Wednesday 25 October 2023

James - Bath Forum - 24th October 2023

James returned to Bath for the first of two shows rescheduled from their May tour with Orca 22 conducted by Joe Duddell and The Manchester Inspirational Voices Gospel Choir. A two-set performance captured songs all the way from their beginnings in the 1980s through to their last album All The Colours Of You, stopping at most bases in between. With perfect sound allowing all the subtlety in the instrumentation and vocal interactions to be heard, they built slowly into a crescendo of some of their best loved songs at the end.

It's five months since James were first due in Bath and front man Tim Booth's illness saw this and the Nottingham show postponed. In the interim the band have taken this show to Greece, where they filmed at the Acropolis two days before it was closed in the summer heatwave, and Latitude Festival. They've reconvened for these two shows and the overwhelming thought we leave with after the first of them is that it felt like old friends reuniting for the first time in ages and everything simply slipping back into place as if it were yesterday, but somehow better.

As they strike into opening track Dust Motes, the sound is gorgeous, every detail of the multitude of strings, brass, woodwind, percussion and in particular the harp can be heard. In the quieter moments, and the audience is quiet until the raucous finale taking all this in, there's a palpable tension that really sets the hairs on edge. 

Whilst Tim may not have been able to sing at the original show, joking that it might have been interesting in other ways, tonight his voice sounds refreshed and rich, and he's not afraid to let the choir and Chloe have their moments on the likes of Hello, Beautiful Beaches, Alaskan Pipeline, Someone's Got It In For Me and The Lake where one or more of them take over. It's something many front men wouldn't allow to happen for reasons of ego, but by accident or design, they really make this feel like a collaborative effort, that the choir and orchestra have fused themselves to the band and most importantly their ethic, and with Joe Duddell at the helm they have someone who understands the history and ethos of this band that somehow have stayed in the mainstream, more successful where it matters in ticket sales than they've ever been, without compromising their principles on the stage.

This isn't just a greatest hits orchestrated, a few strings chucked on singles and badged up as an orchestra. These songs have been pretty much torn apart and rewritten. Beautiful Beaches has its electronic heart ripped from it and replaced by something much more intricate and detailed. Moving On is even more poignant with Jim's grumbling bass and Saul's violin leading into a stripped down story of painful loss imbued with hope. The Shining is glorious, one of those songs that hid its light under a bushel when first released over twenty years ago, but which blossoms here, the lift when the choir kick in to the chorus raises the bar several notches. 

Seven, not their most adventurous of singles, feels supercharged as does a magnificent Ten Below. You sense here that they haven't rehearsed much since the summer shows, because logistically it's a nightmare, but it's the musical connections they've forged, the improvisational spirit of James exciting the orchestra and that reflecting back and lifting the band, plus the choir's simple joy of singing in a different environment that makes this so compelling. The orchestra mostly stand as it reaches its rampant conclusion, a song utterly transformed in this form, lifting it above most of its better-known counterparts on the setlist.

We're Going To Miss You has a similar effect and the choir move down to the front and sing the song's refrain in a line. There's a false start on She's A Star, the first shouts of recognition for one of their best-loved songs preceding a version that strips it back to bare bones, the strings leading it through the build to the chorus. There's not enough superlatives to share about The Lake, a song that, remember, wasn't deemed to suit the Laid album and ended up as a b-side to its title track. Here it demonstrates the absolute power of the control of pace and mood of the song that this collaboration has born. The first half finishes with two singles from different eras of the band, but both euphoric and getting the crowd up on their feet - the communal harmonies of Nothing But Love with its off-kilter charm and a soaring Born Of Frustration sending everyone into the interval with a huge grin on their face.

The second half is a rollercoaster ride. It starts with Magic Bus, Tim not venturing out or starting at the back of the venue as doing so would most likely require him to run round the perimeter of the building to get in, yet it loses none of its joyous edge that the orchestral version has that they never recaptured live on the rare occasion we've heard it. It's followed by Sit Down and the fifteen hundred or so of us find their voice to give weight to this stripped down version of the song, the version that is possibly the most affecting and certainly the most tender incarnation of the communal hug that its lyrics act as.

Love Make A Fool, a song that leapt out of the sessions for their forthcoming album into being a standalone single for this record, captures the uplifting spiritual side of this coming together, particularly with Debbie brought to the front. It's never felt right when they've tried it as just a band, this is the definitive version and it's one of the highlights of a set that never drops its guard or standards. Someone's Got It In For Me sees Tim cede vocal duties in the chorus to one of the choir, an accident from the Blackpool show where Tim was in vain protecting his voice before the cancellation of these two shows in May that has turned into a revelation. It frees him to completely lose himself in the song, dancing around the stage, as in awe of what's going on around him as we are.

Say Something is stripped bare in the verses, making the lift into the choruses even more powerful and potent, aided by a choir of fifteen hundred. It's one of James most simple songs in many ways but also one that makes the strongest of connections. Riders, from the 1988 Strip-Mine album but a feature in the sets from the mid-eighties onwards, sees Joe depart and the song really get dark and menacing, finishing with Tim holding his mic over the mouth of the tuba as it crashes to an end. Alaskan Pipeline and Hello slow things back down - the former finishing with haunting choir vocals again and delicious harmonies from choir lead Wayne, whilst Hello has been utterly transformed from its inconspicuous recorded version in a show-stopping duet between Tim and Chloe.

The recent hits in another era - All The Colours Of You and Many Faces - bring what would have been the main set to a close. The former is always a glorious live song, but the strings add so much more tension and drama to it, particular as it segues seamlessly into an abbreviated Many Faces and its message of love, peace and understanding that the world needs quite a lot of right now. The encore ritual is dispensed of as they have a curfew and they sense the mood of the crowd is about to explode and it does with a wonderfully rich and powerful Tomorrow that has everyone back on their feet and a soaring Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) where Tim loses himself completely like so many out front who've ignored the security's pleas to return to their seats. The evening concludes with a singalong of Sometimes which ends with the choir and band turning to the orchestra as they bring the night to a close with Joe's genius interpretation of this perennial favourite.

There's a magic whenever James take the stage, an unpredictability about what you're going to get even if the setlist doesn't spring any surprises. They're a band that thrive on the mood, both in the band and in the room, and this collaboration has effectively fused an orchestra and choir that have wholeheartedly bought into the band's ethos on to the already hefty nine of them. These shows may never happen again, it's twelve years since the first orchestral tour, and 2024 sees a new album and the campaign that comes with it out in the world and James continuing to look forward as a band to their next twist and turn, but they'll live long in the memory.

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

James play Nottingham Royal Centre (October 25) with Orca 22 and The Manchester Inspirational Voices Gospel Choir and a band-only set London Shepherds Bush Empire (30). They tour in June 2024 calling at Aberdeen P&J Arena (June 3), Newcastle Utilita Arena (5), Glasgow OVO Hydro (7), Leeds First Direct Arena (8), Cardiff Utilita Arena (11), Birmingham Utilita Arena (12), Manchester CO-OP Live (14) and London O2 Arena (15).

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


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