Saturday 12 August 2023

James / Happy Mondays / Girlband - London Crystal Palace Bowl - 11th August 2023

James completed their mainland UK summer season with a headline show at Crystal Palace Bowl as part of the South Facing Festival, thirty-three years to the day that they supported The Cure in the same venue.  Support came from old friends Happy Mondays who delivered a greatest hits set to an reminiscing crowd and the excellent Girlband from Nottingham who won over a whole new set of admirers with an energetic and powerful set.

Girlband have been together about a year taking the name vacated by Gilla Band when it was rightfully pointed out that a group of blokes shouldn't be commandeering such a name. They might not have released a single yet and have a limited social media profile, but over the course of forty minutes they justify their elevation to stages of this size so early in their career. With Georgie at the helm with powerful vocals and lead guitar, bassist Kay providing the hooks and drummer Jada the glue that drives these songs along they're already an accomplished proposition despite the lack of releases and profile so far. All of that will inevitably change when the time is right to do so, and if they can swerve the industry plant lunatics that come out every time a group of women do their apprenticeship and make their break, they look set to make quite some mark.

Happy Mondays are playing the nostalgia circuit a treat. Whilst they're released albums occasionally since their heyday they know their USPs - Bez, Rowetta and Shaun - and trade unashamedly on them and the crowd absolutely love them. Bez struts the stage, maracas in hand, cajoling the crowd to forget their ageing limbs and that it's 2023 not 1989, and lose themselves in songs that helped define an era for a large proportion of this crowd. Everything you'd expect them to play in their forty-five minute set they do - Kinky Afro, Loose Fit, Hallelujah, 24 Hour Party People, Step On and WFL - Shaun reading lyrics from an autocue when needed and ad-libbing throughout. Rowetta and the band add the professionalism - her voice is stronger now than it's ever been and she also acts as Shaun's unofficial minder throughout, humouring him and at the end guiding him off the stage as they overrun at the end of WFL with Shaun on a roll. Chaos never seems too far away from them, but there's so much love around the bowl for them that they can't fail.

The stage is set though for James to take us on a trip through their career. The orchestral tour earlier this year has reminded them of the strength and depth of their back catalogue and they delve deep back into the 1980s, opening with Johnny Yen and also delivering a fresh, crisp Hymn From A Village, with Debbie on drums, that's aged better than anyone out in the field and Medieval, an album track that threatens to become an unprompted singalong. The 1999 b-side All Good Boys, a band favourite, demonstrates they're about more than the big hits that a chunk of the crowd are waiting for, whilst Isabella and Beautiful Beaches, the latter first choice as they discuss what to play when they realise it's twenty minutes to curfew,  delight those who still thrill at the prospect of the band's new music.

There's plenty though for those who've come to relive their youth, although it's telling the mosh pit down the front at the end has plenty of people who wouldn't have been born at the time some of these songs straddled the upper echelons of the charts. Never a band to want to rely on that mighty run of singles they had in the 1990s alone they get the balance just right - Come Home, Sit Down, Laid, Sometimes, Waltzing Along, Sound, Tomorrow and Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) are all present and correct.

To prevent that being just a nostalgia trip the nine-piece James take these songs and deconstruct them to varying extents. Sound never gets old because each time they play the nine-piece take themselves on a new journey with it, once you think it's come to a close it rises again and they improvise, a brave move for a band playing this size of stage, but a method that doesn't just serve James well, but is critical to their existence as a band thriving off each other, buzzing off the connections on stage without veering into self-indulgent territory. Sit Down starts with a looping keyboard line, crashes into the chorus with a choir of thousands of backing vocals, threatens to collapse as the audience don't seem to know the words to the breakdown and then taken down so Tim can pay tribute to the courage of Sinead O'Connor to whom he dedicates it. At the end the audience don't pick up the Sometimes singalong, not once but twice, but Saul starts playing the guitar as they take their bows and they do a refrain of it anyway. Come Home is dedicated to Happy Mondays, who supported James back in 1988, with Tim commenting that they taught them how to chill and whose approach inspired the song.

There's moments of beauty too. She's A Star is stripped back and down and feels more powerful with Tim and Chloe singing together even in the big open field. Out To Get You is laced with Andy's trumpet and Saul's violin and the paranoia and despair of the lyrics and whilst there's chatterers around the field as you'd expect at an event like this, there's people singing every word eyes closed and you know how much it means to them. Tim comes out and surfs during Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) before mounting the barrier and surveying an adoring audience.

James feel like they're on a roll right now, there's an on-stage energy and creative tension that makes them thrive. They're ready to take risks but also understand the need to give everybody something to walk out the door with, mixing the known with less-known, confident in the latter to win the crowd over. From the likes of Johnny Yen and Hymn From A Village through to Isabella and Beautiful Beaches, they've discovered an anti-ageing serum that all of us in the crowd would love to bottle and apply.

James played Johnny Yen, Isabella, Waltzing Along, Sound, Hymn From A Village, Medieval, She’s A Star, Out To Get You, All Good Boys, Come Home, Tomorrow, Sit Down, Beautiful Beaches, Getting Away With It (All Messed Up), Laid and Sometimes.

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

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

Happy Mondays are on Facebook and Twitter.

Girlband are on Instagram.

James photos - Andrea Walker


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