WORDS BY LAURA DEAN / IMAGES BY PAUL DIXON
‘James Dance To The Beat Of Their Own Drum’
To mark the 30th anniversary of their legendary Alton Towers show, James treated fans to a rare night of nostalgia at Manchester’s Castlefield Bowl, where they performed every song from the original 1992 setlist. Though the original set at the Staffordshire theme park is infamous for its wet and windy conditions, the sold out crowd on Saturday were blessed with glorious sunshine. Though that’s not all they were blessed with and there were a total of three vastly different support acts.
First up was Surma – the eccentric project of multi instrumentalist Débora Umbelino. Fascinating to watch, Surma delivered somewhat of a sonic blend that combined electronic, ambient, post-rock and jazz influences. Behind a desk of keyboards, synths, bells and even a suitcase, she mastered every instrument around her and certainly brought a uniqueness to the event.
Championed by James’ Jim Glennie, the penultimate set came from The Snuts, who have been busy making their mark on the festival circuit this Summer. The four piece delivered a flawless performance of tracks; including the bass heavy ‘All Your Friends’, the scuzzy ‘Zuckerpunch’ and the anthemic ‘Glasgow’. Frontman Jack Cochrane owned the stage throughout – with a particular highlight being when the feisty Scots tugged at everyone’s emotions with the heartfelt ‘Somebody Loves You’. There’s a reason why everyone’s talking about The Snuts and their headline set at Manchester’s Neighbourhood Festival in October is sure to be a triumph!
If you’ve seen James before, you’ll know that they’re constantly changing their sets – quite often when they’re in the middle of them – so knowing the setlist ahead of time was incredibly strange for those onstage and off. Though James dance to the beat of their own drum and managed to still deliver the element of surprise by playing the original set in a different order. Time travelling back to the 80s, they kicked off proceedings with the raucous ‘Johnny Yen’, before bringing the tempo down for stunning renditions of ‘America’ and ‘What’s the World’.
With sixteen albums behind them, James are a band that are continually evolving – both through their music and line up. Currently a nine piece, they successfully breathed new life into their early material on Saturday evening and this was particularly evident during ‘Stripmining’ and ‘Lose Control’, with the latter seeing Chloe Alper join Tim on vocals before the band came together for a euphoric lengthy outro. It’s not just the more delicate tracks that had been given a new lease of life either and the chaotic ‘Hymn From a Village’, ‘Stutter’ – complete with an improvised ending – and ‘God Only Knows’ all sounded huge, whilst the pummelling beats of the frenzied ‘Gold Mother’ was nothing short of biblical.
After nineteen songs, the band came to the end of their main set with the anthemic ‘Come Home’ – featuring Tim’s best moves, the synth-fuelled tracks always provides a joyous experience both onstage and off. Of course, the Manchester icons hadn’t finished and eagle eyed fans knew exactly what songs were missing – ‘Ring the Bells’, ‘Sit Down’ and ‘Sound’. Ending the triple whammy of greatness, ‘Sound’ featured an extended breakdown that shone a light on both trumpeter Andy Diagram’s talent and creativity as he demonstrated the multiverse of sounds that he can make. Taking place just a few months after the release of the trumpet led ‘Seven’, the Alton Towers setlist heavily featured tracks that illustrate just how significant Andy’s sound is to the band.
The rapturous crowd didn’t want the night to end and clearly neither did the band, as they returned to the stage moments later. “Shall we cheat?” Tim asked before they threw themselves into a hit laced mini set of ‘Laid’, ‘Waltzing Along’, ‘Beautiful Beaches’ and ‘Getting Away With it (All Messed Up)’. The bass-driven ‘Beautiful Beaches’ from the band’s latest album ‘All the Colours of You’ was a particularly special addition to the set as not only did it receive a rapturous response, but it offered the perfect contrast of old and new material – as well as a moment of pure exhilaration in the form of an epic drum breakdown from Debbie Know-Hewson.
Even confined to a particular setlist, James had no problem showcasing the versatility that their back catalogue offers. Since the addition of both Debbie and Chloe, they’ve been amid a new phase in their career that’s allowed them to experiment further and whilst we were happy to look back for one night, we can’t wait to see what’s in the band’s future.
1/ JOHNNY YEN
2/ WHATS THE WORLD
4/ HYMN FROM A VILLAGE
7/ LIVE A LOVE OF LIFE
8/ GOD ONLY KNOWS
10/ LOSE CONTROL
11/ SAY SOMETHING
12/ GOALIE’S BALL
13/ MARIA’S PARTY
14/ NEXT LOVER
15/ GOLD MOTHER
16/ HOW WAS IT FOR YOU
17/ BORN OF FRUSTRATION
19/ COME HOME
20/ RING THE BELLS
21/ SIT DOWN
24/ WALTZING ALONG
25/ BEAUTIFUL BEACHES
26/ GETTING AWAY WITH IT
FOLLOW THE SNUTS