Saturday 29 July 2023

James / Razorlight / The Clause / Tom A Smith - Dundee Slessor Gardens - 28th July 2023

It's our first ever visit to Dundee, the biggest city on the mainland UK we've never visited before, for James performance at Slessor Gardens, close to the river front and the V&A Museum supported by Razorlight and the up-and-coming The Clause and Tom A Smith. A hit-heavy set with a beautiful tribute to Sinead O'Connor delighted an enthusiastic and passionate Scottish crowd as James played the city for the first time since 1986.

Tom A Smith has made an exceptionally positive impression on the James fan base on recent support slots and tonight he and his band give an equally impressive performance full of energy and with a set of songs so early in his career that are already establishing him as an artist with a huge future despite still being a teenager. He has the confidence of a much more experienced artist and a stage presence to match, his engagement with bassist Katie in particular, demonstrating that he has the potential to headline stages like this one day. He has the songs too - Little Bits and Weirdo from his latest EP3 and the set-closing Dragonfly feel like they were written for thousands rather than hundreds. There were lots of complaints about queues to get in later in the evening, but those who were in town earlier in the day and chose to come into the venue, they'd have witnessed a future talent as well as avoiding the wait outside.

The Clause have been making their mark the past couple of years as they emerged from COVID as one of the most impressive bands to come out of the West Midlands scene. Their appeal is taking a modern view on the familiar sounds and putting their own mark and personality on it rather than rehashing and it works very well indeed. They've got the ability and confidence to avoid sounding like a watered down version of their heroes - songs like Fake It, Hate The Player and Forever Young are assured and powerful and they're far from over-awed by the size of the venue they're in and they win over a set of new fans during their half-hour set.

Razorlight were a revelation. Whether it be our very hazy reminiscence of post turn of the century festivals and an over-reliance on the bad press they often had thrown their way (including two worst album of the year awards from the NME) or a latter-day transformation or a mix of the two, we hadn't been particularly looking forward to their set. What we got, paraphrasing Johnny Burrell close to the end of their set, was five human beings with instruments and no computers playing music and giving their all. The original four piece line up of front man Johnny Burrell, guitarist Bjorn Agern, bassist Carl Dalemo and drummer Andy Burrows were joined in 2019 by Reni Lane, who threatens to steal the show with her joy of performing or strolling on and off from her keyboards to stand, watch and sing along with the thousands-strong crowd from side-stage.

Borrell's voice is surprisingly (to us in our ignorance) show-stopping, deep, rich and powerful and the band perform with an energy that shows they give a fuck unlike many of their contemporaries who seem to be on the circuit to eke the last dollar out of people's desire for nostalgia and refusal to contemplate their own ageing. Their set contains few surprises, the big hitters are all present and correct - America, Don't Go Back To Dalston, In The Morning, Stumble And Fall amongst others - but they're delivered with a passion and freshness that connects with the Dundee audience. We don't like admitting we were wrong about a band, but we were definitely wrong about Razorlight.

After what seems like an eternity setting up, a half-hour changeover seems like a herculean task with James now being a nine-piece, James enter the stage with little fanfare, the traditional guttural chant of "here we fucking go" from the crowd as the opening bars of Sound head out over the crowd and onto the Tay and very early on it's clear that there's a real sense of purpose about the band tonight and they feed off the crowd's energy which in turn fuels the crowd too. Although, as Tim points out after a stunning Walk Like You it's a listening crowd as well, prepared to follow them on the journey of the set, such as when they decide to strip She's A Star down and take on the high notes from Tim on which he commends their mastery of them at the end. With Debbie absent for the weekend, Hannah steps in on percussion and drums and is given her moment to shine at the end of Beautiful Beaches but is flawless throughout.

The set focuses heavily on songs not featured on their recent orchestral shows which means we get welcome performances of All The Colours Of You's Isabella, one of their standout post-reformation tracks as well as the aforementioned Walk Like You. I Know What I'm Here For is shorn mostly of the keyboard line around which the recorded version is based and feels more raw and vital for it. 

Out To Get You and I Defeat are dedicated to Sinead O'Connor, the latter preceded by Tim telling how Sinead came to the studio they were recording Millionaires at to meet Brian Eno and proceeded to record the duet in an hour and a half. Whereas other bands would have released it as a single and had it a hit, James had it as a b-side. It's perfect and poignant tonight, and Out To Get You, replete with Andy's trumpet flitting in and out in the background as on the 1990 original version, captures perfectly the paranoia of the witch-hunt around Sinead from those who are latterly eulogising her after she's gone.

Sit Down is taken away from the band by the crowd and made their own and if Tim hadn't stopped them they'd probably still be singing it now. It can be a cliche with audience singalongs but not when it's this spontaneous. As if almost to prove a point the crowd don't pick up Sometimes at the end so it comes to a slightly abrupt stop. It probably affords them an extra song as they quickly decide to ditch the encore ritual and finish with Come Home and Getting Away With It (All Messed Up), chosen off the hoof from a list of possibilities that means there's a few moans about the exclusion of Laid. But this is James, you don't get everything you expect or want every time, but you are pretty much guaranteed a joyous occasion, plenty of unique moments and a band that is thriving now as a unit more than they've ever done, reviving old songs and giving them new life and magic, throwing in the odd curveballs and never neglecting their most recent work.

James played Sound, Isabella, Waltzing Along, I Know What I’m Here For, All The Colours Of You, Walk Like You, She’s A Star, Out To Get You, I Defeat, Tomorrow, Sit Down, Beautiful Beaches, Ring The Bells, Sometimes, Come Home 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.

They also play Y Not Festival (July 29), Darlington Arena (August 5), London Crystal Palace South Facing (11) and Jersey Weekender (September 3) as well as rescheduled dates with Orca 22 and the Manchester Inspirational Voices Choir 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.

Razorlight's official site can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.

The Clause are on Facebook and Twitter.

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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