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  • Writer's pictureNick Meynell

James with Razorlight, Utilita Arena, Birmingham, 12 June 2024

I’ve been lucky enough to see James well over twenty times since the late 80s, although I did go off them a bit in the 90s, missing some of their best material from LPs Seven and Laid. Fortunately, they do go back to this era, but sadly play little from Stutter and Strip-mine - their first two wonderful LPs. If I had a time machine, I’d go happily back to the (now sadly closed) Bath Moles where their fabulous early live album, One Man Clapping, was recorded in 1988.

I’ll avoid my normal moans about ticket prices (I actually paid the face value), beer prices and even parking. Luckily I’ve found a great free place in a residential, yet to be gentrified, area close to the Utilita Arena - the Arena formerly known as the NIA to avoid any confusion! Five minutes brisk walk from the floor exit allowing me to be in bed, 29 miles away,  by 11.30. Always a result on a school night. 

Support band Razorlight come on early. Johnny Borrell might be a complete tool, but their first LP is really decent. I remember seeing them at Live8 in the mid-2000s and they were the standout act. I did clear off before Pink Floyd, much to the derision of friends and colleagues!

Razorlight kick off with a crowd pleasing In the Morning from their second LP, the first two albums making up 90% of their set. My favourite Stumble and Fall, from the debut LP is excellent. During Golden Touch, Johnny Borrell’s alternative reality perhaps assumes that there are more Razorlight fans here than there actually are. Most of the appreciative crowd didn’t know the words, and the crowd sing-a-long falls rather flat, making Borrell look a bit isolated!

Scared Of Nothing is a newer song which is well received, and everyone seems to know Somewhere Else which is difficult not to like. Borrell finally gets his crowd participation for America, which seems to be appreciated in an increasingly busy arena. I have not seen Razorlight for well over a decade, so would I take the trouble to see them as a headline act? Probably not. But at a festival or as a support, I’d make the effort. Always good to get there early! 

Just before James come on, we get an announcement from one of the tech crew not to use our mobile phones. This is on the whole widely respected by the audience in the standing area and makes a nice change. They start with She’s A Star which certainly livens up the Arena. New album Yummy, which I have found more of a grower when compared to the instantly likeable previous offering All The Colours Of You, gets a play early with Our World.

The new LP gets 8 of its tracks played, which helpfully calculates as 40%. Huge respect to James for not just defaulting to a ‘Best of’ setlist. Life’s A Fucking Miracle soon adds to the new material on offer. By this time (5 songs in), Tim Booth has already been into the audience twice, the second time surfing perhaps 20 metres out before ‘landing’. The polite audience form a nice circle to allow him to do the job he came here for. He promises the audience that if the phones stay away, he’ll ’come out to play’. I remember once seeing him at OnBlackheath in London, when he said that the ‘surf wasn’t quite right yet’.

At this point I ask a couple of bucket hatted lads behind me to stop chatting, as it’s just annoying. They seemed surprised but soon decide to clear off much to the appreciation of others around us. I’m pleased I taught them some gig etiquette (Editor: see Haters Gonna Hate...gig etiquette and the worst gig faux pas..).

Born Of Frustration from Seven then sees trumpeter Andy Diagram popping up in Block 2 and getting very competitive for audience attention with Tim Booth. A few songs later at the start of Just like Fred Astaire, the energetic Tim decides to walk over to Block 12 on the other side of the stage, serenading the audience who didn’t expect such a close up view of a performer. In perhaps the most endearing bit of the entire gig, he then strolls along the middle gangway all the way to the back of the Arena. Tim Booth then visits both of the disability areas, allowing the wheelchair user fans a connection that they must rarely get with performers, especially in venues this size. Really welcome inclusion, without being patronising in any way.

On the big screen you can see these fans getting some really decent selfies - mobile phone policy temporarily ignored. The only problem is that the song finishes and Tim Booth needs to ask multi-instrumentalist Saul Davies what the next song is! Curse Curse from La Petite Mort soon starts and Tim nearly makes it round to Block 1, only slightly mistiming the whole exercise. This is certainly the first artist I’ve ever seen circumnavigate an Arena in one and a half songs. Tim Booth certainly gets his steps in, although he does get to sit down (good name for song?) during Shadow Of The Giants, again from new LP Yummy.

We are then offered an opportunity to take our phones out of our pockets by Tim Booth for the new song Mobile Girl. He manages to mess up when his vocals come in not once but twice! Third time lucky we get a very different style of James song with some scary AI generated visuals of the band and the audience. Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) seems apt here. Sadly, this is not played tonight. I should point out that some of the pictures here were taken by my Mexican friend who was with us. Although totally fluent in English (as well as Spanish), he is happy to use the ‘non comprende’ excuse for his disobedience!

Sit Down is welcomed with the usual enthusiasm. They chose the faster paced version which I certainly prefer. Tomorrow and Sometimes take the audience enthusiasm up another notch to end the main part of the set. 

We get an encore of course and an announcement that Come Home was being retired. I’m all for that as I found their baggy Madchester era a bit annoying in the end, and I’ve probably heard it live twenty plus times. My 21 year old son has never heard it and was disappointed, along with my wife and a fair proportion of the audience. New song Way Over Your Head gets an airing instead. Then comes Beautiful Beaches which has become one of my favourite James songs when done live, even though it is only a mere three years old.

James has had drummer Dave Baynton Power for over thirty years. Recent gigs have also involved a new female drummer, whose name I am yet to discover, who gets to do a rather impressive and enthusiastic drum solo, with the whole band looking on. The bass line also gets to be a great deal more dominant than on record. The band finish proceedings with Laid (and its innuendo laden lyrics) to the delight of a very appreciative audience.

I’m fortunate to be seeing James doing their orchestral set in Bedford next month, supported by the incredible (and ever youthful) Johnny Marr. That’ll be a very different affair, I suspect but something to really look forward too. I really like it how they mix it up. Although I do yearn to hear more from their first two LPs, I do appreciate their artistic integrity. I’d love to hear Why So Close and Promised Land again one day, and I’ve never heard Scarecrow except on the wonderful One Man Clapping Live Album mentioned above. No setlist can be perfect for everybody, but James do seem to try their best to engage with their fanbase forty years on. In that sense I can wholly recommend them live.

Editor – Like Nick, I too have seen James many time, though not on this tour sadly - next time.

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