Saturday 29 April 2023

James - York Barbican - 28th April 2023

After a well-earned night off after the first two shows in Brighton and Cardiff, James’ sold out tour with the Orca 22 Orchestra and Manchester Inspirational Voices Choir rolled into York Barbican. A set of hits, deep album cuts and band and crowd favourites from across their forty year career delighted the Friday night audience.

There’s a real buzz of anticipation by half past seven as the orchestra and choir make their way to the stage followed by the band minus Tim. The orchestra strike up and suddenly a spotlight shines to the back of the room where Tim appears. Until he sings the first line, the opening song isn’t apparent, and as people have come to expect with James, it isn’t an obvious opener. Magic Bus was never played live when All The Colours Of You came out - but that’s an early indicator for those who haven’t been to the other shows or read our reviews of what was to come. 

Dust Motes and The Shining follow as if to underline that point. The guy behind us complaining at one point that he thought it was a greatest hits set is gushing in praise by the end. This is no ordinary James tour even by their own standards. Dust Motes is sparse for the most part, the strings accentuating the pathos in the song, whilst The Shining feels like a lost classic from the Pleased To Meet You album that almost apologetically signalled the end of the first phase of James yet stands up against anything they’ve ever done. The moment the orchestra kick into the chorus still has a powerful uplifting impact even three nights into the tour.

It’s testament to the bloodymindedness of the band that they hadn’t played She’s A Star, the lead single from the orchestral album Be Opened By The Wonderful, until tonight. This version is stripped back to let the orchestra take over whilst Tim sings the build into the final chorus stood facing Chloe. As it finishes he tells us they only chose the set within the last hour before they go on stage, which Saul says is a sign that they’re not over. Jim adds that you’d think after forty years they’d know what they’re doing by now to which Saul jokes that this is a celebration of their inadequacy. In many ways this is absolutely perfect.

The audience has been fairly restrained to now and We’re Going To Miss You provides them the first opportunity for a singalong as the song reaches its climax and the repetition of the “here’s a mirror with your name on, singing we’re going to miss you when you’re gone” line like the mantra that is the song’s intention to ward off a curse. 

Some of the band then leave the stage, Andy reappearing on the balcony to herald the start of Hymn From A Village, which has Debbie taking over lead drums from Dave. Hymn feels revitalised by these arrangements, the ramshackle song that they first demoed in 1982 still has that old James charm and innocence, but brought right up to date.

Laid gets the bigger roar of recognition so far, with the audience singing along but mindful of not overpowering the subtlety of this version that starts with a bright white light shining on Saul and Jim who face each other. It’s performed impeccably but of all the songs it’s the one that feels it’s in the set because of the weight of its reputation and the love that follows it around. What makes it so good also makes it hard to reinvent for this tour.

Moving On is the polar opposite, even more poignant than ever, slowed down with the strings in particular drawing the sadness of the song out further into the open. Once again Tim and Chloe sing together, one of the stand out features of the tour. Ten Below is one of the biggest curveballs in the song selections so far, being old enough to have been on the first orchestra tour but not being played. Joe’s arrangements lift it out of the ordinary as does the string section’s performance on it.

The first half of the night finishes with Tomorrow, which takes a few seconds for people to recognise. It builds and builds and Tim lets loose dancing with Chloe, who moves around the stage throughout the night to interact with the choir up at the back of stage, with Debbie as they face each other and Chloe mimics Debbie’s jack-in-the-box spring as the song gathers pace. This is how to reinvent your hits, don’t just stick strings on them, strip everything back and rebuild it properly.

Tim joins the orchestra on stage for the start of the second half and conducts them through a short piece of Bolero before Joe comes back on and takes the baton from him. Tim then sits down, if you pardon the pun, at the front of the stage and sings Sit Down with an improvised choir of fifteen hundred people accompanying him. He’s joined by Chloe and latterly Adrian for one of the most poignant and beautiful versions of the song we’ve ever heard (and we’ve heard a few  of them). At one moment as the strings send shivers down the spine, he’s totally lost in the music, absorbed by it as if no one else is there in the room with him. 

“You fucker, let us do something” Saul tells Tim as the rest come back on stage to which he responds, rightly, that this is about a big machine and not just him. The orchestra prove this, as they do all night, during a version of Beautiful Beaches that manages to create the same euphoria around the desperate storyline behind it as the original did. 

Say Something sees Tim out in the audience, the crowd singalong almost drowning him out as people get to their feet for one of the most enduring songs in their canon. It’s one of the songs that journeys least from its origins, but it still feels reinvigorated and fresh with Joe’s arrangements and the additional musicians.

Anyone now expecting a hit-laden second half would be sorely disappointed, but there’s no dissenting voices near us as the next five songs take us on a journey from a brand new song through four of the set’s more obscure selections that wouldn’t usually get anywhere near consideration for a normal full band gig. 

Love Make A Fool was taken out of the band’s sessions for their next record specifically for this project and it’s not hard to see why. Mixing the technology that has infused their more recent albums with the orchestra in the verses works wonderfully and lyrically the theme of love conquering everything else that’s going on in the world if you let it in shines through. Whilst there are plenty of glances in the rear view mirror tonight, this one song proves the road ahead may well be paved with more gold.

As the stretched out intro to Alaskan Pipeline pierces the expectant atmosphere, Tim crouches down on all fours, part recovering part simply to lose himself in the moment. It ends with Wayne from the choir and Chloe harmonising together as he takes a back seat. Riders makes its tour debut, a song from way back in the 80s that has the bravado of a teenager whose fake ID has got them into a nightclub. There’s much in Gavan’s drumming on the likes of this and Medieval which makes them perfect bases from which to build on and flesh out with strings, brass and other instruments, something that probably never entered their mind as it was jammed in their cramped rehearsal space nearly forty years ago.

Adrian comes to the fore in this and The Lake that follows. Tim explains that it should have been on an album rather than a b-side and here it threatens to steal the show as it’s fleshed out fully, beefed up and simply soars. It was one of the highlights of the tour in 2011, and even with the competition here, is steadfastly defending that position.

Hello threatens to steal the whole show. Starting with Dave in the spotlight with the softest of drums, it’s been transformed into a duet between Tim and Chloe and it feels like they’re living out the end of a long relationship conversation of the lyrics in front of us as they focus intently on each other.

We’re then transported right back up to date with All The Colours Of You and Many Faces. The former’s cut and paste production makes it a perfect template for thirty-odd talented musicians to create something magical that hits home hard. The audience are on their feet now and stay there as it transitions seamlessly into Many Faces where the choir is joined by another fifteen hundred people who simply take the song’s refrain and turn it into a life-affirming moment.

The main part of the second set finishes with a stripped down Sometimes. Saul’s violin solo is met with a huge ovation that almost derails the rest of the song and drowns out the next verse. 

The encore starts with crowd participation, Tim conducting sections of the audience with the choir in harmonies from different parts of Nothing But Love. He admonishes the back of the auditorium for not being as loud as the front sections, before joking if they’re offended by him referring to them as the cheap seats. With the choir at the front stood in a line, one of them wearing the red heart glasses that have become synonymous with this later period hit in a different time.

There’s some confusion as to what to play next, but they settle on Medieval which dates back all the way to 1985 but which almost could have been written for this moment. With five drummers, Mark, Saul and the glockenspiel player joining Dave and Debbie, that military beat accompanying the simple mantra “we are sound, we are sound, we are sound” is powerful enough to smash down the tallest of walls.

They finish with an ‘on the fly” Top Of The World before taking their final bows for the night. As haunting and eerie as ever, it’s the perfect finale to the evening, the crowd mostly sitting back down to savour the final moments before heading off into the night.

James played Magic Bus, Dust Motes, The Shining, She’s A Star, We’re Going To Miss You, Hymn From A Village, Laid, Moving On, Ten Below, Tomorrow, Sit Down, Beautiful Beaches, Say Something, Love Make A Fool, Alaskan Pipeline, Riders, The Lake, Hello. All The Colours Of You, Many Faces, Sometimes, 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 Edinburgh Usher Hall (April 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.


Follow Even The Stars on Twitter at @eventhestarsuk and like our Facebook page for all the latest updates

No comments:

Post a Comment