Tuesday 2 May 2023

James - Glasgow SEC Armadillo - 1st May 2023

Night five of the James Lasted fortieth anniversary tour with the Orca 22 orchestra and the Manchester Inspirational Voices Gospel Choir reached Glasgow on Monday and the three and a half thousand capacity SEC Armadillo. A rejigged setlist challenged and delighted a for once restrained Glasgow audience, scene of some of their most raucous nights on previous tours.

The Armadillo is a beautiful space to watch music. The sound is almost perfect, the best so far on the tour, although it's one limitation for a show like James becomes apparent immediately and raises its head again later on. The show starts with Magic Bus and Tim up on the level one balcony, shimmying along the front row but then disappearing from view from anyone in the stalls.  He somehow makes it back down on to the stage through the labyrinth of backstage corridors for the start of The Shining, one of the real revelations of this tour. Two of the choir are down the front with him and Chloe and the vocal interaction between the four of them feels magical and lifts the song.

She's A Star, the lead track from the Be Opened By The Wonderful album that those on stage recorded for release in June, follows and, save for a few lone voices singing along and plenty more mouthing the words so as not to disturb the listening of themselves and others, there's an attentive silence where a Glasgow crowd would ordinarily be completely losing their shit to one of their best known songs. At the end, after a false ending and a final set of strings, Jim turns and applauds the audience. It's noticeable at several points how much mutual respect there is here, between band, orchestra, choir and conductor. 

Tim tells us that "in the tradition of James" they're going to play a b-side. It's often seen a derogatory term for songs that aren't good enough to make it on an album, but with this band it's simply a song that doesn't fit alongside the mood of the rest of the album (and yes, there's plenty of argument it would sit perfectly on Laid). The Lake is one of their finest moments, but a million miles away from the redacted short-sighted view of James as a band of 1990s hit singles. People are stunned into the silence by the intimate power, the build of the song into an minor explosion in the chorus and then the delicacy of Chloe's vocals at the end. Without this tour it would have been destined to be very much part of the undercard when people looked at James, the orchestral treatment has made it one of the most talked about songs right now.  Similarly Dust Motes, whilst not having anything close to the impact of The Lake both sonically and visually, is a song that's enjoying a new lease of life on this tour.

Another such song, in a challenging first half of the set for the more casual fan, is Someone's Got It In For Me. It starts with just Saul playing guitar and then Saul and Adrian before the orchestral come in. It ends with Tim holding his final line before dancing along to the strings as if they've got control of him. We're Going To Miss You finishes with the audience singing along to the chorus as the stage is bathed in beautiful bright lights, a contrast to the menacing undertones of the verses. It's a song that comes to life with the orchestra and choir in a way it never has quite sparked when they've played it live over the years. 

A light appears up on the balcony, but as Andy plays his first note, Tim asks him to "hold that trumpet" before commenting how weird it is to get to Glasgow and play on a Monday night to a seated crowd rather than the usual chaos. He notes the two security sat at the front of the stage and says they'll be moved for the second half, but how beautifully quiet it is and how it makes them play better. Andy fashions to play again and then Saul jokes that maybe the audience thinks they're shit. Whilst Andy gets impatient and tries again, Tim tells us 500 people got kicked out of their last Glasgow gig at the Hydro. When Hymn From A Village finally starts, it's fast and frenetic and a few very old school heads stand up and dance to the James that they first fell in love with. It finishes with Debbie on the drums standing up as the song accelerates to its conclusion.

Hello is pulled forward into the first half of the set as it swaps places with Moving On, thus making the pre-interval section even more challenging for those not au fait with the less familiar songs James are playing on this tour. Chloe has a slight microphone issue at the start, but once the duet kicks in, the reverential silence around the room makes this one of the most beautiful, heartfelt and haunting moments of the set, and testament to how these arrangements have revitalised even some of the most unassuming and overlooked songs in James' three hundred song plus back catalogue. There's a couple of false starts on Ten Below, "about my miserable childhood" Tim tells us, but like most of the very best James songs the sadness and despair in the lyrics is flipped on its head by the euphoric music, and with the orchestra standing up and letting loose in the chorus, that lift is even more powerful.

The whole downstairs is on its feet by the end of Tomorrow that brings the first half of the set to a close. Tim ventures down into the stalls which encourages the final straddlers in the seats to get to their feet. Whilst it's the biggest hits, except that one, that are played truer to their originals, it's a release for those who might not be as enthralled by the lesser known songs than we are.

After the interval the orchestra return to the stage followed by Tim who tells the audience "we're just waiting for our conductor" before picking up the baton and the orchestra starts playing. A game of cat and mouse ensues with the orchestra steadying to play as Tim moves towards the baton. He then picks it up and leads the orchestra in Ravel's Bolero, tilting his head to tell us "it's easy really" just as Joe returns to the stage and Tim sheepishly hands him the baton. The Glasgow crowd finds its voice as the strings switch from Bolero to Sit Down. Beautifully simple it accentuates the power of the songs and the lyrics.

Beautiful Beaches is introduced as a "sweet little song about fleeing Californian wildfires" - it demonstrates the versatility of James' most recent songwriting, the electronics replaced by strings which adds poignancy and tension, particularly as it concludes with a violin solo. Tim's back in the crowd for Say Something although he doesn't venture as far back as usual because of the sight issues from the balconies. Love Make A Fool is a glorious uplifting new song that was taken out of the sessions for their next album, which Tim tells us they're in the process of recording right now, which suggests the rich creative vein of the last few years is showing no sign of closing up.

Before Alaskan Pipeline, Tim tells us it's one that they hardly ever get to play and because the tickets for this tour sold out so quickly they figured that the audience would be receptive to songs they don't usually play. It's a world away from the enormo-hits that have been left on the bench this time round, but it's as an essential part of what James are about. It finishes with Tim taking a back seat as Wayne, the choir's leader, and Chloe harmonise and fill the room.

Moving On is dedicated to those who've lost loved ones and starting with Jim's bass distorted through one of his pedals and Saul's violin, it's a reworking and reinvention of a song that was a twinkle in their eye the first time they did the orchestra tour in 2011. If anything the stripped back version hits home harder than the original.

Riders is dedicated to anyone who's followed them since Barrowlands, even though it predates their first appearance at Glasgow's most legendary venue that still gets a few appeals shouted out for them to return to after twenty-five years. It works wonderfully with the orchestra and choir, as if they'd written it for this moment when it was penned by Tim, Jim, Larry and Gavan in a scout hut or similar space close to four decades ago. The stage is lit in brilliant red, simple but beautifully evocative and effective like the lights throughout the night, as the song stops dead for a dramatic pause before kicking back in once more. 

Seven sits as the filling in the sandwich between two Strip-Mine songs and even Andy's superb trumpet improvisation over the ending, can't quite hide the fact that whilst it's very well-received, the addition of the orchestra doesn't add as much to this song as it does to pretty much everything else in the set. An observation rather than a complaint.

It's time for an impromptu setlist change. Five nights in, the band's tendency and desire to take risks and throw a curveball in has started to kick in. Tim checks in with us that he hopes we're getting what they're doing as it isn't necessarily what everyone expected. The choir come down the front and line up alongside Tim and Chloe and replicate the marching beat of a show-stealing Medieval. Tim sticks his tongue out at the front row playfully, the song drops down slightly at the breakdown as the strings take over, but the drop makes the lift of the final chorus chanted by a choir of three and a half thousand even more powerful and life-affirming.

Tim announces they're going to play All The Colours Of You next, telling us they've never had to play Glasgow on Monday and they're a schizophrenic band. He asks for a translation of an audience shout which ends up as "play what you fucking like" which puts a huge smile across his faces.  It segues effortlessly into a rousing chorus of Many Faces at the end before the band take their first farewell bows.

As Tim points out when they come back on the ridiculous encore ritual is obvious as the orchestra haven't moved. It takes a few moments for the crowd to recognise Sometimes from the string intro but when they do it becomes a celebratory singalong, even in this stripped back refined format. Joe conducts the audience singing at one point before the song finishes with everything dropped out except for the strings and Debbie on cymbals.

Nothing But Love has four of the choir at the front as Tim encourages the audience to join in with the harmonies before admonishing the crowd for not being loud enough. Saul joins in and tells us that Edinburgh was louder which results in an immediate increase in volume. "Let's do one more" Tim tells everyone before choosing Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) for its first play of the tour. A little rearrangement and the song sends everyone out of the room buzzing as it's become a real crowd favourite since the band reformed in 2007 after almost apologetically slipping out as part of the Pleased To Meet You release.

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

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 Newcastle City Hall (May 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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