Support: N/A / With: Orchestra Of The Swan / Manchester Consort Choir / Joe Duddell
It would be an understatement to say that I was looking forward to this gig. I always look forward to seeing James play of course, but this tour sounded something extra special. The band would be playing with the ‘Manchester Consort Choir' and ‘Orchestra Of The Swan’ conducted by Joe Duddell. VIP Tickets were duly bought.
Of course things are not always straight forward when it comes to me and concerts and sure enough the day before the gig there was still no sign of the tickets. Now to be fair I do have a tendency to worry too much about these things. My wife would wearily tell you that if they don't arrive at least a month before the concert date I start to come out in a cold sweat. On this occasion I had been in contact with Crowd Surge a week before and after a few anxious emails and phone calls they agreed that I could pick up reprints from the venue box office.....panic over. After a few well-earned pints we made our way to the Royal Centre for 4pm as instructed and picked up the tickets (alas not proper ones but a scribble on a bit of paper.....oh well they got us in I suppose...not very collectable though).
This was my first VIP experience with any band and it took me a while to fully appreciate what that meant:
- See the band up close
- Ask questions during the Q&A
- Get a guaranteed seat for the gig in the first few rows
- A very nice woolly James scarf!
- ......and most brilliantly of all, watch them soundcheck a few songs
We were politely warned beforehand by Larry not to record the soundcheck and I for one was glad. To me it made it an even more unique experience. No one apart from us assembled few would ever see them do this again. Not here; not these songs; not any mistakes that were made...and the cursing that may follow. As the band ran through them I realised what a truly inspiring experience it was to see a 'warts and all' performance of music that I know so well. They started off with Riders and then tried out Really Hard (a few times) and Hello.The latter two were being recorded for the 'Mike Joyce Radio Show' (yes he of The Smiths). As a result we were told not to make any sound during or after the recording...funny trying to restrain yourselves from showing appreciation. I know it was only the soundcheck but it was the first taste of what was to come, the first taste of something different, the first taste of something outstanding. As Tim said this was a opportunity to get a 'peek behind the curtain....not much different to a normal gig....still getting away with it!'.
Once the soundcheck was over it was time for the Q&A. I am one of those that get a little awestruck and have never known what to say when meeting people I admire (I refuse to use the word famous as nowadays that includes so many z-list celebrities who I wouldn't give two fucks about) and sure enough I pretty much clammed up here. In the past I have blurted stupid things out or not said a word while at the same time sweating profusely. On this occasion all was not lost as I managed to get plenty of pics taken but I just couldn't summon up the courage to ask the lads a question (despite a million whirling inside my head). Idiot.
Once the VIP time had finished (and having bought up half the merchandise stand) we were ushered out of the venue. Once back inside we took out seats.....our seats on the very front row of the house.....this was gonna be good.
Just after 8pm the orchestra and choir walked on stage and started playing. It was at this point thatthe hairs on the back of my neck really did stand up. On walked the band and the response from the Nottingham crowd was immense. Tim smiled and went straight into Dream Thrum. Larry was stood right in front of us and I got to see him up close for the duration of the show.
The gig was split into two sets and there were some truly epic moments in both. Riders (getting its first play tonight) and Just Like Fred Astaire for example. These are songs from completely different periods of the band’s musical life but both worked superbly with the orchestra.
Say Something, with 2 girls from the choir singing with the band at the front of stage really got the atmosphere going. Tim had noticed a man get thrown out during the song and when it finished he asked the crowd if anyone knew why. Apparently he had been dancing. Annoyed to say the least, Tim ran out of the main hall and into the foyer to get him back in (I have never, ever seen anything like that before) Returning to huge applause Tim bounced on stage and the man was allowed back in.....at this point he went up to Tim and suddenly we all realised that the poor fellah was a little worse for wear. Tim dealt with him firmly but warmly telling him to take his seat and that no he couldn't get on stage to dance! Great work from Tim.
For Fred Astaire Tim went walkabout in the crowd managing to make his way through the seats while hanging onto the audience's hands. Eventually getting to a guy who was filming him on his phone (a lot of people were at this point), Tim pushed his mobile to one side and sang directly to the man. A beautiful...and extremely funny moment. Lookaway from 2010’s The Morning After was the second song tonight and was outstanding…but then again all songs played tonight were outstanding. Fairground, Dust Motes, Hello, Monsters…all wonderful.
Hey Ma had the whole crowd singing along and first set closer, We’re Going To Miss You was a beautiful way to finish as the band, orchestra and choir walked off in line.....the Royal Centre was buzzing.
For the second set on walked Tim in his 'conductor' mode. Playing up to his role. He cleared his throat, pulled out his baton (not a euphemism) and conducted the orchestra for theWilliam Tell Overture. A great moment especially when Tim morphed in to 'mad dancing, lead singer, Tim' mode. Nice touch.
The opening three songs of the second set continued as the first had left off. English Beefcakewas beautiful. The sublimeHymn From A Village was next which had half the crowd dancing...including me on the front row...which is fine except no one was dancing next to me and once I realised that I suddenly became extremely self conscious. Not even my own wife joined in...she let me hang....charming.
The Lake was spine chilling. And then came She’s A Star. Wow. I’ve never heard it sound as good. Never. It didn’t stop there though. A frantic Fire So Close with Larry breaking a string while jamming along with a violinist from the orchestra was stunning. A beautifulAlaskan Pipeline and next a, roof raising, storming, truly amazingSometimes. This song is always a crowd pleasing sing-along but tonight was something better especially when Tim Booth was stood right in front of me, looked me directly in the eyes and sang a couple of lines right to me....great stuff. The whole crowd joined in and the Royal Centre was on its feet and singing in unison.
A haunting Someone’s Got It In For Me and a raucous Medieval with the singers from the choir front stage completed the set (despite the predictable calls forLaid).
For the encore we first got Top Of The World and then Space both sung and played in beautiful fashion. The crowd was back on its feet for the final song Getting Away With It which had Tim dancing with a singer from the choir….she did her best. As the crowd sang along everyone seemed to be having a great time. No one more so than the people on stage shown by the beaming smiles from the choir, orchestra and band. That will live long in the memory.
So what do the orchestra and choir add to the James catalogue? Well you really have to experience it for yourselves but the best I can do is to say that the songs seemed to be reinvigorated, finding a new home almost.The whole show was just one highlight after another with the uplifting sound of the choir and orchestra combined with the band and Tim's voice on top.....sublime.
There is no Sit Down and no Laid in the set list for this tour but so what? In their place were songs that many thought they would never hear live. Songs from across the whole career of the band, including from the early EPs, songs from early albums Stutter and Strip-Mine as well as songs from later output Millionaires, Pleased To Meet You and Hey Ma.
James are a band that never rests on its laurels and never goes through the motions. In fact since getting back together in 2007 (after a six year break) they seem to have discovered a new creative verve. What’s more they seem to be enjoying themselves. Loving it in fact. That new found energy shone through in tonight's show as each song of the two set performance was a joy to hear. Old songs played in a new way.
It really is no exaggeration to say that this gig was huge. I’m not sure I have ever enjoyed a show as much and after 200 gigs that really is saying something. I make no apologies that I love this band. If you aren't familiar with them or write them off as just another ‘90's indie group then you really are missing out on some wonderful music.If you know and love James but haven’t seen them on this tour yet because it didn’t sound like your thing…then you NEED to book tickets.
It has been mentioned by many James fans on the official forum and on ‘One Of The Three’s page that this tour isn’t being recorded. I hope this is wrong as someone needs to chronicle one of the shows for future release. It would be a travesty not to.
My best gig ever? Quite possibly.
Ticket: October 27th 2011
Ticket Price: £90.04 (VIP Ticket)
Soundcheck: Riders / Really Hard / Hello