Friday, East London somewhere.
29th April 2016 | Juliet
The Peak District is packed with snow this April morning. Snow in April. Mountain rescue and the collie dogs have been out on Edale rescuing. Cars are skidding and it’s a white-out. Am soaked by snow flakes by the time the train arrives. It’s like Ice Station Zebra. Two suitcase awkwardness and board the train going north before going south.
“Noideawherethatis. Musicwhatsermercallit?” says the taxi driver so fast in London-speak I can hardly catch up. Round the block a few times and we find the entrance.
“Yougettinthedrugsinforem?“ Er nope, not quite. Bye bye Mr Taxi. He drops me at the studio complex. Complex it is. Finding your way in and finding the relevant space.
The band are running through all the songs from the new album. It’s mid afternoon. Ron jumps off stage to say hello. There is a brief sighting of Adrian before he heads north to snowy Buxton to play a gig. Tomorrow there is a friends and family do. Twenty fans will have the chance to come along to this.
After a few hours there is a food break, and while Tim is in a meeting in the empty desked big room behind the sliding glass door, some new music gets going.
On stage Saul sings “Doctor what is happening to me….etc….feel like Fred Astaire” in the style of Bob Dylan…
Then Matt J our new leader arrives and there is another song about Ezra, as in George, to welcome him back.
Everyone finally goes home. Andy has a hot date at the Working Men’s Club and he is first to go. Me and Tim are last to leave. Matt says something about down the lift to the something floor, turn left, right, left, reception, shut the big door, tell ’em your going then lift through and your out.
Huge industrial lift descends after the shutting of the huge collapsible pleated door and the clanking cage type inner door. Get a strange sensation of oh dear and oh no, as we open the lift into a basement darkness, all the boxes and drum kits through the ages live here but where are we?
It’s like a scene in Scooby Doo where the gang and Scooby sink into some inescapable dark underworld. He did say take the lift down didn’t he? Where’s the entrance?
Tim uses his iPhone as a torch to guide us back to the lift. Phew.
Then two phone calls later we are guided out the building by the bouncy man who knows the maze of corridors and entrances.
I head east, Tim heads north via Uber…
Meanwhile the winners of the James competition are being decided somewhere. Who will get a pair of tickets to the show run-through tomorrow?
Beginnings of Girl At The End Of The World
11th March 2016 | Tim
So as with La Petite Mort, we built a rehearsal recording room in a Scottish stone walled bed-and-breakfast and bunkered ourselves down for three weeks to improvise the songs that would become Girl At The End Of The World.
In our man cave, with mattresses gaffer taped to the windows to soundproof us from the neighbours, we cut ourselves off from our families and the rest of the world with barely a cellphone bar between us.
Some of the jams went on for 10 minutes, some went on for an hour and 20. Mark recorded everything. Then if one of the five of us fancied a particular jam we would start editing it into a more manageable 3 to 8 minutes.
I think we were pretty conscious of starting drum machine tempos quite fast, to drive us on through the dark Scottish winter and to give us some songs that we knew would be great live. I used the FunkBox iPhone app to generate groovy beats when I had control of the rhythm.
Two months later we had maybe 17 edited songs that WE knew would be strong enough for an album, but our demos are famously difficult for outsiders to get.
Max Dingel understood them straightaway. After La Petite Mort we knew we wanted to investigate the direction we had taken with him.
After 13 albums you know which songs are likely to bear fruit from rough jams, but sometimes a song blindsides you, an outsider becomes a favourite, the favourite falls away. Our process is pretty intuitive. Anyone in James who really has a vision for a song has the opportunity to work on it, on their own or in a smaller group. Songs that were popular by general consent got thrown back into the room at RAK studios to be worked on by the whole band, and ultimately recorded when we felt we had the parts.
A Few Words from Max Dingel
1st December 2015 | wearejames
I first started working with James in the spring of 2013. I remembered them from the “Laid” period in the early nineties and, being a teenager then, I had lost touch with what they had been up to since.
We initially had a conference call to chat about working together and discuss the demo recordings they had sent me. I remember that call very well as there were so many members in the band and I had trouble putting names to the voices I was hearing at the other end of the line.
I was really impressed with the songs they had written and we decided to go into the studio together to initially work on “Moving On” and “Gone Baby Gone”. The session went really well and after we had gotten to know each other they asked me to produce the album that would become “La Petite Mort”.
After the band finished their tour at the end of 2014 I had a chat with Tim and he asked me to produce their next album, for which recording was scheduled to take place in the summer of 2015.
The band were going to write and demo songs early on in 2015 and sent me some 20+ song ideas. Most of them were very good and it became really tricky to make a definitive selection early on – which is why we ended up working on most of them to some extent, to see how they might fit together in the context of an album.
The recording was going to be split into two stints, one in late May / early June and the other in July. After our experience on “La Petite Mort” I expected us to more or less pick up from where we had left off. However, our first session started a bit more slowly as it seemed to take everybody a bit longer to get back into the frame of mind of recording. Also, with the amount of demos available we worked on a few songs which ultimately did not make the album. This was an important part of the process, but it meant that we left the studio with fewer songs completed than we had set out to do when planning the sessions initially.
Following a brief moment of panic, the second stint ended up being much more productive. Everybody was on their guard and applied themselves. In contrast to “La Petite Mort”, more songs were played live in the studio and a good few live takes ended up on the final recordings. One song benefiting from this in particular was “Nothing But Love” which we had initially recorded in the first session. We ended up scrapping that version and started again from scratch. Because everybody played together in one room there was a lot of bleed and spill between all of the instruments. On the multitrack you can hear drums coming down the microphones of guitar amps, and bass guitar on the drum channels. You can even hear Tim’s screaming being picked up by some of the microphones of the drum kit. Somehow it all worked and the vibe of the recording was great.
James as a band really come into their own when they all play together in a room. It’s something the band is really brilliant at and when they play a great take the end result is always better than the sum of it’s parts. On “La Petite Mort” there seemed to be an effort to get away from the playing together and approach the process by recording instruments in isolation. At the time the band were keen to update their sound and be able to concentrate on the sonic aspects of the recording. Since I have no set way of working I went along with that approach to some extent. It turned out later that the band had assumed that I would want to work in this particular way – which had not been the case at all!
So on this album there is a slightly different balance between songs being performed live in the studio, and songs being built around programmed and electronic elements.
We ended up doing a short third stint in late August / early September to tie up some lose ends and finish off some of the lead vocals. I mixed the album in late September and early October over a period of about three to four weeks. At that point we were already behind our schedule, so there were more than a few late nights and it ended up getting quite intense and slightly mad towards the end. I had already committed to another album project straight after so there was no room to manoeuvre.
Looking back on the experience I feel very proud of what we have achieved. Everybody pulled together and worked very hard for the same goal. When we started working together just over two and a half years ago I did not know what to expect from a band about to record their 13th album. What I found was a band with a strong desire to experiment, determined to push themselves and explore new musical ground. They’ve certainly pushed me, too, and I’ve enjoyed it every step of the way!
Girl At The End Of The World
16th November 2015 | Jim
Hi there everybody,
Jim here to announce, drum roll please………..The release of our 14th album, titled ‘Girl At The End Of The World’ or if you prefer ‘GATEOTW’ or even just ‘Girl’.
The songs for this record were written exclusively in Scotland. Not for any particular reason but still a fact. If you pay close attention whilst you’re listening, in a couple of places you can actually smell peat burning mixed with the salty tang of seaweed on the air. Also, possibly bagpipes but that might be just my tinnitus playing up.
As with ‘La Petite Mort’, the album was recorded at the lovely Rak Studios in St. John’s Wood. I’ve spent so much time there over the last couple of years, I feel I should buy a Bentley Convertible and a pair of white Gucci loafers.
And again, recorded and produced by the eternally patient Max Dingel. Why do you do it Max? Surely there must be an easier way to earn a living?
All that said, ‘Girl At The End Of The World’ is a record we are very proud of and picks up nicely where ‘La Petite Mort’ left off. But hopefully, as always, pushes the edges out a little further. The songs are big but personal, abrasive but warming and after taking you on a journey and throwing you a few curve balls, ultimately uplifting. So remember, ‘Girl At The End Of The World’.
But the excitement doesn’t stop there. I know, I can barely contain myself either. Ladies and Gentlemen we have a UK Tour to announce. A whole bunch of gigs next May, where we will of course be treating you and ourselves to the joys of the new album and of course, a whole heap of other James stuff to boot. So get your tickets early to avoid disappointment.
There will be festivals being announced and loads of fun promo stuff happening including single releases and videos, so keep an eye on James social media to find out what/where/when.
Thank you for listening and thanks in advance for your support. And remember, without you lot, we’d just be a bunch of bewildered, grumpy old men arguing with each other in an empty stadium.
Hope to see you on the road,
Up in the castle on the hill
6th September 2015 | Juliet
Andy had a gig last night with the Spaceheads at a farm somewhere in Cheshire. Some of the crew and band had a day off. And I sat in a foyer of a hotel somewhere in Wales, awaiting a phone call for instructions from tour manager Neil at the festival as my mobile had lost signal.
The hotel is wood-paneled splendour and prides itself in playing loud instrumental guitar tunes.
There’s Hotel California, Three Times a Lady, assorted Simon and Garfunkel and that alarming one It’s Only Words. This later became an earworm.
The manager can’t do enough for us and helps us out with communication by letting me receive calls on her front desk landline. Now that would never have happened in Crossroads.
Now everyone is back together in Portmeirion, in the dressing rooms up in the castle on the hill. We have 2 rooms, one with a bed in it and one with a TV. It’s a flat really. A flat in a castle.
Tim has a workout, and then rolls up disappearing into a cocoon in the white duvet on the floor. Ear plugs in, he has a pre-show kip. Writing the final lyrics has been making him nocturnal.
The band are having a creative meeting with management and I am lurking in the corridor doing the washing up trying not to listen.
Suddenly Saul shouts and points. “Get that hippy out of Tim’s room!”
The door slams behind him and a big bloke in boots is found wandering around the sleeping cocooned Tim. Turns out to be one of Dave’s mates, looking everywhere for his Tibetan fur hat in the wardrobe. Lead him out and there’s the hat on the chair. Disaster averted.
It’s a great festival atmosphere, and whole town is part of the event.
The castle has a V.I.P. bar area on the downstairs floor, where Badly Drawn Boy is chilling amongst the Chorltonians.
Then it’s time to go on stage, but Tim gets waylaid. The band jump on the carts down the hill ahead of Tim. Then just as he is ready, he goes back in the room for some chewing gum.
We fly down the hill to the portakabin / white box where Tim’s in-ears lay on the table. Then he realises the T-shirt is inside out. He whips it off. The ‘ears’ fly in the air, the wires tangle on the floor. There are 30 seconds to go. Taped, plugged and clipped he goes…
After the gig it’s gonna be Grace Jones which is exciting. There is a rumour going round that the organisers had failed to find the oyster prising knife to get into her oysters on ice and she had called it off. (Never believe what you hear.)
So while we await Grace we drink an inch of wine and watch Lady Chatterley on the TV with the sound down. The silent cinema effect somehow makes it better.
After all is done it’s time to go, and here we really have to go or we will never get off the site. Dash to the front of crowd side-stage to catch 2 minutes of Slave to the Rhythm. Grace is hula hooping as she sings…
We run to the sleeper bus and off we go to London.
Tomorrow Tim will finally record those final lyrics….
The magic of classical meets James, in the fairy grotto town
5th September 2015 | Juliet
There was a bit of a hiccup when we found out that it was a 2 hour drive in a mini bus to Portmeiron, and it wasn’t just down the road as hoped.
Tim had been up half the night writing lyrics and needed to be horizontal.
Neil our tour manager woke up the bus driver, and after another half hour wait …. Tim, Jim and Saul headed off to Portmeiron in the tour bus to rehearse with Joe Duddell and his mini orchestra of players, including a harp player, on a very small stage. There we were in the most beautiful small town hall in the colourful intricate seaside town of Portmeiron.
The town was like a fairy grotto; if you haven’t been there, go. It’s set beside the seaside and is enchanting and unique. Tonight it has the feel of Gaudi in parts but is based on an Italian village. It is also the setting for the Prisoner.
Jim had visited it before and said it was a good day out from Manchester.
The band were put into a packed dressing room shared with various assorted jugglers, circus performers, limbering every which way, umpteen rails of theatrical clothes and a selection of ladies in floral tea dresses, rehearsing their duets wearing circular trees on their heads.
Saul went in search of a coffee.
The rehearsal was intense and though we were late it was all fine, as the act to follow had cancelled.
Stuart Maconie popped his head in through the back door and stayed.
The place was packed. There were about 100 seats only and not too much standing room. Some people had been queuing for hours, including a little girl and her mum who were ushered by the coordinator, Meds, (‘yes it is my name,’ she said) to a front row seat.
It felt a bit like being in church. The revered Joe Duddell sat on the front row and conducted matters with a few minor gestures, and the magic of classical meets James happened in this elegant packed out fresco-ceilinged tiny town hall.
Outside in the adjoining Green Room, a mermaid with hair piled up Marie Antoinette-style full of shells and assorted flotsam, was doing her make up. The ladies in the tea dresses troupe set off, and more acrobats practised moving their legs behind their heads and bouncing ballistically in the corner. A choir of elderly Welshmen sat on the sofas reserved for James and drank tea.
After the set Tim said, “let’s go walkabout.” So we did.
The sun was going down and we set off into the night. People wore all sorts of wonderful costumes. It was a family friendly event. The film Amy was being shown in a small hall. An open air choir was singing. The field was awash with plastic tumblers. This big party was like a Fellini film in places.
Tim talked of Burning Man festival where EVERYONE wore fancy dress, but unlike the UK festivals no rubbish is ever seen. It takes place in the desert. More of this will be brought to you in his memoirs some day.
We ate paella and sat on a log bench. Then wandered to the main stage to catch the start of Belle and Sebastian. “Which one is Belle?” whispered Tim.
Ran and Ron, by Ron
4th September 2015 | wearejames
As the touring season came to a close, we saw a new introduction to the team in the form of Ran. Ran was brought in to spin his magic with the monitors on stage so the band could all hear what they were playing. Not only does he have a very similar name to me, there is a similar resemblance too. This caused much confusion on stage when the local crew would ask Ran for keyboard info and ask me about the microphones.
Ran’s main job is to go to Tim’s dressing room just before the show and pin his headphone cable to the back of his shirt with a dog-clip. Without this incredible skill, the show would not happen. Oh and he also takes 40 different channels of instruments and creates 8 different mixes for every band member which also change every song.
We had a great show in Bingley and headed over to Llandudno where Ran and Ron had a lovely day off taking the cable tram up to Great Orme, followed by fish n chips and a crazy motorbike light parade along the sea front. The last show of the year will take us over to Festival No. 6 in Portmeirion.
That’ll be it for this year. It’s been a super year, we are all more excited for next year with the new album coming out.
‘The North’s Last Great Party of Summer’
4th September 2015 | Juliet
Took a minibus and met Tim and Andy off the train at Bingley station, which was right next to the park where the gig was happening.
The rest of the band and crew had come up north overnight on the big tour bus.
After a soundcheck those who wanted a quiet snooze / rest and recuperation headed off to the day rooms, which were far too far away to allow for relaxation.
Anyway we got back in time, as Cast were still on stage.
Tim says afterwards, “Loved Bingley. We heard the crowd singing backstage, heard the party. Saul chose Tomorrow to open the set to meet the fierce energy.”
After the show we drove a couple of hours to Llandudno, a place in north Wales, to sleep in a hotel that had a huge blue and white deck chair outside. The sea was across the road and the pier to the left. Perfect to stroll and take the sea airs.
For the crew and some of the band it was Day Off.
Dave’s diva moment
26th August 2015 | Juliet
Dave and I are heading down towards Carlisle on another congested train.
Across the aisle, Dave explains how Edinburgh was for him:
“I walked on stage for soundcheck to be met by a Heavy Metal drum riser; very high and not suitable to requirements. I could feel a diva moment coming on.”
I type on the edge of the table where the man opposite has moved his sandwiches, chocolates, paper, glasses and book of crosswords to give an inch.
“It was all too high, and this will make you look like a knob,” said Dave about the highrise set up. He has to be at ground level.
Dave sorts it out calling upon the invincible Nick and Ran, who removed the legs and bring things back down to earth…
Dave cheered up when catering was a buy-in from Wagamamas. Firecracker for Dave. Then he did 1000 press-ups on his handy push up handles. (These handy metal appliances avoid overextension of the wrists.) Drummers have to keep in shape.
All around was the massive Edinburgh Festival. Nonstop events round the clock everywhere. Posters on railings telling us what we were missing, street theatre mud man moving slowly just outside the corner of the park, and a spectacular enormous guitar statue made out of cider cans. Tim walked to see Bailey’s Stardust exhibition (including iconic photographs of rock stars e.g. that one of Alice Cooper) at the Scottish National Gallery.
As he walked out through the park, another voice was singing his songs on the stage. What’s that you may have wondered. That was ‘Swiss’ filling in for the extra soundcheck.
Tim bumped into a German couple and their young son who had made the trip to Scotland specially to see the gig. He stopped for a chat and heard their story.
The show was held in the Edinburgh Gardens around the Ross Bandstand, with the castle up on high forming part of the backdrop. The park was closed off early evening.
Apart from Dave’s highrise drum kit everything went smoothly, and the show ended with Top of the World with a massive backdrop of the military tattoo firework display coming from the castle up on the hill, accompanied by Saul doing his violin thing.
Lots of people came back for an aftershow and Tim’s mate Gordon Strachan and his wife were amongst the backstage party people……..
Saul and his family boarded their Volvo and drove to his castle in the Scottish outback, where the night before Vinny had rustled us up some salmon teriyaki and Saul had smashed some potatoes and constructed a salad of leaves etc… There was still some leftover Waitrose Essential Tiramisu in the fridge.
Then everyone else got on board the big tour bus which trundled its way through the night back to London.
Tomorrow is another day in the studio. More recording more music….
“Endless rain, endless rain”
22nd August 2015 | Juliet
Mostly there is walking along the fine river and sitting the sun outside Starbucks. Even Tim is now on the decaffeinated soya lattes.
It’s sunny along the river in Newcastle and Tim and I head up the hill to buy socks… M&S wont take Tim’s Manx fiver. It has to say sterling or something.
We hurry back to the hotel where Tim writes and sings for several hours. New lyrics are pouring out.
Finally we head off to the gig. It’s a bit of a drive and it’s raining quite a bit. By the times the band go on it’s full thunder and lightning, the whole audience drenched but giving it their all.
The dressing rooms are in Hardwick Hall. Amidst antique cupboards and shelves of antique fine china dogs and multiple vases, you find the band discussing the set list. The banqueting table is weighed down with enough food to feed the whole festival and their families. Fruit bowls are exploding with berries and the contents of Waitrose’s cheese counter has been carefully thought through, but there are no biscuits or knives. There are two expectant pineapples waiting in the corner.
Andy, no longer green, is tootling outside the dressing room in the corridor with his mute firmly in place, and a dripping leak from the roof is landing on a piece of fine wooden furniture beside him. The table is half-ruined already, but I move an antique blue tureen and catch the now gushing drip.
Downstairs in hospitality I bump into Liam Skin Tyson.
There’s been an all-day line up. 10cc were on earlier as were Razorlight…
Huge umbrellas appear, and we dash through the rain to mini bus and into the portakabin where production is set up. A big puddle all over the floor. Avert disaster, mop vigorously…
Our bouncy tour Manager Neil has set up the control centre in the only dry spot on the site. However there is no signal, no texts, no e-mail in this remote valley place. Not the easiest spot to organise from.
As the band go on, the heavens open fully and thoroughly into torrential. It’s proper monsoon. Lightning flashes, thunder roars under the stars, and then it’s all over and a lot of fireworks explode…not that any further sky centred effects were needed.
The aftershow starts in the banqueting dressing room. Jazzy Geoff is there and some of Dave’s mates and Saul’s many relations…
A lonely knife is found, and brie slithers shared with Lincoln biscuits found near the tea bags. (N.B. The rider was top class, we just couldn’t find any cutlery!)
Next day it’s hasta la vista as we go our separate ways. Jim leaves with Saul and his family in the overhot car that breaks down twice. The London team head off first class to do a couple of days recording in the studio.
Dave, Matt and I head to Manchester. It’s an overstuffed Sunday train running late “due to congestion”.
There is even more congestion when we try to take a cab across Manchester, from Victoria to Piccadilly Station. The streets of MANCHESTER are undergoing open heart surgery as well as major bowel surgery, and the taxi driver looks like we just said, “Fly me to the moon and let me swing amongst the stars,” so awkward is our request…
It’s something to do with sewers and trams all at the same time, and then there’s the plague graves they stumbled on in Cross Street, and that big deep hole in the road near Piccadilly. Whatever, it’s gridlock chock-a-block.
It’s been a great week.
See you in Edinburgh.