Pull up a chair, gang, and let me tell you all about my love for, and subsequent falling out with, James.
They were my band. They were my above-everything-elses. My first gig on my own with friends (hello Laid Tour 1993!), my cross country shows, my first tattoo – thankfully no one can see it. I absolutely loved them. I remember going into town at 12 years old to buy Seven on cassette the day it came out, I remember (just – was a long night) queuing from 5am outside Manchester HMV for wristbands to secure entry to a show performing the same songs as they did the night before, I remember the bastard parking ticket on Hoxton Square for the first live show in 7 years, I remember the (allegedly) final Manchester show in 2001, which became the Getting Away With It live DVD and CD. I remember Tim Booth circling and swaying feet above me in the stands as he belted our ‘Top Of The World’ for the (allegedly) last time to his home crowd. Absolutely love love loved them. Friends for life have been made through them.
There’s always that thing when Your Band get back together.. the initial rush for tickets, the rush full stop, but always the “please don’t have become shite” niggle. Hey Ma, the first new album after reuniting, is divine. ‘I Wanna Go Home’, ’72’, the title track… perfect… fears abated. Their tour with the Orchestra of the Swan in 2011 was perfect – they did a stunning rendition of ‘The Lake’, whilst a very, very heavily pregnant me tried to hold on to emotions, any spare seat cushion and my pelvic floor in Cardiff’s Millennium Centre.
I cling on to those moments, not only because they are quite precious, but they also mark the point at which they lost me. The sound change, particularly with Girl At The End of The World (or GATEOTW as its known in their fan groups, who for the life of them can’t type out words, too busy frying bacon in the shape of a fucking daisy, the loons). For me, it became too much about keyboards and synths, to the point I suspected Mark Hunter knew where bodies were buried and this was his pay day. Either way, it wasn’t for me and remains so. Putting my electronic hand up to review this was a gamble, I don’t really want to listen to it and I was always told not to speak ill of the dead, which James kinda are to me. This will not apply to any posthumous Paul Weller releases.
It is a beautiful evening in South Wales, the sun is shining, breeze blowing, and the arseholes down the hill are pressure washing the patio for the seventh consecutive hour on the third consecutive day. It’s now or never…
This starts quite meh and the kind of over-produced keyboardy nonsense that was my grounds for divorce, but, there are some diamonds here. Opener ‘Zero’ is okay but could do without the weird scaly vocal and whatever noise that was which I mistook for the neighbours pressure washer, and the title track is everything I’ve grown to be repelled by. Same for ‘Beautiful Beaches’.
But, from ‘Hush’ onwards, which could easily slot into Whiplash, there are spots of James brilliance. ‘Miss America’ is the best they’ve done since Hey Ma, and closer ‘XYST’ is their best since ‘Miss America’.
Tim Booth is 61 and is still writhing around global stages, and, importantly, is still an extremely smart writer. He is political, provocative, poetic and personable in his lyrics, and possibly the only person North of the American Deep South who can make you dance along to the words Ku Klux Klan. I don’t love all of his writing here, but the bits I really like, I *really* like.
“Miss America says live the dream
So long as you’re born white
Killed the natives and jailed the slaves
Moved more to the right”
“May God bless you
And your golden sons
May God bless you
And your love of guns
May God bless you
And your passion for freedom
Sold to the man with the tan”
You’re unlikely to see me dust off the tour t-shirts and travel further than 10 miles to see them again, unless it’s a Seven anniversary gig (and not one that lobs new stuff into a setlist) but, line my eyes and call me pretty, this is alright. Ish.
Words by Lisa Whiteman