Live review: James at Newcastle City Hall
More often than not, more has been more for the Tim Booth-fronted band and that’s been ever more the case as the years have gone by, an insistence that size matters extending even to the singer’s outsized woolly hat and baggiest of baggy trousers.
Since starting out in Manchester as a quartet in 1982, initially going by other names including Model Team International and Volume Distortion before sticking with James, named after bassist Jim Glennie, they’ve continued to expand – except from 2001 to 2007, having gone their separate ways for those six years – and now boast a nine-strong settled line-up.
Being on the brink of double figures membership-wise isn’t always enough for a band apparently inspired by Oscar Wilde’s maxim that nothing succeeds like excess, however, so, not content with turning the volume up to 11 like Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel, Booth, Glennie and bandmates Saul Davies, Adrian Oxaal, David Baynton-Power, Mark Hunter, Andy Diagram, Chloe Alper and Deborah Knox-Hewson have instead expanded their current touring line-up fourfold or thereabouts by adding an orchestra and choir.
Those new recruits are, respectively, Orca22, conducted by Joe Duddell, and Manchester Inspirational Voices.
This is the second time they’ve supersized, the first being for a 2011 tour with Warwickshire’s Orchestra of the Swan and the Manchester Consort Choir, and their latest exercise in excess is every bit as much of a success as their first and that’s no mean feat, it must be said.
James’s current collaboration – to mark the 40th anniversary of their formation, albeit a year late – is also about to yield a double album comprising one new song, Love Make a Fool, and 19 reinterpretations of back-catalogue tracks such as Sometimes, Tomorrow, She’s a Star and Sit Down recorded at Blueprint Studios in Manchester last year.
Titled Be Opened By the Wonderful – referencing a line in their 1997 single Waltzing Along, a No 23 hit not actually featured on the new LP, their 17th – it’s due out on Friday, June 9.
Their James Lasted tour, name-checking late German composer and big band conductor James Last, to promote their new album called in at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall on Saturday and Glasgow’s Scottish Event Campus Armadillo on Monday prior to a date not too far south of the border at Newcastle’s 02 City Hall last night, May 2, and that’s where we caught up with them.
It was a game of two halves, separated by a half-hour interval, but their two sets, one an hour-long and the other a bit longer, were much of a muchness, in a good way.
Kicking off with Dust Motes, a track from 2010 mini-album The Morning After, the 20-plus songs that followed were a succession of highlights taking in hits such as Sit Down, Say Something, Tomorrow and Sometimes as well as long-forgotten oldies Medieval and Riders, from their 1988 LP Strip-Mine, and newer tracks including their current single and the title track of their last album, 2021’s All the Colours of You.
Along the way, there were singalongs, not always blessed with 100% recall on the capacity crowd’s part of the words involved, and walkabouts by Booth, 63, and trumpeter Diagram, as well as occasional outbreaks of the former’s trademark idiosyncratic dance moves very much constrained by the multitudes occupying the Northumberland Road venue’s stage – in short, pretty much all you could wish for from a James gig or, befitting the band in question, more.