Gig preview: James at First Direct Arena, Leeds

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In the early 1990s the music scene in Britain was littered with Britpop and alternative rock bands. Mancunian group James was one of those bands.

Fronted by the enigmatic and extroverted Tim Booth, they have released 12 studio albums since their formation in 1982. Their hit songs include Come Home, She’s a Star and Sit Down.

Their new album, La Petite Mort, is themed largely around the subject of death and mortality. Booth explains that this was a result of events around the time it was recorded.

“I was writing the lyrics at the time when my mum passed, and my best friend passed about five months later. I think it just meant that that was really hot in my psyche.

“I don’t choose to write about anything, it’s just what needs expressing and evolving, so the album ended up with that theme.”

With such heavy subject matter to work with, one could be forgiven for thinking that the writing and recording process for La Petite Mort was an arduous task. Surprisingly, Booth, 54, says that this was not the case.

“Not in terms of creativity, it was great. We just reverted back to five of us improvising, and it was joyful.

“Even writing the lyrics – they came really quickly and effortlessly. The ones that were most about death came quickly and effortlessly, some of them which weren’t were a bit harder.

“The difficult bit came in recording. I got, surprisingly, incredibly emotional every time I tried to sing them. Even the first four months of gigs, trying to play them live, I just couldn’t finish the song.

“But the writing was fine”, he laughs. “It was just the bits that came later were hard.”

Booth is a native Yorkshireman, having been born in Bradford. It has been well documented that he was an avid fan of Leeds United in his younger days. He has been living in California for the past few years, but is he still a fan of the Whites?

“I am, but I’m easily disheartened, so I’m a bit down, really. The players seem to be there, the manager seems to be there. Whether the chairman will allow the manager to stay in place is the bit where you can’t really invest emotionally. I am a Leeds United fan who is somewhat depressed!” he laughs. “I’m a Leeds United fan who is trying to protect himself at the moment, unsuccessfully.”

James are currently on tour to promote their new record, and they will be calling at Leeds First Direct Arena on Sunday.

Working their way up from the pubs and clubs into the arenas and large theatres was a long journey for them.

Surely after years of paying their dues, nerves would be a thing of the past. Yet, Booth says, this is not the case, adding that he is “terrified”.

“Always. Every night, I want it to be the best show we’ve ever done. Every night, I want the audience to go away going ‘Damn, I didn’t expect that’. So, it’s our own expectations, but I get really scared about that.”

So many bands started out at the same time as James, played the same gigs, and had the same problem achieving mainstream success. It was eight long years after their formation that James had their first hit album. Yet, so many bands give up after half that amount of time.

Booth says that there was never any question of James giving up, because, he explains, they knew that they would make it.

“I don’t think, especially in those days, nobody imagined bands could last that long. We had seven years of poverty, and all our relatives and friends telling us to give it up. We knew that something positive would happen to us.

“We didn’t know what it was, but we knew that something was coming for us, so it was never an issue of giving up.”

With such an extensive back catalogue, you would think James must struggle to fit in a lot of new material, whilst trying to please their loyal fan base by playing their favourites. However, Booth says that the band is managing to perform a nice mix of old and new.

“At the moment, it’s been about eight or nine new ones, because the record’s so strong that they hold up. We kind of do it based on what holds up against our better songs, and these ones do, so they’re getting a lot of playing.

“But we mix them around, we’re doing all kinds of things, it’ll change every night. That’s the whole kind of raison d’etre of James – we’re never the same.”

James play at the First Direct Arena, Leeds with Starsailor on November 23, doors 6pm, from £36. http://www.firstdirectarena.com/events/

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