Sit down! We talk to James ahead of their Bedford Park summer session

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James will play Bedford Park on 6 July 2024. Image: Paul Dixon
James will play Bedford Park on 6 July 2024. Image: Paul Dixon

Waiting on Zoom for a meeting to start is something many of us have gotten used to in recent years, but when the person who’s meant to be on the other end of the line is someone you’ve been a fan of for 30(ish) years, the anticipation hits a little different.

When Cuffe & Taylor announced that James would be coming to Bedford Park for this year’s summer sessions, the excitement amongst our readers (and in my own house) was quite something.

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Indie legends of the 90s, there’s a fair few people in the Borough who certainly rate James as one of the bands they grew up with – and I’m certainly proud to be amongst that crowd.

While they may have formed a little earlier (1982 to be exact), and their debut album ‘Stutter’ came out in 1986, it wasn’t until a re-record of ‘Sit Down’ in ’92 amidst the Britpop revolution that they really got the fame they deserved.

42 years later, with 25 million albums sold, four top ten singles and nine top ten albums, James are now seemingly chilling out a bit, but as band member Saul Davies tells me, they’re still doing what they want.

“We’ve been really lucky,” Saul says. “We’ve always managed to get away with doing what we want and what feels right for us, and people have liked what we do”.

And that’s, for me anyway, what makes the music of James so appealing to so many. You can hear their message, it resonates with you and ultimately you can tell it comes from their soul – whether it’s a cracking pop track to sing along to or something with a bit more depth.

What’s more the original James gang is back together too and Saul says playing live is just like old times. Getting back on stage with old friends and the music is “really good”, he says.

Hell of a show

If you’ve seen James live, then you’ll know they put on one hell of a show. For a start there are nine of them on stage, a wall of sound hits you and you can’t help but smile.

This time though, they’ve taken it up a notch and invited a 22-piece orchestra and eight-piece choir to join them and, as Saul says, it’s like nothing you’ve heard James do before.

“The magic [of James] is that we like to challenge ourselves and our fans. We’re lucky we always manage to do something people like and people are going to love this new way of us doing what we love.”

And challenging themselves is no more so apparent than in their latest album ‘Yummy’, the latest in a string of critically acclaimed recordings since they reformed in 2007.

“It was good to get back recording again,” says Saul. “We all feel like there’s sort of a second chance”

And bandmember, James Guthrie echoes that sentiment. Speaking to Scotland’s The Press & Journal a few days ago, the band’s founding member said: “When we got back together we were getting on really well and decided not to mess it up.

“We had matured and grown up during that period. We came back wanting to make it not as volatile and confrontational as it had been in the past.

“It wasn’t always like that but we had our moments and those moments can be very destructive. 99 per cent was great and one per cent terrible.

“But that one per cent split the band up. So we said we have to be careful. Be open and honest with each other and keep the relationships so that there are no undercurrents or grumblings behind the scenes.

“If there are issues they are brought out in an adult and mature way.”

Yummy is James' second number 1 album.
Yummy is James’ second number 1 album.

Yummy

Speaking to Saul and reading James’ words it seems I too have grown up with the band. As I get older I too am less confrontational, and much more chilled, and my friends also seem to be more able to choose their battles and not sweat the small stuff.

Listening to Yummy too, I am struck with a sense that James really are as good as they have ever been, maybe even a little better, but their music now has a little something extra, the gift of experience.

And that experience has paid off. Released mid-April, Yummy hit the Number 1 spot in the UK’s album chart, the second album of theirs to do so, after their ‘best of’ album in 1998.

While the tunes are still upbeat and the sort you can jump around to, the lyrics do have poignancy and are thought-provoking. It’s an album that I’m confident every original James fan will love, and new ones will use to explore their music further.

And while they will indeed be giving Bedford’s James fans an insight into Yummy, fans can anticipate a transformative musical experience, where timeless James hits, such as ‘Sit Down’ and ‘Laid’ will be elevated by dynamic layers of orchestral and choral additions.

Oh, and joining them will be Johnny Marr, the iconic guitarist best known for as The Smiths’ guitarist. Yes, that’s right, Johnny f**king Marr from The f***king Smiths.

You know, the band who helped redefine British indie music in the 1980s and (with others) played a massive part in the revival of Manchester’s music scene and subsequent creation of Britpop?

Without The Smiths, no Oasis, no Pulp, no Blur, no Belle & Sebastian, no Radiohead – maybe even no James.

Having Marr and James on the same stage, it’s like destiny calling*.

James supported by Johnny Marr will play Bedford Park on 6 July 2024 as part of Cuffe & Taylor’s Summer Sessions. Tickets are available here.

*Sorry, I had to crowbar it in, that’s my favourite James tune.