With James appearing at the Echo Arena this week, Getintothis’ Craig MacDonald chatted to multi-instrumentalist Saul Davies about their latest album, Manchester and the future of British music.
As Winter takes its grip, this week sees one of the years most anticipated shows take place with James set to play the Echo Arena together with special guests The Charlatans.
Following the release of their fourteenth album Girl at the End of the World earlier this year, the group are celebrating its monumental success with a special one off show down at the docklands venue, with the record only being held off the summit of the charts by Adele.
Having originally formed in Whalley Range over thirty years ago in the pre Madchester days, the group supported The Fall before catching the eye of Tony Wilson at Factory Records. With their first two EPs being released through the iconic label, they joined The Smiths on tour before securing a deal for their first album Stutter with Sire Records.
Led by the vitalic Tim Booth and cementing their reputation as a thrilling live band, James expanded their lineup and their sound to make them an altogether different proposition from those coming to light in the bustling Madchester scene.
Fast forward some thirty years later, their authenticity has seen them ride several highs and lows over their near four decade career, while still maintaining an originality that endears them to thousands some twenty five million album sales later.
Ahead of their date at the Echo Arena, we caught up with their multi instrumentalist Saul Davies to talk about their latest offering, their past and what the future holds for the British music scene.
Getintothis: So you’re set to play the Echo Arena next week in a double header with The Charlatans. How did that even come about?
Saul Davies: ” Well it is our show and they are supporting us, which is great, but it came about because we share an agent who said would we be up for playing a gig with The Charlatans? We’ve played festivals together but never a gig, so why not? It makes sense really. There’s eleven thousand people coming, which is great, and they’ve have thought, I like James, I like The Charlatans, fuck it lets go”
“I think it’s quite timely too because they’ve released a really good record and we have too, so it seems a good time to do it.”
Getintothis: The reaction to Girl at the End of the World has been phenomenal, with it being highest charting album since Millionaires. The way that you wrote the album has seen more of you involved with writing too?
SD: “To some extent yes. We’ve always pretty much written our songs by getting in a room together and on La Petit Mort and Girl at the End of the World, four or five of us were involved. Subsequently, four of us have started writing our next album, so this won’t be our last album.”
“We’re on the same label as The Charlatans and we’ve got a two album deal and we see no reason why not to honour it.”
Getintothis: Obviously Tim had some tragic events that influenced heavily on your previous album, La Petit Mort. But what influences played on this album?
SD: “Well, Girl at the End of the World is probably a more hopeful record in some way. Regret too, we all feel regret. We all feel senses of regret, but the idea of a Girl at the End of the World is also a little empty as well. Its a tough question to answer, because I think it’s always good to not know what a song is about and that we think about it in that moment of time“.
“I don’t want to sound too arty farty about it but, it’s also genuinely about how people respond to it. That’s certainly how I feel about it at the moment. It about how people connect. It’s quite a torturous thing somebody making something, whether it’s art, a play or music, and then someone coming along and saying fuck me I like that. Its pretty mad really“.
“For a band Iike James, you know this record that we’ve started writing is our fifteenth, so we’re starting to leave behind a catalogue as such.”
Getintothis: Its quite a legacy that you’ve got now.
SD: “Well it starts to put us in quite interesting territory really. Suddenly a band like James who’ve been ignored, despised, vilified, loved, adored, you know almost godlike status to some, we’ve had some real highs and lows“.
“I mean what happens when we get to forty years? Do we get something? Does the Queen come round? I mean John Lennon got an airport, maybe we could get a corner shop named after us or something, that would be cool wouldn’t it?”
Getintothis: You joined the lads in 1989, when you were still very much outsiders in the Manchester scene. Did you ever think James would end up the way it isn’t today?
SD: “No, but what we did know was that we were oddities. I mean, we weren’t part of the Madchester scene, although some amazing tunes came out of it, music in Manchester in the late 80’s early 90’s was far more complicated then it appeared, if you came from somewhere else“.
“You were brought into The Roses, The Mondays and all that, but we weren’t part of that. We were more part of a wilful side musically. A Certain Ratio, The Railway Children, The Carpets“.
“You know and because the The Roses, did what they did, when they did, it all became about Manchester, and it all happened for The Hacienda and all that, but for bands like us and The Fall, we needed to shy away from that“.
“I mean The Smiths weren’t part of it either. It was right at the time to say we weren’t part of that, I guess when we released Come Home, people did try to make us part of it. It’s quite funny ‘cos last year BBC 6 Music listeners voted Come Home the best Manchester song of all time. It’s wrong because Love Will Tear Us Apart is and I think it’s a crime, but we still got voted it“.
“We were right to say it because it allowed us to make more interesting music, not get boxed in, which is what happened to The Roses. Others got away with it by saying fuck it, be we weren’t like that, we were a bit too vegetarian“.
Getintothis: You touched on it there when you played small venues when you started out. What’s your take on the way small venues are heading now and closing?
“They’re shite, you can’t make money out of them! No, obviously there’s a problem. It kind of echoes other things going on out their with big supermarkets and independents. It’s very expensive to run little venues now“.
“The only real way a small venue can survive is selling booze at inflated prices. All the legislation around insurance, health and safety that brings a lot of cost. A lot of punters may think, these guys must be making a fortune when really they are only making a small amount because of alcohol sales“.
“Its a shame really, because I don’t believe in making people buy booze to listen to music and I don’t know what we do about that. I mean Britain has the money to spend on what it wants doesn’t it? I mean if we have the money for Trident, we certainly have the money to keep some arts venues open“.
“But we choose not to spend the money. I don’t know what that leads to but it will lead to fewer bands playing. I know people like Steve Lamacq are highlighting the importance of small venues, actually our bass player Jimmy does that to some extent. It’s part of the lifeblood of music“.
“The music industry is the fourth biggest exporter Britain has got, and the government and big labels are the ones that benefit the most from it. They don’t put anything back into support small venues. They all have a big obligation to do that“.
“If you’re a music fan, and go and see a band and then three and four years later say I remember them starting out. There’s no better feeling“.
Getintothis: Well that leads nicely to out final question. Are there any new bands you like the sound of?
SD: “No they’re all shite! No, I really like Slow Readers Club. They’re supporting us in Sheffield and Wolverhampton but cos of time we couldn’t fit them on the Liverpool bill. Dark dark pop. I love all that“.
- James play the Echo Arena on Saturday December 10 with support from The Charlatans.