Sunday 9 July 2023

James / Jamie Webster / Tom A Smith - Halifax Piece Hall - 8th July 2023

Thunderstorms couldn't stop James on Saturday night in Halifax's Piece Hall. Despite having to stop their set for twenty minutes midway through as lightning threatened to strike the stage after an hour's torrential downpour that soaked a resilient crowd, they returned with a set of crowd favourites to reward the audience for their patience as they started to dry out. Support came from Tom A Smith and Jamie Webster, who had even worse fortune with the weather.

Tom A Smith opens up the evening and is the only artist to be unimpacted by the weather as he takes to the stage in bright sunshine with the threat of black clouds lingering in the distance. Once again he and his band impress a curious audience that have gathered early and win them over with an energetic half-hour set. Tom bounds around the stage with an energy and love of what he's doing that transmits itself out, and bassist Katie looks like she's having the best time out there encouraging and interacting with the audience. He has the songs too - Toronto, Little Bits and the set-closing Dragonfly going down really well with the crowd in particular, but for an artist at the start of his journey he's already got a set that doesn't dip in quality or energy, often an issue when a young musician is placed on a stage of this size. With a huge tour scheduled for later this year as well as more appearances like this throughout the summer, he's laying down a marker to move on to bigger things.

Jamie Webster is more familiar to some of the crowd, there's a few people sporting Liverpool memorabilia and the rallying cry of "fuck the tories" can be heard between songs even though he tries to play this down a little because it's not his gig even though the political and social commentary is very much still there in songs like Davey Kane and recent single Voice Of The Voiceless. His set though gets ruined firstly by a power outage half way through and then when that's resolved, health and safety kick in as lightning has been reported within five miles of the venue so no performances are allowed until it clears over. He does come down to the front completely unplugged and tries to lead the crowd in a rendition of The Coral's Dreaming Of You and he takes the disappointment of the event with good grace.

It's not the last we see of him though. As the clock strikes nine and the heavens have opened drenching most of the five thousand crowd for the next hour, James make their way to stage accompanied by Jamie. Tim sings the opening line of Sometimes and tells us they'll save that one for later as it adds a little juice in a thunderstorm. He introduces Jamie and tells us they've invited him on stage for the first song - Getting Away With It (All Messed Up), the first of many changes to the setlist tonight. It's testament to the respect James have from younger musicians that he's initially a little overawed (later saying on social media that he'd played their songs many a time in pubs before he got his break) but once Tim encourages him he joins in for quite a beautiful moment of solidarity in the face of the weather conditions.

For the next half hour, the crowd continue unperturbed by the drenching they're getting, lost in the music as James take us on a journey through their forty years as a band, going back to Medieval from their days as a four-piece that the industry could never put in a box, but now a song that possesses all the anthemic qualities to stand up to anything else they've done. The four-piece choir and the band join in the "we are sound" refrain at the end and the audience join in as a sign of resistance to the torrential downpour. All The Colours Of You has us bang up to date, whilst Waltzing Along, We're Going To Miss You and I Know What I'm Here For remind us of their commercial heyday of the nineties. The latter, rarely played and recently resurrected, comes crashing to a halt and Tim turns to Dave on drums, laughs and says "that one is called Welsh" before they kick back in. During Waltzing Along Tim shows solidarity in just a white t-shirt and flowing trousers and comes and stands on the barrier in the rain with us. 

Five-O sees a glorious violin solo from Saul as they slow the set down slightly and prepare to kick into a stripped-down She's A Star as thunder and lightning hit in the background. Tim suggests changing the set to play Sometimes but before they can switch instruments they're told they need to leave the stage for health and safety reasons. Tim's initially reluctant, saying he'll stay out there with us until it's safe before being reminded of the consequences of being hit by lightning on a huge metal structure. He later changes the lyrics of Sometimes to "there's a boy standing on a huge metal stage calling come on thunder" but he takes the health and safety advice and there's a twenty minute delay in which the audience gets wetter and wetter and the uncertainty as to whether the show will continue at all begins to grow. 

The fun of the gig in the rain with every sinew drenched loses its fun a little with no music to accompany it, but the crowd stay resolutely and are rewarded when the band come back on around ten o'clock and there's a huge roar when Tim tells us they're going to be allowed to go over curfew and they're just going to wing the rest of the set and make it up on the spot.

The band then hammer through a seven-song mini greatest hits set with a real sense of reinvigorated purpose, the tension and energy of having to come off and the uncertainty of whether they'd continue channeled into forty minutes of both band and audience completely lost in music. Sound reaches a cacophonic conclusion of noise, Debbie and Dave's drums colliding head on with Andy's trumpet and the guitars as if the world was about to end. Born Of Frustration has Tim out in the audience, on the barrier, demanding people put their cameras away before crowdsurfing across a sea of hands, thankfully with no grumpy Midlands past-it rock stars there to chastise him for connecting with the audience.

Beautiful Beaches is literally a hit single from another era and it doesn't dampen the energy of the band or the crowd, finishing with a flurry of drums from Debbie who then spends the rest of the set marauding the stage encouraging both band and audience to lose themselves deeper in the music whilst looking like she's having the most fun in the whole place. The audience have shed any remaining inhibitions, they can't get any wetter and as the opening keyboard line ushers in Sit Down, Piece Hall becomes the most remarkable five-thousand strong choir for around six minutes, the message of unity and being one even more striking and poignant as we communally dry ourselves off as the rain finally relents. 

It's a shame Sometimes isn't accompanied by thunder and lightning as it was at Hardwick Live a few years ago, but newer health and safety rules probably mean the night would have been over had it returned. The choir have come down to the front and take over the refrain, the beauty in their four voices giving the song a different lift before the audience take it over until Saul kicks in with the first bars of Laid and everyone tries to dance themselves dry as we've passed the original curfew at this point. There is time for one more and Come Home is the perfect send out, it's loose and full of energy, the band's faces beaming as they stare out into the dripping mess of the audience bouncing around for one last time.

Gigs in the rain can be magical and special and tonight's very much felt like that. The band reacted to the situation when they came back on stage and the audience just let go of any inhibitions determined to have the best time and to make the night unique despite the drenching they got. The Piece Hall gave James and their fans two very different nights and experiences, but ones that will last long in the memory - it's been thirty-four years since the band last played in this magnificent square, hopefully it won't be anywhere near as long before their next visit.

James played Getting Away With It (All Messed Up), All The Colours Of You, Waltzing Along, We're Going To Miss You, I Know What I'm Here For, Medieval, Five-O, Sound, Born Of Frustration, Beautiful Beaches, Sit Down, Sometimes, Laid and Come Home

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

They also play 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).

They 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) as well as rescheduled dates at Bath Forum (October 24) and Nottingham Royal Centre (25). 

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.

Tom A Smith's website can be found here and he is on Facebook and Twitter.

He plays a series of festival and outdoor shows over the summer before embarking on a huge Winter tour calling at Glasgow SWG3 Poetry Club (November 5), Edinburgh Sneaky Pete's (6), York Fulford Arms (8), Hull Adelphi (9), Sheffield Sidney And Matilda (11), Leeds Hyde Park Book Club (12), Liverpool Kazimier Stockroom (14), Nottingham Chameleon (15), Leicester Duffy's (16), Bedford Esquires (17), Plymouth The Junction (18), Exeter The Cavern (19), Brighton Komedia Studio (21), Southampton Heartbreakers (22), Oxford Bullingdon (23), Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach (24), Bristol Louisiana (26), Birmingham Sunflower Lounge (27), St Albans The Horn (28), London Camden Assembly (29), Margate Olby's Soul Café & Music Rooms (December 1), Guildford Boileroom (2), Tunbridge Wells Forum (3), Cambridge The Blue Moon (4), Norwich Arts Centre (5), Manchester Deaf Institute (6), Middlesbrough Empire (7) and Sunderland The Fire Station (8).


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