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In conversation with James

James open up to Epigram ahead of their retrospective record charting forty years as a band. Read on for all things Morissey, Madchester and Brian Eno.

By Rosie Smith, Third Year Anthropology

At this point, James needs no introduction. As one of the bands at the forefront of the ‘Madchester’ movement in the nineties, they’ve sold out iconic venues with songs like 'Laid' and 'Sit Down'. They’ve worked with legendary producers like Brian Eno and played shows all around the world.

They’re in their fourth decade of being a band, and they’re showing no sign of slowing down – with a new album coming out later this year, and a tour of the UK starting in late-April. Before they head off, though, the band’s guitarist, Saul Davies, spoke to Epigram about James’ fourth decade as a band, their upcoming tour and album, and doing crosswords with Morrissey – naturally.

Be Opened By the Wonderful Album Cover | Ian Cheek Press

James was formed in 1982 in Manchester by then-guitarist Paul Gilbertson and bassist Jim Glennie. They went through a string of different iterations of the band before meeting Tim Booth at a student night and making him their lead singer, and they went through another string of iterations after the fact, too, before finally settling on the name James - after Jim Glennie -, firmly establishing themselves as an excellent live act.

2022, then, saw the band turn forty. According to Davies, the milestone is a testament to their longevity. The guitarist said that while there is a "tinge of sadness" behind the milestone, seeing as it’s concrete evidence of the passing of time, it’s also concrete evidence that the band has been able to "make a living out of something they love doing". Really, it’s impressive; not many bands stay together for such a long time without some form of spectacular break-up - but Saul credits their lengthy tenure to the fact that the band "just wants to make noise together".

Saul joined the band in 1989, right at the start of the Madchester movement, after former-guitarist Larry Gott saw him playing at an amateur blues night. "I didn’t think I wanted to be in a band," recalled Saul, "and then ten days later I found myself on tour." It clearly worked out for the best, though, because he also noted that, while playing one of his first shows with James, he noticed New Order (as in Blue Monday - yes, that New Order) in the crowd. Because, you know - Madchester. Davies also recalled playing several shows and seeing Morrissey standing at the side of the stage, and, subsequently, helping him with his crossword backstage - because, again, Madchester.

Around the same time, the band released the album Gold Mother which includes the track 'Come Home' - sometimes regarded as the best track to come out of Manchester (although Saul disagrees - he reckons it’s 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' by Joy Division). The success of this album meant that the band was able to sell out Manchester’s G-Mex two nights in a row and set the stage for James to become a worldwide success. This, of course, happened a few short years later, when the band managed to break America with their album Laid.

The album’s titular track, in particular, was extremely big on college radio stations in the USA and prompted the band to go on a tour of the States throughout the mid-nineties - which, according to Davies, was exciting. "It felt like we were doing something generations before us had done," he said. He also noted that a high point of touring the States, back then, was playing at the twenty-fifth anniversary of Woodstock in 1994, when they were able to play to 250,000 people. Breaking America is something every band must do in their careers, and James certainly managed to do that.

Notably, the band worked with the iconic producer Brian Eno (who has produced for bands like Talking Heads and U2) on Laid, as well as their ‘experimental’ album, Wah Wah. Since then, Eno has had a hand in the majority of James’ records, according to Davies. "He’s very attracted to the immediacy of our band, I think - we just turn up, plug in, and make a huge noise", said Davies.

James | Lewis Knaggs

The band’s new album is titled Be Opened by The Wonderful, and is set to be released in June of this year. It’s a collection of their older songs, re-recorded with a full orchestra and a choir.

According to Davies, the band worked on a similar project almost twelve years ago but never recorded it. Now fans will be able to hear their favourite songs re-imagined; the guitarist also said that the album is not just their old hits re-packaged - as that would be "like eating cold soup" in his words. No, the new album is an excellent display of the band’s talent and their musical capability. It also features a brand-new track, titled 'Love Make a Fool' - which was created by the band getting together, and, as Davies said, just making noise.

The album is also a chance for James’ lesser-known work to gain some recognition, and for the band to add to their existing work and to their legacy, according to Davies.

Featured Image: Elly Lucas

James headline Bristol Sounds on June 23rd.