Blackpool Tower Ballroom – 23rd July 1999

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Setlist: Laid, Destiny Calling, She’s A Star, Crash, Sometimes, Just Like Fred Astaire, Johnny Yen, Out To Get You, Someone’s Got It In For Me, Waltzing Along, Tomorrow, We’re Going To Miss You, I Know What I’m Here For, Come Home, Sound, Top Of The World, Say Something, Sit Down.

Reviews

The Guardian by Dave Simpson 5/5

There’s a saying that working class people who make good never really come to terms with being wealthy, and constantly live with the fear that someone will say “Oi, you shouldn’t be here”, and steal their riches away from them. It’s a similar case with James position near the top of rock’s aristocracy.

Despite selling nearly a million copies of their last album (1998’s Best Of) the band have not forgotten the traumas, record company wrangles, commercial rollercoasters, line-up changes and medical problems that have blighted their 18-year history, and only this month vocalist Tim Booth admitted that the band are still riven by insecurity. Perhaps this is why James always give the impression of putting such effort into their art.

They don’t usually rock at Blackpool Tower: the breathtaking, grandiose ballroom normally hosts ballroom dancing and guitarist Adrian Oxaal would explain later “It made soundchecking difficult. They were still doing the rumba.” But a more startling connection between the venue’s heritage and the band’s own came during a remarkable opening, when keyboardist Mark Hunter emerged from the floor playing the tower’s aged Wurlitzer. A simple enough gesture but one which underlined James perennial relevance : they intrinsically grasp the value of spontaneity.

Their idiosyncracy is crucial too. James are far removed from the awkward idealistic semi-Buddhist folky beast that stuttered into life on Factory Records, but retain a quirkiness of vision. It’s difficult to imagine another band that would introduce a song as “Another Holocaust-ic number” or who can forge Top 10 hits about clinical depression and words like “Sometimes when I look deep in your eyes I can see your soul.”

James are forever evolving (the work with Brian Eno; a less laudable early 90s dalliance with stadium rock) but this year sees a marked transformation in the camp with guitarist / violinist Saul Davies taking over chief songwriting duties. Curiously, this appears to have had a rejuvenating effect on traditional leader Booth – who thrillingly squared up to his bare-chested challenger like a scrawny welterweight champion – and the material. Fred Astaire, in particular, is one of those jawdroppingly eerie ballads – like Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart or U2’s One – that give a band genuine gravitas.

Following that unexpected highpoint, it was on to the inevitable Sit Down, but even this trusty monolith only appeared after rubber-costumed girl dancers and an explosion of glitter and balloons. James had promised a gig, but delivered an event.

Sara Bee, Melody Maker

“Thank you for your rapt attention” says Tim Booth, coming out of the swirling depths of old favourite Johnny Yen. He gazes into the audience. They gaze up at him. Were this not James who we all know are past it / have one good song / are only for students / are less moving than a moth’s funeral, you might call it awe-struck adoration. Noooo. The Manics are adored, James are just …. there. People in their 20s quite like them, critics think they suck rotting oranges through an ancient hosepipe. Officially. Out of a horse’s arse.

So… Tim and the audience look at each other. There is a pause. Something else has to be said. “….And for your many years of support.”

James supporters could prop up a tumbling Taj Mahal tonight. Ooh they want it. The gigantic hollowed-out Ferrero Rocher that is the Tower Ballroom is reverberating with a lusty chant of “Booth-ayy” Above the stage in three-foot gilt is inscribed : “Bid Me Discourse, I Will Enchant Thine Ear”. Go on then.

Up through the centre of the stage there glides a bloody great Wurlitzer. Blimey! I said thine ear, not thine eye, spectacular Wurlitzing Mark in your shimmery silver shirt. Go on, yes, yes, it’s Laid. La-aaa-aaaid. And everyone falls over with delight. And pops back up again. And goes on popping. Along with every swollen bag of journo wind. Ha!

Laid is mighty with its drum tantrums and rude, nude lyrics. It’s one of the best songs ever. Because … it’s Laid. Christ! However, tonight is not just about ear-boxing, waltzer-riding, star-shining, down-sitting, up-getting, touched-by-madness-feeling anthems. It is on with the old and drown in the new. New, sultry, poignant, romantic. New, snappy, crafty Crash-y. Before its second chorus has a chance to open its eyes and yell, this one is christened by the first crowd surfer. Although officially people aren’t supposed to feel such a surge of ‘aaaaaa!’ in their soul as to be inclined to surf at a James gig, natch. So I won’t mention it.

Various garments are already superfluous by the time Destiny Calling pounces into the settling dust of Laid. Tim has barely had time to hiss “So we may be …” before the exquisitely polished floor is groaning under a great many pogo protagonists who were obviously born with the lyrics printed inside their eyelids.

They just go on jumping. And shouting “Booth-ayy!” like vocal chords are available in Tesco. Tim gives it a little Travis Bickie (“Are you talking to me?”) happily. He loves this. During the slow songs, he closes his eyes and holds his ribs to stop his heart plopping out onto the monitors. During the great big enormous songs, he doesn’t so much throw shapes as let them throw him, squiggling and snaking like he’s a mouthful of milkshake going through a curly straw. It’s quite wonderful to watch.

Although perhaps I’m mistaken in thinking this is wonderful. I’m new here, you see. I make lots of mistakes. Like wanting to say James are today what U2 were 10 years ago, Tim Booth is everything Bono has been on a stage, and Say Something might as well have been Where The Streets Have No Name. Or burbling that “completely over the top love song” Fred Astaire is so beautiful that is should be put under a glass globe and Mr Sheened by angels. I really ought not to shoot my inexperienced mouth off about the sheer hands-aloft-boogie factor of new single I Know What I’m Here For. Definitely shouldn’t dare to whisper that Richard “I get my pain from Sainsbury’s” Ashcroft should cower down before James monumental sincerity. Oh, and rest assured I will never ever mouth the unspeakable blasphemy “Let the Manics dribble into their dictionaries, this is your truth.” So don’t worry yourselves. Mmmkay?

James are bloody astonishing. May your mind be wide open.

Wendy Williams

Outside the people waited, quietly chatting amongst themselves about gigs that had gone before. One fan, proudly wearing in a “winter 93” tour shirt even though it had obviously seen better days, stood eager to be one of the first through the doors. Once opened he would charge forward to claim his place at Sauls feet.

Friends happily divided by strangers in order to ensure they stood front row. After all it didnt seem to matter that we didnt know their names we were all like family and this showed as one guy curtiously allowed a female of shorter stature a place at his side on the front row, ensuring her a better view. I stood centre stage and awaited the appearance of the one man who seemed to know me best, he is one that understands, I speak of course of Tim Booth.

The support band “EXIT 52” were better than most, as support bands go. Vocalist, Dave and guitarist, Pete did a good job of showing the crowd and brother Jim Glennie that they had what it takes and did not seen at all un-nerved by the enormity of the whole affair. The Manchester based band gave it their all but the crowd began to grow impatient for James by the time Exit had completed their fourth song.

The Exit set complete, the stage fell to the organisational skills of the stage hands as they checked and changed, brought on the towels and strategically placed bottled water.

Meanwhile the crowd are gearing up ready to welcome their heroes to the venue that Melody Maker described as being a “gigantic hollowed-out Ferrero Rocher”. With all the finery that is the Tower Ballroom it would be difficult to find a more appropriate venue for such a fine bunch of lads.

The crowd take a sharp in-take of breath when Mark Hunter, adorned in a glitzy silver shirt that shone almost like a mirror ball, rose from the depths beneath the stage. “Bloody hell”, I hear as the eyes of the audience realise that Mark is sat before the Wurlitzer that is probably more famous than he is. And what an entrance….

The crowd cheer with exhaltation as they leap in with the opening notes of “Laid”! Instantly everyone begins to jump to the beat, singing their heads off. I guess we all felt that we just had to let them know who we were there for. Gliding smoothly through the playlist of “Destiny Calling” and “Shes A Star” (one, many of us girlies will connect with) to the first of the new ones, Crash. I have to say that I am quite fond of this one with its punchy, up-tempo melody that is so very typically James in every way. It is one that is oh-so-very Booth…ay-dancable.

Next came another racy one, “sometimes” which easily succeeds in kicking the audience up another gear ir two as they sing along to another old favourite. In complete contrast the audiences vocals quieten to listen to the “over-the-top love song”,Feels Like Fred Astaire`, we are all hanging on to every word. One has to wonder if this is a Tim-favourite at the moment due to his own self-confessed blinded-by-love state of mind. We wish him well.

Like many of the yet-to-be-released this one has the anthemic feel to it. To many die-hard fans, there is no greater anthem than “Johnny Yen”. Tim and the audience could almost have been dualing for vocal volume and both would win, both were as enthusiastic about their singing this number as radio stations are of playing sit down.

Out to get you…with the fans bowing their hands to point to Tim while he sang the words..”is you, is you, is you”, preceeded ‘Someone’s got it in for me’. It fitted together well, the crowd settled as the ‘mood’ was lowered. Then just as amazingly, Tim and the boys controlled the masses by lifting the mood and rekindling hope with the jolly toe-tapping “Waltzing Along” and the masses approved.

After ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘Miss You’ Tim asked the crowd “Do you know what you’re here for?” the crowd responded with “YOU” and Tim chuckled to himself. IKWIHF went down a storm, with what seemed like the majority of the crowd already knowing all the words. ‘Come Home’… they did their fans proud indeed.

During “Sound” the megaphone simply would not work Several attempts later the frustrated Tim smashed it onto the stage, bouncing shattered pieces of it in to the audience. He then carried on regardless, emitting such drive as if to say, F… it lets go for it anyway. What a showman. You could feel the increasing energy emitting from the stage as the band fed the hungry croud with fix after fix of raw emotion.

We were all on “top of the world”, but we knew that this was not the end, we could feel it, sense it, we were still not satisfied. We were all on a high but we needed just that bit more. In true style James delivered with their final encore. “Say something” with Tim and Saul singing to each other, they were really giving it their all. Their actions and enthusiasm said everything.

No let up for anyone as they came straight back in with old faithful “sit down” complete with balloon and confetti shower. It was certainly a fitting finale for such a fine setting and at last, just for now, the fans were satisfied. Each went away smiling. Many, like myself, will most certainly re-live the night by numerous re-runs of the minds VCR. I don’t think anyone will forget such an “alive” performance.

It’s those extra touches that make James concerts so personal that you and the rest of the crowd feel like you are jamming with the band. At one stage Tim picked one guy and one girl out of the audience to dance on stage with them. I was possitioned on the front row directly in front of Tim. At one point he walked over to stand right in front of me and yes you guessed it, I touched him….Wouldn’t you? “Top one, Tim!” At the end of it all I found that I had been given Saul’s plectrum. Up close and personal that is one thing that makes James so very extra special.

Thanks for everything guys.

David Barnett, Lancashire Evening Post

You can rely on a Lancashire Lad to make an entrance.

James’ Preston born keyboard player Mark Hunter rose majestically to the stage on the Tower Ballroom’s world famous Wurlitzer organ to bring one of the country’s most enduring guitar bands to a glorious welcome.

The veterans of more scenes than you can shake a stick at opened with the upbeat, pumping Laid and, unbelievably, it was uphill from there.

James were always the footsoldiers of the Manchester scene of the late 80s and early 90s, never grabbing the headlines like the Stone Roses or the Happy Mondays, but always plugging away with a catchy tune and a lively gig.

Now the Roses have fallen by the wayside, the Mondays are comedy yobs, the likes of the Inspiral Carpets, the New Fast Automatic Daffodils, even The Fall, have melted into obscurity.

And who’s left? That’s right, James.

The Tower Ballroom was a fitting stage for their epic performance last night. Grandiose, classic, a little over the top, maybe, but recalling a better age. The Tower Ballroom and James both.

It’s often said of James that you don’t know how many of their songs you really do know. Sit Down, of course was delivered after the obligatory foot stomping encore, and it has no less an uproarious effect that it had 10 years ago.

But look at the rest of their back catalogue. Come Home, a keyboard frenzy of bonhomie and self-realisation. Broken, an apocalyptic surrender to the elements, stripping us naked before the might of nature. She’s A Star, pure, perfect, heartbreaking pop.

Footsoldiers of the Manchester scene they may be, but James have now matured into the standard bearers of the new millennium, the only guitar band who mean anything in a morass of sulky, pouty, pretty-boy outfits who think they’re saying it all for the first time. It’s like Joy Division never happened.

James are evolving with every new release, improving with every new song, blending classic guitar pop with Brian Eno make-overs and true trancey, repetitive beats and mind-bending strobes.

Frontman Tim Booth is an undisputed celebrity, possibly the only real pop star we have in England in 1999, and for that I, along with the sell-out crowd at Blackpool last night, saluted him.

To paraphrase the man himself, they’re talented, but they’re getting older.

And thank the good Lord above for that.

Victoria Rouse, Blackpool Evening Gazette

With the reception they received, Tim Booth and his fellow band members from James had good reason if they felt like they’d come home – the audience treated them like a long-lost friend.

With an entrance fitting for Blackpool, Mark Hunter on keyboards rose up magnificently from beneath the stage playing the famous Wurlitzer, complete with silver lame shirt.

The set was sharp, feisty and energetic, frontman Tim Booth giving his all and sliding effortlessly from familiar anthems like She’s A Star and Say Something to a track from the new album called Fred Astaire.

Described by Booth as “an over the top love song” it is claimed to be one of the best love songs ever recorded by the band. Okay, so twinkle-toes himself may not have agreed, but he’d certainly approve of the location for James’ one night in Blackpool. The Tower Ballroom, with all it’s ostentatious finery, may have been a peculiar choice to perform a gig like this but it worked well.

Rattling the hits off one by one may have come easily to James, but the whole performance was met with approval and admiration from an enthusiastic crowd.

Tim asked the audience, with reference to their latest single, if they knew what they were there for. The answer was obvious, but slightly less clear was why the band felt the need to dress the stage with three PVC clad dancers for two tracks.

It doesn’t matter what James have done in the past 16 years or do in the future, they will always be remembered for their ageless anthem Sit Down.

Surprisingly, perhaps thankfully, no-one did, as hundreds of balloons had been released from nets high in the Gods of the Tower Ballroom but it was the most fitting end to a memorable night.

Earlier, hundred of fans had queued outside Virgin Megastore, Church Street, as the band held an autograph signing session.

They arrived in a Rolls Royce plastered with their name and signed copies of their new single.

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