yesterday. 

Moving On is dedicated to those who have lost people recently and there’s a few wet eyes around the room. The euphoric response to loss of the original is replaced by a shattering overwhelming sense of sadness, Tim and Chloe holding hands and staring at each other, before it finishes with just violin and vocal harmonies. The album, Be Opened By The Wonderful, will cement the memories of the show when it’s released at the start of June.

Whereas normal bands undertaking this type of enterprise would simply play the songs they recorded for the album in a specific order there’s none of that with James. Joe revealed on his socials that there’s almost as many songs not on the album been rehearsed for the tour as the album itself. Ten Below, from 2010’s The Night Before, is one such song. As it reaches its final crescendo the orchestra stand up and really let fly.

The first half of the evening finishes with Tomorrow and the whole venue on their feet, the strings and brass augmenting the guitars as the song soars and leaves the crowd buzzing into the interval.

After the half hour break the orchestra return to the stage with Tim who conducts them through a segment of Bolero before Joe returns. The one time the orchestra is drowned out by the crowd is the stripped down Sit Down that follows. Tim sits on the edge of the stage, the acted sadness of having the baton taken off him replaced by a beaming smile. The song often gets a bad rap because of its ubiquitous presence in many people’s preconceptions of the band, but at moments like this its power is undeniable.

Beautiful Beaches is introduced as an uplifting pop song about escaping from Californian wildfires, something that pretty much none of the crowd can personally relate to, but its underlying message is one of escapism, and a big part of James magic is in the way songs become relatable to different situations. At one point Tim, Chloe and Andy stand together singing the chorus, three very different voices, but which come together perfectly.

As the opening bars of Say Something strike up Tim comes out in the audience, looking for connections off-stage and finishes the song stood on an empty chair next to us surveying the scene around him on the floor and on the balconies.

Tim tells us that they’re going to relent on the request not to take pictures for one song only. It’s a smart move to do this on new song Love Make A Fool if that’s going to appear on social media. It’s a big expansive song with the orchestra and choir both high in the mix - and if it’s representative of what they’re writing now, the next album promises to be something special. 

If anyone was then expecting a run of hits until the end of the set, and there’s still a few shouts for the likes of Come Home and Curse Curse, then they don’t get their wish. Alaskan Pipeline and Hello, like The Lake, are the real stars of this show. The room is silent in respect and listening. Alaskan Pipeline is haunting, no more so than when Tim takes a step back, sits down on Dave’s drum riser and Wayne from the choir and Chloe harmonise over an extended ending. Hello has Tim and Chloe duetting over the most minimal track of the night, Dave’s drumming light touch but adding much more atmosphere to the words. 

The sense that this is no ordinary orchestral tour is heightened by Riders, a song from 1986 that Tim tells us he expects many won’t know. The tribal drum pattern sits at the very heart of it as the song builds, and like Medieval later on, has a military precision to it whilst allowing room for the orchestra to breath and let loose from the rigid structures of many of the other songs. If the audience didn’t know it at the start, they do by the end.

Seven makes its first appearance on the tour and whilst it is uplifting and joyous and the crowd love it, like Laid which it replaced in the set, it’s a much more traditional rock band works with orchestra and choir sound to it. Sometimes is the polar opposite, stripped completely of its signature racing guitar line, replaced with strings, a solitary repetitive drum beat and a wonderful violin solo from Saul that threatens to overshadow everything. By the end the audience, Tim and choir are all singing, a trumpet is raised high in the air at the back of the orchestra as they lose themselves in the moment. It could all come crashing down as they let loose, but it ends up in the sort of beautiful chaos that encapsulates this band so perfectly.

The main set concludes with All The Colours Of You which segues into a the refrain of Many Faces’s chorus, which again has the crowd up on their feet and singing along. You sense many have waited for this moment to let loose, having sat and soaked in the intimate beauty of what has gone before it. The slight rearrangements in Many Faces suggest that they’re still continuing to work on these songs, try out new ideas and not simply settle into a routine and pattern despite the significant increase in numbers of people on stage versus a more traditional James show.

The encore is preceded by Saul making a heartfelt thanks to his violin teacher Christine who encouraged him to take up the instrument, him becoming leader of the Stirling Youth Orchestra. It starts with another singalong from a more recent album - Nothing But Love from 2016’s Girl At The End Of The World. Whilst James, like many bands of their vintage, remember we’re celebrating their 40th anniversary here, are wrongly dismissed as heritage bands, those three songs act as the most robust case of the defence. They’ve not changed, you have.

Medieval ends in a glorious singalong, everyone on stage and pretty much everyone in the audience joining in the final repeated “we are sound” chant. For a song that last appeared in 2011/2 when they last did the orchestra tour, it’s a very welcome and appropriate resurrection that’s been part of the magic of this tour. Similarly whereas any other band may have gone for a Laid or Getting Away With it (All Messed Up) to finish the night, James opt for Top Of The World and more opportunity for Saul to repay his violin teacher’s faith in him. Jim’s bass cuts through the expectant atmosphere like shards of glass before they all take their deserved bows.

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

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 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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