JAMES’S “sweet 16th” studio album has arrived, topical and timely, poignant and punchy, arty and anthemic, as their 40th year looms.
Climate change (Beautiful Beaches), Trump’s tinderbox America (Miss America) and last April’s Covid death of frontman Tim Booth’s father-in-law (Recover) all colour All The Colours Of You, the Manchester band’s first release for their new label, Virgin Music.
That “Manchester” tag is now more historic than present day, Clifford-born Booth, 61, having long moved to the United States, and onwards to Costa Rica, Central America, on December 26 last year with his family, in response to the “weekly fires” ravaging their Topanga Canyon neighbourhood.
“California’s becoming ecologicaly unsustainable,” he posted on Twitter shortly afterwards, adding a second reason: “I anticipate a wave of white racist terrorism”.
Fellow founder Jim Glennie, 57, is settled in the Scottish Highlands. He and Booth and the band came together for the recording sessions on three separate occasions, but the production was done remotely, under pandemic restrictions.
“Basically, because of Covid, there was nothing we could do about that situation, though fortunately we’d written the songs, four of us starting the first big session in July 2018,” said Jim, speaking in early May, when James gathered once more, this time at the resplendent Broughton Hall, near Skipton, to rehearse and promote the new album.
“We did some more song-writing at Sheffield Yellow Arch Studios in April 2019 and a third session at Gairloch in the Highlands in August, and those sessions gave us everything we needed in terms of demos.”
When the band could not gather for formal recording sessions, serendipity played its hands when Booth gave an impromptu lift and his two neighbourly passengers turned out to be the wife and daughter of Jacknife Lee, Grammy Award-winning producer for U2, REM and Taylor Swift no less. A new partnership of the virtual variety was born, prompting Booth to call the album’s arrival a “miraculous conception”, given “all the s**t that went down in 2020”.
“Jacknife worked remotely from his studio, liaising with me and Tim, Tim working more closely with him as they were in the same valley,” said Jim, recalling how they deconstructed, reimagined and reassembled the demos. “Amazingly, we’ve come out with an album that we’re incredibly happy with, when we could have had disastrous results.
“It’s very dancy, very uplifting, very poetic, though there are dark lyrics about Covid and American politics, but we were aware of the need for lightness, and Jacknife has added some fun and humour within the songs. The last thing you want at this time is something that’s depressing and heavy.”
All The Colours Of You stretches the ever-experimental James soundscape to take in psychedelia, post-rock and rave in “another big jump forward for us on the back of the last three albums,” as Booth put it.
“Jacknife has pushed us and the songs somewhere new and it’s very exciting,” said Jim. “After all these years, we are still challenging ourselves and our fans, with each record re-setting our perimeters, but with pride in what we’ve done before.
“I think there are a few reasons for that. We’ve always been a band with a broad spectrum of what we can be, from folk music to hardcore dance and anything in between, so we don’t have a sound that we’re boxed in by.
“We’re always conscious of that, but also we don’t feel we have to prove anything, other than reacting to what we did before, pushing it further or pushing it away from that, driving towards an unknown destination. It is those strides, that push, that still makes you feel relevant and that you still have the right to be here.”
Since re-uniting in 2007 after a six-year hiatus, James have, if anything, become an even more popular live act. So much so, tickets have sold faster than ever for their seven-date autumn travels, when notorious Manchester reprobates Happy Mondays will join them on the road for the first time since 1988, kicking off at Leeds First Direct Arena on November 25.
“Hopefully, this time they won’t steal our rider or try and spike my drink,” said Booth, when announcing the double bill, for which remaining tickets are on sale at wearejames.com/live.
Before then, James will head to the East Coast to complete a hattrick of Scarborough Open Air Theatre appearances on September 9, after shows there on May 22 2015 and August 18 2018.
“We always have a great night there – even back in the days when you had to cross the old moat to get to the audience!” said Jim. “We’re looking forward to another very special night on the Yorkshire coast.”
James last played a gig in September 2019 in Porto. “It’s painful to think it was that long ago,” said Jim, whose band’s headline show at Deer Shed 11 at Baldersby Park, Topcliffe, was called off in both 2020 and now for this summer.
The reception will be louder than ever when they return at last. “I’m amazed that we’re still able to put on tours where there seems to be an exponential growth each time, with new people coming,” said Jim.
“That’s because we get a lot of play on BBC 6 Music, drawing 18-year-olds to the shows who don’t know the litany of hits.
“It’s a really exciting prospect to have the chance to play again. We’ve had a few false starts and cancellations, so it’s been difficult to get fully invested in it, because it could always change again, but it’s the essence of what we do, playing live, to show off the new album, trying out the new songs, and we need to get to that point again as musicians.”
The James anthems, from Sit Down to Born Of Frustration, Sometimes to She’s A Star, remain the driving force. “People like a sing-along, and those songs are the connection, the glue, that turn the night into being like a football crowd, but we take them on quite a weird ride to get to the big last blast, always leaving them sweaty, with a big smile, at the finish,” said Jim.
All The Colours Of You will be interwoven into the set list, and already James have been taking the songs to air while in residence at Broughton Hall. “We’ve come here not just to rehearse, but it was more that we needed to do other things, like doing radio sessions from here, and a couple of TV appearances that we have to film here,” said Jim, as this early May phone interview drew to a close.
“We’ve locked ourselves in a bubble, being Covid-tested before we arrived, so that we could do all the usual things we do to promote an album, but from one place. It’s a busy two weeks and you have to make the most of it.”
The band had done a session for Jo Whiley’s BBC Radio 2 a few weeks earlier. “That was done separately, remotely, before Tim came over and went into quarantine, so he did the interview for that one from America,” said Jim.
Such have been the changes rendered on the music industry, but not everything changes. Another year, another James album, that delivers affecting songs for now, especially Beautiful Beaches and Recover.
James play Scarborough Open Air Theatre on September 9. Tickets are available at scarboroughopenairtheatre.com.