The Festival experience with... James

Henry Lewis spoke to Jim Glennie about constant creativity, performing at Glastonbury and the band's Hacienda roots.

Henry Lewis

Last updated: 25th Jul 2017.
Originally published: 20th Jul 2017

Image: James (credit) 

James have been a cornerstone of not just Manchester's, but the UK's indie scene for over three decades now. Beginning in the early '80s, the band earned a local following in their native Manchester, and impressed as a fierce live act, eventually supporting The Smiths on their Meat Is Murder tour. 

With the help of Factory Records, and such popularity in their home city, James blitzed the 90s with a string of big singles including 'Come Home', 'Sit Down' and 'Laid', all the while cementing their place in indie folklore. Huge shows at the GMEX, and a 30,000 capacity blow out at Alton Towers, further fuelled their popularity as they went from strength to strength.

Fractious relationships within the band didn't help however, and once they reached the end of the record contract, the group finished in 2001, with lead singer Tim Booth looking to explore further musical directions. The 2002 live album Getting Away With it...Live documented the final shows the band were to do, recorded the previous winter, and after nine studio releases; James split.

Until six years later, when Booth rejoined and the spark was reignited. Countless releases have followed, including 2016's Girl At The End Of The World (their 14th album) and the band seem as focused as ever when it comes to delivering new music as often as possible.

Ahead of a huge show at Hope and Glory Festival in Liverpool, which takes between Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th August, we spoke to James bassist Jim Glennie.

Hi Jim, how are you? Are you busy as a band at the moment?

Pretty busy, there's three of us from the band, me, Saul and Mark, and we're in a house in Derbyshire. We're writing songs in a home studio. it's what we've been doing in between festival shows this summer, we're getting new songs ready for the next record. We're hoping, fingers crossed, to go in and start recording the album proper in September for six weeks, and then we should be releasing in March or April next year - that's the plan anyway.

It's going really well, we've got a lot to do but everything sounds great. We just doing the UK festivals this year, because if you do a foreign festival it basically means you lose three days. The day of getting there before the show, the day of the show and the day coming home. The UK ones, you can basically do them in the day, so what we're doing is the festival then getting into the studio or somewhere like this to work on the songs together to get as much done as we can while everyone is kind of together, at least in the same country.

When we get together, we tend to concentrate on the work that we do. It's fairly intense but we like it like that, it means you're focused, not messing about and not wasting time. It's a great way of recording but then when you get a festival it's a nice little break and it pulls you out of being in the studio all the time. 

It'll be a busy year next year. There'll be an album release, then a tour in spring, then festival appearances, playing tracks from the record, then another tour later on. It's been a busy year this year but more behind the scenes really. 

The way we write is great though. We just start jamming, and then record the whole thing. You'll get a short one of about five minutes long up to a long one of 45/50 minutes long. It'll be a massive long piece of music that we will have had a great time doing, musically you just go on a journey , it's crazy. You end up in the weirdest areas, like really mad, crazy , strange music but it's really, really good fun.

It's been about ten years since Tim came back into the band, how did that affect you all?

We just split really and everything just went on the back burner for six years and I think we needed it. At the time it's fairly disastrous but in the end it was a good thing for us. We came back as very different people. A lot of the band members had kids during that period. A lot of people say you're a kid until you've had kids. Im not sure that's true, but I think it shifted something.

We had a new appreciation for what we'd achieved and how we'd messed it up in the past. We're really lucky, we've got a great job and it should be really enjoyable, it should be fun. We spoiled that a lot of times in the past down to relationships in the band and that's so stupid and it seems slightly ungrateful.

I saw you at Glastonbury last year, opening up after a long delay, and also with the UK referendum result arriving in, how was that experience for you as a band?

Yeah it was odd, you're right. To go on in the daylight, to what felt like a slightly depressed crowd really, but you just have to get on with it. You have told do the best you can, get your head down, and bang out some tunes and hopefully lift people and start off a great weekend.

Even through the recession people went to gigs and festivals because people say "I need this, I need a break, I need an escape, I need to forget all the nonsense that's going on in my life, all the hassle, I just need to enjoy myself."

You just throw yourself into the music, have a good time and sing along and put your worries aside.

You don't necessarily always play to people who know your songs so you have to take that into account, normally people can be pretty blasted by the time you get on in all sorts of respects, through what they consume or just too much music. Fortunately, at Glastonbury we were the first band on so it was like "great , music, fantastic - here we go."

How does it make you feel when you see your contemporaries alongside you on festival bills, decades after you all started?

I think things have changed a bit. What's considered the normal shelf life of a band doesn't really exist any more and that's pretty good really. I think it's important that bands keep creating. Every band is different, I know that, every band has a different way of picking their way through the music industry and that's up to them.

For us its always been about continuing to make great music. It's the cornerstone of why we exist. We're creative beings basically, authors write books, painters paint paintings and we write songs. Yes we have ones we can play in front of people, but you need new stuff coming through, that's where all the excitement is.

I find the idea of trundling through a back catalogue quite depressing really. I think the industry has been pretty agist in the past really and it's sort of like "you've reached your thirties now, see you" and it's a bit like, "it's just music" if people do like the music or they don't, what does it matter what someone looks like or how old they are? You use your ears.

What was your first festival as a band?

I remember playing Glastonbury in '85, the first Glastonbury we did and it was like horrendously muddy, every time we've been there it's been horrendously muddy, I don't remember it not being like that. The first one we had this caravanette that we used to travel around in and sort of sleep in and do gigs and everything but we got stuck in the mud and had to get a tractor to tow us out, there's photos of our first Glastonbury and I'm wearing wellies because it was that bad.

I can't really remember much about it other than it was terrifying because it was such a good gig for us. All those gigs back then we were pretty terrified to be honest, but we've always enjoyed that because you sort of enjoy the fear in a weird, masochistic way.

At Hope and Glory festival in Liverpool there's also the Hacienda Classical performance, have you seen that before?

The first gig we ever did as James was at the Hacienda, there's a plaque on the wall, a sort of heritage thing. They had an idea to get bands and stick plaques on the wall of the building that they played their first gig and the first one we played as James was there. We played gigs before with different stupid names, but when we actually called the band James that was our first gig. There was a plaque, although someone might have nicked it, wouldn't surprise me in Manchester.

I haven't heard it yet no, but I think Tim is getting involved with that too, I think he's doing a tune. I don't think we're supposed to tell anybody that but I don't know. The Hacienda and also Factory played a massive part in James' career, it was abolsutley amazing to us, so supportive with Tony Wilson and Rob Gretton doing so much to help us in the early days.

We were a total pain in the arse back then, an absolute nightmare. They were so lovely and understanding and forgiving and just wonderful. We thought they were big bad guys form the record company, oh how little we knew back then. That was literally so far from the truth. We didn't trust anyone, we thought they were all out to ruin your career and destroy your songs and make you sell out. 

James play at Hope and Glory festival in Liverpool, find Hope and Glory tickets below. 

Tickets are no longer available for this event

Festivals 2018