Thetford: We’re in our best period ever, says James’ frontman Tim Booth

James, who are working on new material.

James, who are working on new material. - Credit: Archant

The last time I saw James’ frontman Tim Booth, he was sat on a sofa with Peter Kay being dragged through Stockport and Bolton for Comic Relief.

“He rang me up a few weeks before and said he had this great idea, would I like to fly to England to do it. I was jet-lagged but it was great fun; we were stopping traffic wherever we went. It was chaos and Peter’s really fun guy to sit on a sofa with for two days.”

One of the most influential British indie bands, James came to Thetford Forest last night as part of the Forestry Commission’s annual concert series Forest Live.

Formed in Manchester in 1982, their 20 UK top 40 singles include Sit Down, Laid and Sometimes and they’ve sold more than 13million albums worldwide.

Beating Oasis and The Smiths to the title of best Manchester band ever it’s been a remarkable career, although not one without its ups and downs.

“The paradox is that on one level no, of course not,” says Tim on the topic of their sustained success. “I think we quite soon thought we were going to be really big, that enabled us to get through seven years knowing we had some kind of destiny.

“We were totally self-taught, ignorant musicians. When I met the guys they were 16 and they’d stolen their instruments and no one in James was allowed to have any lessons because we didn’t want to learn to play like other people played. The original guitar player and original singer ended up in prison. It was a tough little street band that I joined... the middle class ponce from university.

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“We educated ourselves by rehearsing, four days a week, five hours a day. Improvising, learning how to write songs in a very primitive way, with nobody telling us ‘oh you need a chorus’ or ‘you need this...’ learning through bloody-minded we’re just going to have fun and make a racket and if we’re lucky enough to come out with songs then we’re lucky enough to come out with songs. Somehow we had faith that would guide us to creating original music.”

Longevity, he says, is a weird thing. He puts theirs down to having years improvising through hard times so when fallow times came again it wasn’t a big deal, they just got on with it. More importantly, they enjoy what they do.

“We’ve been writing for new album recently and after about two songs I remember saying to everyone ‘God I feel so honoured and privileged to be in this room with you’. We’ve been together in that room 24 years, two of them I’d been with for 30 years and they were still surprising me musically and making songs I knew were amazing.”

Tim finds the best Manchester band accolade flattering.

“Yes,” he laughs, “I don’t know what to say (about that). I think that was for the people of Manchester which was really lovely. We’ve been playing there for 30 years and that audience was the one that kept us going through lean times. We had seven years before we got any media attention but by the end of the seven years we were playing sold out gigs to 10,000 a night in Manchester.

“It was the place that took us, fostered us and nurtured us. We’ve got a really strong bond with people there. Bands like The Smiths, Stone Roses are much more known in a cult way outside Manchester. I guess the people of Manchester claim us as theirs.”

The new album drops next year and Tim thinks it’s one of their best.

“We’re getting on better than we’ve ever got on before - that’s the other thing about longevity. We had a terrible time in the late 1990s where there was a lot of addiction within James and a lot of people were pretty damaged. It was really intense and awful, but we were still making great music so we stuck with it.

“Since we came back... it’s been the most enjoyable period of James I’ve ever been through and we’re writing music I’m deeply proud of; we’re in our best period weirdly enough. Even the fans who have seen us over 30 years are saying it.

“That’s what’s unusual about us. I think it’s really unusual for bands to sort out their ****. I know a lot of bands who’ve made comebacks and a lot of them aren’t talking to each other. Most are travelling on separate buses, have separate lawyers, separate managers. We get on better than we ever have done and have actually sorted out a lot of the **** that divided us in the 1990s.”

They’ve certainly come a long way from their earliest incarnation, Venereal and the Diseases.

“One would hope,” laughs Tim.

Forest Live is an independent programme organised by the Forestry Commission. Income generated from ticket sales is spent on improving the forests for people and wildlife.

Paloma Faith plays Thetford tonight, followed by Blondie tomorrow, The Script on July 11, Paul Weller on July 12 and Elvis Costello and The Imposters on July 13.

Tickets are available from the Forestry Commission box office on 03000 680400 or online at

Read the review of last night’s show online now.

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