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Waterford day-trippers

6th July 2014 | Juliet

We spent the time between soundcheck and gig in Waterford dodging rain by watching a Sunday matinée in room 210, where, lying on the floor, Jim led the TV programming to Mutiny on the Bounty with Marlon Brando. It made our night-crossing seem like a swim across a paddling pool, compared to what those hefty sailors had to endure. We missed a major part of the story while we dinnered at the hotel, but it was easy enough to catch up. The mutiny led to some chaps in a boat with not much to eat. Finally they found land, and some found love. In one memorable scene, an islander lady in a towel/white sarong got a bit cross with her Navy Captain chap, but they resolved it in the end. Then someone decided to set the parked ship alight. It was quite an epic.

Suddenly it was show time, and then time to go time….driving north for two hours to get the boat back to Blighty. Davo ate some crisps. ‘He eats crisps,’ someone said. ‘Just crisps.’

It was only yesterday that Tony picked me up at Dublin airport and took me for Green Eggs and Ham at the hip shabby chic diner, The Fumbally. There, salsa music played and Spanish waiting staff kept perfect posture, delivering scrambled eggs with avocado (= green eggs) and Chorizo (= ham) on toast, or veggie brunch to trendy Dubliners. Reminisced about days spent in north India in genuine shabby hole-in-wall diners, eating food that everyone warned us not to… In those dizzy Himalayan days we paid 10 pence for a potato paratha and a smeared plastic pot of chilli chutney. “I’d pay 20 euro for one of those now,” he said cheerfully.

Then through Dublin where the streets are fast changing, to the St. Stephen’s Green area Dylan Hotel where the band stayed after Berlin. Lights Chris arrived beaming from America, having taken 3 days to get there due to a hurricane on the East Coast.

Somehow it all came together. This time the bus did not explode (see August blog 2013). New songs were played, and Mark’s keyboard blew in Waterford at the beginning of the set… Apart from that it was plain sailing.

Groove Festival, Bray, Ireland

5th July 2014 | Larry

So there we were, all at sea.

5th July 2014 | Juliet

Larry took control of the situation and led us away from the bowels of the ship. This was our mutiny. We weren’t up to staying on the bus, below the water line, in the dark, no power, no lights, no way out… It was 2am…the rest of the band and crew lay sleeping.

The nice lady at nautical reception said she only had a four berth so Larry bought the dorm. Room 429, said the key card, and ‘Everyone Deserves a Break’.

‘A ship crossing in the small hours is what rock n roll is all about’ was TM Matt’s quote, but he wasn’t here, having just organised it this time. Tim, saving his voice for the big week ahead, also missed this adventure and was holed up in a hotel pre-flight to England.

Perfect boat building engineering gave us two wide shelves, creating quite wide bunk beds. Larry delighted at the design as he unfolded the second shelf for me and attached its ladder. We even had our own bathroom and shower and a window with a view at dawn of the heaving seas. Some people pay huge sums of money for such an adventure. It’s called a cruise. This was a James mini mini cruise. The bar was still open and Chris went for a scoop.

So there we were, all at sea. It was the small hours of Monday morning. on crisp white linen semi-comatose for 3.5 hours as the good ship returned us from Ireland to England.

It’s been a busy few days. First there was the Berlin do and then a trip to the Emerald Isle for two festivals, one in the forest surrounding a country house in Bray, and the second in the historic town centre of Waterford. For both, the weather could have been better, but the audience remained determined to enjoy and party regardless. And Mia and Vinny returned for this trip and got their photo taken with Paloma Faith.

Down amongst the trees in the grounds of the country house, Paloma and her band covered Van Morrison’s ‘Crazy Love’ which was very groovy and very singalong. I explained to Ana the effect of extreme high heels on the gastrocnemius muscle/shape of the leg and she said she would give it a go. Then we headed off into the night to Waterford where we woke beside the river near the big historic tower. The sun was shining. The crew were already constructing.

The riddle of the missing butter on the rider has finally been solved. Irish Kerrygold is the business and has Larry’s full approval. ‘I Can’t believe It’s Not Butter’ is a complete made up fib, and if anyone offers you spreadable spread/butter, just say no. It will be contaminated with things non-butter-worthy.

This was proper touring again, sleeping on the bus, but there were two hotel rooms to share between everybody for showers and chilling.

Dining in a UFO over the Danube

21st June 2014 | Juliet

Over to Nick, James’ drum tech and stage organiser:

Bratislava!

Without the brutal, skull melting schedule that most of us were faced with in order to get to Bergen in Norway last week, we all met late in the afternoon for a very relaxed and civilised trip to Slovakia for the City Beats Festival. Then straight out with some of the gang to the picturesque local hostelries for a spot of ‘culture’ before bed.

For me, the recurring theme of the next few days began on the Ryanhell flight with a talk to Tim about the videos for Frozen Britain and Moving On, which led onto the first of several discussions with others about what the image of the human skull means to different people, especially in a James context. It provokes a wide range of reactions as usual.

I have had a lifelong affinity with the symbol since winning an art competition at the tender age of five for my painting of one!

I love the new album artwork theme very much. I occasionally design record sleeves and would have been chuffed with myself to have come up with ‘La Petit Mort’. Some just see Heavy Metal/Rock connotations, which is understandable but when you look beyond that, the skull is your oyster!

I don’t think that anyone will get the idea that James are a death metal band because of this grinning, flower and butterfly strewn profile. What do the readers think?

That same psychedelic, flowery, smiling profile looked down on us from the video screen the next day, as we set the stage on the gently lapping shore of the famous and romantic Danube (which is more green than blue).

After a textbook setup and soundcheck, we were elevated 85m into the air for our lunch at the precariously appointed UFO restaurant. As I tucked into my rubbery monkfish, I could not help but dwell on the level of quality control employed by Bratislavan architects and builders behind the Iron Curtain in the 1960s! And whether chefs of that era would have cooked this rare deep sea delicacy quite so thoroughly!!!

Showtime was upon us and apart from Jim’s bass amp displaying its fragile mortality, it was a great hour of old and new songs which a lot of the audience seemed to know very well judging by their knowledge of the lyrics.

Considering James have never been here before that’s always a bonus!

There was a great mood on this trip (not that there isn’t usually a great mood) but maybe the watchful eye of ’La Petit Mort’ had an influence and reminded us all of the difference between the fun we have in this business we call show, and deeper reflections on life and death!

Takk is the word

13th June 2014 | Juliet

Takk is the word to know in Norway. It means thank you. And takk it was. We all had a lovely time in this beautiful land.

Bergen is in southern Norway, on the left side, across from Oslo which is more on the right side.

Bergenfest is an outdoor festival in the town centre beside the beautiful fjords, and it is held under perfect bright sunlight. Lots of bands play. Tonight Simple Minds are headlining and James are on late early evening in the land of brightness.

But now we are at Manchester airport, missing Larry. He gives me a buzz to say he just woke up. After a bit of blue-light-driving down the Parkway by his emergency paramedic pal, he is spotted with croissant and a coffee arrived. Phew. Full complement.

Until recently Bergen was accessible by ship travelling across from the upper east side of the UK. Now it’s flights only. Aberdeen is a hop and skip by plane.

Meanwhile the Manchester team come in via Oslo which is a bit of a detour, and the London team have been travelling since dawn.

The town of Bergen is stunning. Lovely old colourful buildings with picture book roofs are everywhere, in amongst the more modern styles. There are old tumbledown quaint painted wooden houses tilting in a row beside the water. Lots of glistening water and soft swathes of tall dark green trees stretch for miles across the other side of the fjord.

It’s been an early start for everyone. Drummer Dave is awakened from his nap by ‘Dillinger Escape Plan’ playing extreme loud rock on the stage outside his window. It’s time to head down to the site anyway. Tim is preparing his voice….

Larry is located side stage in a big white tent that he thought was the dressing room. He is playing on borrowed guitars and has left his pedal in the bag in the big white tent. But its all alright on the night which is bright for a very long time. Days are long in summer in Norway. The sun goes down as midnight approaches.

And it’s all go. The Norwegian audience loved it and somehow knew all the words. One review said there was constant hodenikking and hostevrikking. Unfortunately even Google Translate couldn’t deal with that.

The encore is Laid and all is well.

Mostly I spend my short day in Norway going up and down in a brass plated 1950s elevator, dealing with an array of things including a bit of button trouble. {(ref. sleeve attachment braces Victorian-style.)}

The lift is packed with groups of international tourists, including a group of Japanese people with paper cups of boiling black coffee. No lids makes this precarious. This never happened in Jack Lemmon films but the general feel of the hotel had an air of New York in the sixties. To go up you press OPP and to go down you press NED.

Breakfast was beyond international. With three types of melon, all known fruits, meats and fish including every which way with herring and a prawn in jelly, and a brown goats cheese slab.(Dave Angel from the Fast Show would have had something to say about that.)

Breakfasted, the Aberdeen party and the Manchester party left the party. Sweeney waved us off, barefoot in shorts, from the hotel steps. Goodbye Sweeney…Temporary TM.

Our next TM does Whitesnake. Saul sings a full version of Fool For Your Loving (all guitar and basslines included) while the driver pointed out significant sites and spoke of the cod liver oil industry from the old days of importing the stuff to the UK.

And then we were at the airport. We came home via Copenhagen. A lovely airport with stunning architecture like a white cathedral in one area, and a fine bakery where we sat for 5 hours while they found a new plane as ours was broken. The array of black breads become quite fascinating after several hours. We buy some, and one has 1000 seeds and another one has no bread in it at all. It’s called Paleo Bread, made of seeds. Crikey.

Electric Ballroom, Camden

28th May 2014 | Larry

Through the big black back door

28th May 2014 | Juliet

Through the big black back door gates and straight into dressing room, then soundcheck at the Electric Ballroom.

It’s grey and dreary and it’s drizzling in Camden.

Helpful bloke from Essex who opens the huge black back door gates lends me his brolly, as I pop out to Acumedic for some Chinese packets against ‘wind cold invasion’. “No we can’t let you have any,” says young woman in a white coat firmly. She cannot sell me this without the patient being there…..it’s the new law. OK.

Soundcheck. There are some new crew. Nick is there, as is Ron. But it’s mostly a new team.

Next it’s time to head to the BBC.

Outside Broadcasting House an idea is being discussed and planned by the BBC people. It involves musical chairs played by the fans while the band play Sit Down.

It sounds like an idea from the panel at Perfect Curve from the very brilliant BBC comedy W1A.

Someone needs to have a word.

Radiohead wouldn’t play hide and seek now would they?

In the Green Room within the BBC, the walls are dressed with hundreds of framed photographs of our hosts Alex and Matt either side of the stars. It’s a pantheon of stars. Dolly Parton’s blonde luminescence, smiling like an angel, lights up the space above Saul’s head. While to the right, Miss Piggy and Kermit share a frame. And each of the Stones beams out at us.

Star sandwiches abound. Oh look, there’s Chris Martin. We admire the ever youthful Mick, to the left, sandwiched between the ever smiling couch experts. And there’s Ronnie Wood, and the other one, then Charlie.

A sign on the table piled with triangle sandwiches says ‘There is a Veggie Option in the Red Fridge’. The fridge is huge. It’s bigger than my kitchen. A solitary cheese and chutney sandwich sits on the middle shelf alone.

Larry tsks….

But Larry has a new guitar neck, it says #LeaveALittleLightOn…

Now this was the advice from Peter Kay when going on holiday. General good advice….oh and the words from a James song…

Anyway, now it’s time to do the V.I.P. launch and return to the Electric Ballroom.

Tim is doing his big time extreme stretches pre-gig workout, and Jim and Saul come in asking for an urgent word re: the chairs.

“We are not doing that are we?” Referring to the musical chairs… Sorted; it’s a no.

As the V.I.P. people come in and the soundcheck goes on, it’s time for the food run. Miso soup with lids survives from across Camden High Street and boxes and boxes of hot food options for Tim are piled on the table in the splitter van. Hold that gravy.

Dave dives in to the superfluous sweet potato smash. Or is it turnip?

Dinner on the move, then back to the BBC, back to the star studded Green Room where a make up lady is preparing her brushes. It’s a short time till take off, and immediately it becomes clear – the dawning realisation that we have the shoes, we have the undies, but we don’t have the bag. The bag of all things necessary… I leg it down the stairs and out into the BBC square, where people fold their bicycles before heading in and out from the BBC offices.

Phew. Lenny, our driver for the day, is still there in the splitter van and keeps chill through the London rush hour. Is that Sophie what’s-her-name with those Zara bags? Could be… I hear a few stories of stars and the adventures across the busy high streets of London, but far be it for me to say a word….

Now a big red London bus has just broken down and is abandoned there in Camden High Street. Bit of a kerfuffle with the traffic, then zoom to the big black door, up four flights of stairs, grab all known things relevant or not, leaping back down rickety stairs past the crew who are grabbing a quiet pre-gig moment. Then back to the BBC try to get through a complicated layout of revolving glass doors and frontage, nearly getting chucked out for not showing a pass, and leg it to the Green Room where all is calm.

Ahhhh. All is quiet. All is peaceful. The bag is delivered.

We watch couch chemistry on the mega screen.

The band go off, and appear almost immediately singing that song.

Tim is interviewed by the couch chemists sitting to the left of Alex and Mark, who like his jokes.

Then all aboard for the next bit….back to the Electric Ballroom.

Then the gig….. Saul talks about Romulus and Remus during a lull.

It’s the encore, so time for a quick whizz round and tidy of the dressing room. The Assorted Cheeses are let out of the fridge so it can be relaxed for the band’s return….

Notice all bread gone. Locate crackers from late night store via Sweeney new TM.

Peter Rudge arrives and asks if everything is OK. All is well. There are crackers.

There is an aftershow at the back, upstairs in the bar, and in the smoker’s yard / alleyway Smiley Neil is there with his Mrs. It was Miso, Neil…. Miso.

Tim & director Ainslie Henderson on the making of the video for ‘Moving On’

6th May 2014 | Tim

Ainslie begins: “My connection with James is a long and evolving one. The first time I heard their music was sitting at a friend’s house, aged 18, stoned and confused. ‘Sometimes’ was playing, I remember feeling something that until then I didn’t know pop music could make you feel. I thought crying was only for when you feel loss or sadness. Pop music, but woven with something sincere and yearning, passionate and beautiful. It was 1997, Britpop was happening and I’d just started my first band, I was falling in love with music and trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted my life to be. I was emboldened by the Gallagher swagger, excited and inspired by Blur and Pulp, but James’s music spoke to me like no other band of that era. James didn’t seem to really belong to that era, they orbited it, danced around it, but they were their own branch, growing off in their own direction. It’s telling for me that as Britpop died away and my love for those bands faded into nostalgia, I remain as curious for the next James record as I ever was.

“It is 2003, and I find myself with Saul and Mark, the guitarist and keyboards player from the band. We are recording an album in a makeshift studio in the dusty loft of a French Châteaux. A turn on a music reality show named Fame Academy and subsequent recording contract with the same label the band were signed to lead to an introduction. Fate delivered to me a long, wonderful summer with them, recording pop songs, eating cheese, drinking red wine and flirting with the French girls of the local village. Je suis un poisson, je n’ai pas d’eau..

“It is 2014, I’m on the phone to Tim and he is describing how they came to write this song, and what the words mean to him. The story he tells me is deeply moving; one thing that stayed with me is his describing death as a birth. Some days later this conversation echoes around my mind while I’m listening to ‘moving on’ I walk past a typical Scottish woollen knitwear shop. My eyes flit over a ball of wool in the window while the word ‘unwinding’ is sung. Pretty quickly I’m leaving a garbled, over excited message on Tim’s phone about the music video I have in my head.

“It’s now the day after I finished the film and I’m exhausted, bleary eyed and looking forward to joining in with the spring that I hear is happening outside. I’m so grateful Michael Hughes, the other animator who I gave all the difficult shots to. Thank you for your skill and patience in tolerating my terrible perfectionism. Most importantly, I feel delighted with what we’ve achieved, I think we’ve made something kind of special. I feel so honoured to have been able to contribute something, in my own small way to this magical thing that is James.” ~ Ainslie Henderson

Tim: I’ve known Ainslie for years after channel hopping took me to an episode of ‘Fame Academy’. I watched in shock as he worked with Mark and Saul in the Fame Academy mansion. I hate those shows but this boy had something. Luckily for him, what he had was untameable, he wilfully didn’t fit the mould, was too original and spontaneous; he didn’t win.

Over the years we met and then I became aware of his animation work through Saul, who suggested we work with him. Ainslie’s animation is wonderful, heartfelt, truthful, innocent, and reveals a true storyteller. As a band we were determined to work with him even if it meant dipping into our own pockets. Animation takes weeks and is painstaking work, for the animator, compared to that of most videos.

I remember standing in a back garden in Highbury, mobile burning my ear, as I told him in detail of my Mother’s death and that of my friend Gabrielle – the twin inspirations for Moving On.

My Mother’s death was clearly a birth of some kind and that description caught Ainslie’s imagination.

Two days later, with perfect timing, his video script came through on my email, as I was having a meeting with our manager Peter, trying to persuade him that we should pay the extra needed to work with Ainslie.

I tried reading it to Peter but couldn’t complete it due to tears. Peter read it and welled up.

That Ainslie found such a perfect medium to fit our song blows us away. He delivered on the promise of his script and then some. This is the first video we have made that we consider to be a work of art. God bless your perfectionism Ainslie and thank you and Michael for working with such care, artistry and heart.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with great pleasure we give you our ‘Moving On’ video – if you love it pass it on.

Jim on La Petite Mort

13th March 2014 | Jim

Photo © Ralph Dunning of Dunning Designs Creative. Jim interviewed by The Mouth Magazine.

Tim on La Petite Mort

24th February 2014 | Tim

Lyrically most of these songs are infused with death. The death of my Mother and a friend who I adored. My Mother passed at 90 in my arms and it was so clearly a birth of some sort, that it left me in a state of rapture for quite some time; that may have some bearing on why this work is uplifting not mournful. Being present at a birth, for an infants first breath, and at death, for a parents last one, seemed to me to be the same thing. I thought, my God, if this is dying that’s great, Ive got that sussed.

Six months later one of the people who I loved the most in the world passed. She was 70 years young and had kept the remission of her cancer from me and other friends. She had introduced me and my wife to each other eighteen years ago and married us ten years later. Since then we kept trying to meet up, but there was no rush, we had all the time in the world.

We worked out she was dying from information which came to us in our dreams and we flew to New York to say goodbye. On arrival at the airport we received word it was too late to see her.

This inability to say goodbye, to tell her I loved her, has haunted me ever since. It turns out I haven’t got this death thing sussed after all.

Life lifts up her skirt and gives us a flash of her mysteries, it is a shocking and uplifting moment. This record is my attempt to make some sense of it.