We’ve had our weird periods says James’ Jim Glennie ahead of tonight’s Newmarket gig
- Credit: Archant
Jim Glennie of James talks about the accidental evolution behind their hits and enjoying the fear of playing new songs
Right now, in a recording studio somewhere, either on a crumpled piece of paper or stuck in the head of some runner, could be the best unreleased James song ever written.
“Wouldn’t surprise me, to be honest. Sometimes we jam when we’re waiting to record; or if we’re at a radio station, waiting to do something. We’ll make something up and somebody’ll go ‘did anybody record that?’ and we’ll go ‘no; ah well, never mind’,” says Jim Glennie.
He, Saul Davies and Mark Hunter are beavering away on some new songs in a little studio they’ve set up in a rented house in Derbyshire for the summer. At weekends, they’re gigging.
“It’s going really well. We’re hoping to start recording in September and the record hopefully should be out April next year.”
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Writing is the easiest part of the process, and always starts with improvisation. When they began, back in Manchester in the 1980s, they naively never realised there was any other way of doing it.
“We get together with a drum machine in a room and just play and record everything. Some of us are mental; we go completely off the rails and it’s just a cacophony. We love the accidental nature and spontaneity of it. Sometimes you’ll be jamming and scribbling on this piece of paper because you’ve got this lyric. Sometimes mad or brilliant things appear. The hard work starts afterward; forming them into songs.”
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Over the years they’ve got better at listening and sifting through the resulting collision of ideas that would never happen if they were sat there writing with an acoustic guitar and a piano.
“What we’re doing at festivals through the summer is trying to play some of the new songs live; it does them so much good. It’s a challenge if you play something people don’t know. They might listen, but for it to compete with the big song, the known song before it... it puts the fear of God into you, basically, and puts the pressure on the song (so) that you have to really sink or swim at that point.
Tours, he says, aren’t about always getting it right; adding they still have some hilarious things go wrong on on stage.
“We still balls things up but the crowds love it, they know you’re human. When you first start and make a mistake you want to be swallowed by a hole and disappear.”
Like their first gig at Eccles British Legion when the manager pulled the plug half way through their second song.
“Quite rightly, we were appalling,” laughs Jim. “Kirby Carney was supposed to be the flippin’ singer of the band, I’ll name and shame him now, I’ve never done this before but he decided last minute he wasn’t going to so I, for some stupid reason, made myself from bass player to singer.”
He describes his 15-year-old self as a reluctant band member with absolutely no interest in being a musician. Best friend Paul Gilbertson did, deciding he was going to start a band with Jim on bass.
“I was like ‘oh no, here we go’. He was very much like that, into something for short periods of time. It’d be the most important thing on the planet for a few weeks before it would be something else. So I thought I’ll just keep me head down, go along with it for now and he’ll forget about it and we’ll be moving onto something else and he didn’t.
“He found a friend of a friend who was selling this bass guitar and amp and he sent me round to look at. I’ve never touched a guitar in me life before and me mum, for some strange reason, agreed to let me have an advance on me birthday and buy it for me. I was like ‘thanks mum, cheers’. I genuinely thought I’ll give it two weeks, it’ll get chucked under the bed and we can forget about it.”
He found himself falling in love with being in a band rather than wanting to be a musician. Not an extrovert at all, Jim was terrified just stood there with lyrics written on a piece of paper.
“I’m not a great singer to honest with you; I was probably worse back then than I am now. We didn’t know what we were doing. The owner stopped us and the DJ kicked in but that was the thing, we weren’t very good but we adored playing live and desperately trying to get better. We just got pulled in by it. I absolutely loved the excitement, that was me completely and utterly hooked.”
James are one of Britain’s most influential indie bands. During their career they’ve released 14 studio albums, with hits including Sit Down and She’s A Star. Their latest studio album, Girl At The End Of The World, went straight in at number two in the UK charts.
Not bad for a band who used to take part in medical experiments to get by.
“We were poor, impoverished, trying to work hard. We had bits and pieces of jobs which we’d had to leave at various times because of the demands of the band. We were trying to be busy, but it’s not difficult to be busy and have no money still.
“We were trying to grab gigs for £50 or something but still needed to make a living to survive, so one of the things we found was drug testing; it was a godsend at the time. There are a lot of similar occasions when I’m stuck there going ‘oh the glamour’ – yeah the reality of it all.”
There have been some, he admits, weird periods.
“We (he and Tim Booth) were in... a weird meditation [group] and it was a bit bonkers; I was in it for four years, for crying out loud... but I suppose, if you analyse anybody’s life, everybody has weird bits, don’t they? Ours are just a bit more public. We’ve had major calamities in the band, major fall-outs... they’ve been the most destructive and the most pointless. You just think ‘I’m such a lucky b*****d, this is such a fantastic job and I’m ruining it through being a childish k**b-end’.”
Living and working together around the clock isn’t easy; especially when everybody’s very passionate about what they do. Tempers get frayed and relationships can be edgy.
“The six-year break we had did us the world of good because we came back with a different appreciation of things and I think we’ve grown up a bit, we’re different men when we came back,” says Jim, adding there are many people who contribute to James in many different ways, describing the current set-up as a weird, sometimes clunky, democracy but one that works.
“It’s a cliché but you don’t appreciate something until it’s taken away. We appreciated it but we realised it doesn’t have to be just [about being] productive; making great music and doing something you’re proud of and doing a job you love – you can actually enjoy yourself. I think that was the bit we’d not really focused on. We’d allowed other aspects of what we did to get in the way and that just seemed really silly. I think when we came back we didn’t know how long we’d have left, so we were all pretty like ‘let’s not let silliness get in the way’.”
There have been periods where they’ve struggled massively with the industry, not being particularly fashionable or ignored even. They’ve continued to put out, in his mind, great music.
“Maybe after my death, at some point in the future, some bunch of 18-year-old kids will go ‘who are this band called James?’ and they’ll put it on and be like... I love that idea. Even through the moments where I just thought ‘I’m not sure anybody’s listening at the moment’, part of me was like you’re putting a record in the annals of music history and that’s all you can do really.”
• James play Newmarket Nights tonight.