James – Live

It must be tough sometimes, having this level of expectation on your shoulders, and with all those hits to choose from James can’t possibly play everybody’s favourite at every...
James : Live

James : Live

“They’d better play ‘Sit Down’,” a woman outside a pub said as I was heading towards Hull City Hall on Monday, May 16th. “If they don’t play ‘Sit Down’, I’m going to walk out.”

I briefly considered pointing out that by the time it was possible to be certain that “Sit Down” wasn’t going to be played, it would be time to leave anyway. But I didn’t because nobody likes a smart arse. Outside the doors a group of concertgoers are standing arm in arm, swaying gently and singing, “Sit down next to me-eeee.”

It must be tough sometimes, having this level of expectation on your shoulders, and with all those hits to choose from James can’t possibly play everybody’s favourite at every gig. In addition they have a new album out, but on the basis of this unscientific survey it was pretty clear what the most important song on the set list ought to be.

The Slow Readers Club

Support came from Manchester indie outfit The Slow Readers Club, who have been gathering a sizeable fan base and lots of favourable reviews since the release of last year’s Cavalcade record. Their music is dark and brooding and melancholy and they certainly went down a storm with the James fans, have been doing all tour by all accounts. Highlight of the set was “I Saw a Ghost”, which is worth checking out on YouTube for the dark intelligence of its lyric and for the powerful restraint of Aaron Starkie’s vocals.


Having just released a new full-length to considerable acclaim, James are on excellent form, but anyone expecting a greatest hits show was in for a disappointment. They kicked off with the relatively little known “Dream Thrum” from 1993’s Laid, followed by “Walk Like You” from more recent La Petite Mort (QRO review) and then “Move Down South” from the new album Girl At the End of the World (QRO review). This set the pattern for most of the night – plenty of songs from Girl, some rarities and handful of crowd pleasers. The new material went down pretty well – they’re good stuff, intelligent and danceable torch songs in the James tradition although they seem quite slight compared to the back catalogue.

The band looked to be enjoying themselves and are always worth watching. Singer Tim Booth (QRO interview) spent a considerable amount of time dancing slowly and embracing himself while Andy Diagram prowled the stage, trumpet in hand, ready to weigh in with one of his trademark solos. During “Catapult”, Booth took a tour of the balcony and for “Surfer’s Song”, which is one of the highpoints of the new material, he went for an extended ride on the outstretched arms of the crowd.

“If I do this you’d better be good to me,” Booth told the crowd, “I’ve gone down a few times and the further north I am the more worried I am.”  But the crowd carried him very nicely, although in fairness he is built for it, not unlike crowd surfing’s patron Saint Iggy, who gets a name-check. But there was something about all those hands held up in the path, fingers nipping the empty air expectantly that made you fear for his nipples and I don’t think I’d have swapped places with him, even if they could find a couple of dozen big blokes strong enough to carry me.

Tim BoothIn the basement urinals a man was leaning precariously against the wall, a plastic pint glass of lager clasped dangerously above his head in a fat hand. “Am I right or am I wrong?” he asked of nobody in particular. “They haven’t played any really big hits yet have they? I mean, no ‘So Sit Down So Sit Down Sit Down Next To Me-eeee.’ Am I right or am I right?”

Nobody replied and I’m not able to say for sure whether or not he got back up for the hits section of the set, which featured “Sometimes”, “She’s a Star”, “Just Like Fred Astaire” and “Tomorrow”. They went down a storm and many in the crowd would certainly have liked more old favourites.

Hull City having just made it to Wembley for the play off finals there were some choruses of “Up The Tigers!” and in response a few of my fellow South Bankers (our black and whites now restored to the lower echelons of the Football League) struck up with “Up The Mariners!” In days gone by this would have been a cue for an almighty kicking off, but either the world is a mellower place or we’re just too insignificant for the Hully Gullies to even notice us any more. Probably the latter. Peace ensued. Possibly everyone was just too busy dancing to fight.

The main set concluded with Attention and then we got a three-song encore that included “Bitch” (of all the Girl songs, probably the one that will find it’s way permanently onto the set list and the next ‘Best Of’ compilation), and first single “Nothing But Love”, which is pleasant enough but, as they say, it’s no “Bitch”.

And then at the end they reappeared for a final time. “We’ve got time for one more song. We can do ‘Sit Down’ or ‘Say Something’. Which do you want?”

Andy DiagramThis was it – the moment of choice.

“Who wants ‘Sit Down’?” A huge roar.

“Who wants ‘Say Something’?” An explosion of sound that fills the whole hall.

“‘Say Something’ it is then.” And “Say Something” indeed it was. I looked to see if I could see the woman from the pub on her way out but there were too many hands raised to see.

When the band left the stage the crowd cheered and stamped and for a moment I thought they were going to sit down but they didn’t.

James had left the building.


Concert Reviews