I’ve spoken about my love/loss relationship with James several times through Picky Bastards. The band I loved from the age of 12, the band I travelled the length and breadth of the country to see on every tour, my first God-awful daisy tattoo…. the band I fell out of love with years ago, after one too many extended, and too indulgent, ‘Sometimes’ singalongs.
I surprised myself with how quickly I jumped on tickets for this show when it was announced last year. A 30th anniversary reboot of the infamous Alton Towers (Alton Showers) gig in 1992, which even the combination of a very cross John Lydon, who supported with PiL, and torrential downpours couldn’t dampen. I vividly remember taping, with an actual tape, the live broadcast on Radio 1, reeling from it being an apparent non-starter that 12 year old me wasn’t allowed to go. But this one had to be seen, it being my proper goodbye to James. That setlist was/is divine stuff, largely spanning the Seven and Goldmother albums, with some shouts from Stutter, Stripmine, the Village Fire EP and, because it’s James and they can, some obscure what would be B-Sides and future album tracks.
Castelfield Bowl is an outdoor, exposed arena in to the south of the city centre, overlooked by a train track on one side and overpriced apartments on the other. If it rains like the mother show in ’92, we are fucked, and as we know, it rains in Manchester 360 days of the year. We arrive in time to see the final support act, The Snuts, and for me to grab an extortionately priced tepid cider. Can’t say much about The Snuts other than the sound of their name making my teeth itch and extended Wet Leg’s offer of career coaching/CV writing skills to them. It won’t last, boys.
The arena is fast filling up with a sea of daisy t-shirts, bucket hats and Adidas Gazelles and it feels comfortably familiar. Like the warmth of the forthcoming pint pots of Amstell about to be flung into the crowd. The sun is blazing, there will be no rain tonight, and the stage backdrop switches to a burning, seven petal daisy as James take to the stage and kick us off with the glorious ‘Johnny Yen’.
The temporarily berserk crowd then go a bit flat around by us, left of stage, of the next eight songs with the exception of my favourite James song, ‘Seven’. The stunning ‘America’, ‘Stripmining’, ‘Heavens’, ‘God Only Knows’, ‘Live A Love Of Life’, pretty much lost on people who defy the cost of living crisis by paying £60 to go to a gig for a chat with their mates. The sound isn’t the best where we are, not sure if it’s the width of the arena which is effecting it or not, as feedback from people towards the centre indicates otherwise, but we attempt to move a bit further out. The place erupts to ‘Say Something’, before deadening once again whilst we do the gorgeous ‘Maria’s Party’ and ‘Next Lover’.
Whilst the other half went to get me a “not Amstell please”, James belt out ‘Goldmother’ with the most passion I’ve ever felt from them. I didn’t catch the full introduction from Tim, but he referenced the recent, horrifyingly bleak and backwards overturning of abortion laws in the US. That song meant so much in that context, and the shouts of “shut up” firmly directed to the old white men across the pond.
Straight into ‘How Was It For You’ and ‘Born of Frustration’, the home town crowd is once again absolutely bouncing. The odd few are ricocheting because they don’t have the booze skills they had 30 years ago at Alton Towers, but this is a familiar level of James gig crowd mayhem.
‘Stutter’ is lost on a lot of the crowd around us but they’re soon buoyed by a jubilant ‘Come Home’. After a few minutes and maybe a quick wee, the nine-strong band are back to belt out the perfect encore threesome of ‘Ring the Bells’, ‘Sit Down’ and the ever-magnificent ‘Sound’. And we are done.
Or are we? Cheeky bastards are going to carry on past curfew, a habit that in spite of his being sixty fucking two (which I’ll get back to in a bit), Tim Booth hasn’t grown out of. We get ‘Laid’, we get ‘Waltzing Along’ (bleugh), we get ‘Beautiful Beaches’. The inclusion of A New Song in what was a nostalgia set has divided James fans on social media. But, and I adore many of them, the positioning of a daisy on a wine glass can divide James fans, the nutty sods. I wasn’t enamoured by that song when I reviewed All The Colours of You last year, I felt it was weak, but the 8500-strong crowd sang it back, danced and waved arms aloft to it with such passion, I might have been wrong. I probably wasn’t, they are, but I *might* have gone hard. Any band with a 40 year back catalogue that still gets a crowd going when they do The New Stuff deserves my kudos.
Before they really do go for the night, ‘Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)’ roars through the arena and the ones who jeffed off early will be cursing doing so. Nothing to do with Alton Towers, I love seeing and hearing ‘Pleased To Meet You’, a grossly underrated later record, pulled into the setlist. And now we are done.
As we meander and crunch our way out over discarded cans and plastic pint pots, inhaling seas of Kipling’s Fog as we go (fruit flavour vape fumes), I bump into a few of the old guard fans who are teasing me for being at a James gig, having vociferously declared my exit some years ago. There is zero denying this was glorious trip down an equally glorious memory lane, and the band are as together, as supremely talented and as crowd stirring as they ever were. Tim Booth is 62, the man has twenty years on me, and he doesn’t drop tempo on any one of his five rhythms. Unbelievable.
Will I travel far and wide for James shows again? Highly unlikely. And, if this is the end for me and James, I feel we’ve left on good terms.
Words by Lisa Whiteman