Hero Worshipping a Hero Worshipper: An Interview with James
It was once said by some music journalist a while ago that its tough having heroes, it’s the hardest thing in the world, it’s harder than being a hero. But I’m not all too sure about that. The years of gambling and discipline it takes to consistently make music that doesn’t make your audience want to stab you with pitchforks and burn you at the stake is almost not worth the fame and fortune (almost). But here James are, nearly 40 years later, standing as heroes in the face of the sands of time. This isn’t to say that I hold James, seminal manc eclectics, in such high office as personal heroes to me, I haven’t even been offered my first dose of a covid vaccine so the idea that I’m old enough to have experience what James have been offering first hand is long gone. That being said they have served me as more of an undying constant in my life. Whether its hearing Laid in a couple of the American Pie films or just now realising that they were part of the soundtrack for Heat (I know right, what the fuck?) if you’re British, James have been there with you. So, I feel it’s only fair to give James a true heroes introuction by taking you through their past, present and future with a little help from song writer and bassist Jim Glennie.
It would be the act of a fool not to look at the life of James on the road when delving into their past. Legendarily having received support from Stone Roses, Coldplay, Nirvana, Radiohead… the list goes on. “We should be talent scouts to be honest. Every support band we’ve ever had has gone on to be bigger than us.” But with such a long list of bands that have played with them, who stands out as the defining tour jesters? “The (Happy) Mondays were always hilarious. It was story after story after story with them. Even before we started our tour with them, they lost Shaun on the way to the first gig, they crashed the van on the way to the first gig, then they went to the wrong venue… they turned up where Simply Red were playing. By the time they actually turned up they had missed their slot so they were all having a go at each other trying to work out whose fault it was while we were walking on stage. And that was the first gig! Every day it was like ‘what’s happened today, what’s happened today’ God knows what they’re like now, you’d like to think they’ve calmed down a little bit but it wouldn’t surprise me if they haven’t.”
Being a support band for James may seem like an instant contract with a major label but they have also had their joy with supporting a legendary artist on tour. “Probably the best tour we’ve ever done is when we were supporting Neil Young in the States during his Harvest Moon tour. He was playing completely acoustically, no band, just him and he said to us ‘if you can play acoustically, you can come and support me’ so we’re all like ‘Yeah we can play acoustically!’ meanwhile we’ve never actually played acoustically. We had hardly any gear, Dave our drummer is just sort of stood up behind a floor tom Infront of 30,000 people in Colorado. We were all there thinking ‘what the hell are we doing?!’ The whole tour was incredible. I think that’s probably the most rewarding and enjoyable tour we’ve ever done even though we were the support band.”
Ultimately though when the spotlight is on James there could only be one show that stood out as the pinnacle of their live shows. “For me personally, when we came back after being split up in 2007 in the Manchester Arena, and we were sitting back stage waiting to go out infront of 16,000 mancs, the lights go down and you hear this big cheer go out. It was really emotional. The hard part was going on and playing the gig, to be honest with you we were all on the verge of tears. And then walking out and getting this roar like you’ve just scored at Wembley. Unbelievable. Then you realise that a band is a bit like a football team. Great, yeah, you’re a part of it but ultimately it belongs to them, it belongs to the people that are there. Manchester’s always special, hometowns always are.”
Now for the present. Talking to anyone over Zoom might not be the greatest way to communicate but I had to make do when talking to Glennie. That being said it still offers a window into where they are at that a phone call will never be able to do. In this case I have to admit that I spent the first twenty minutes of the interview quietly judging the fact that hung up behind him seemed to be portraits of noblemen from hundreds of years ago. On one hand, who the fuck am I to judge the interior design of a legendary bassist, on the other hand I felt it would’ve seemed slightly overkill in Buckingham palace. Thankfully there was an explanation beyond a rock stars ego mania. “Sorry you don’t know where I am do you? It looks like I’m in a museum or something. I’m not at home let’s put it that way, this is not the decor of my home. We’re in a big stately house rehearsing for the next two weeks. You must have been sitting there thinking ‘where the fuck is he?’ Yeah, I don’t live in a palatial manner like this unfortunately. We don’t normally come to places like this, we normally go to John Henrys in London which is a shithole, but this is lovely.”
Despite so long together it goes without saying that the last 18 months for the band have been unprecedented to say the least. “The last gig we played was in September 2019 so when we play our next show it’ll be almost two years which is… mad. Fortunately, we had done all the writing for this album before covid because we have to do that part together. Because we had done that though it allowed us to go off and add to the tracks remotely. I couldn’t be more pleased with the record.”
After so long together it could have even felt like a breath of fresh air to be forced to work in such a different way. Even so, the isolation of the last year must surely have lead the well running dry. “I think that’s one of the advantages of being in a band because even if you’re feeling a bit rubbish one day someone else will be sending you things and lifting you up. I think as long as you get on well there’s strength in unity when you’re in a band. You pull each other through. If someone’s in a bad space for whatever reason, and there’s been plenty of reasons for that over the last 18 months, there’s other people there that can drive things forward still.”
It would be the act of an idiot, or maybe just a jacked-up music writer, to try and guess where James are heading. Of course, in the short term there’s the album, tours and I’m sure plenty more interviews with out-of-their-depth chancers but with a band that’s been a mainstay in the UK’s music scene for so many decades it seems futile to try and predict the next direction James are going to travel. It’s better to just sit back and accept the fact that although some music journalist a while ago may have been right when he said that, Hero worshippers (fans) have to put up with hero slippage and the constant fear of humiliating personal compromise, fans still choose to partake in this Hero worship because bands like James have made it worth it for almost 40 years.