James have been the subject on an in-depth look at all the 45s they ever released, (and as such have been unlucky in never having an ICA devoted to them), so this isn’t the first time JimOne has been featured on the blog. I did hum and haw a bit, but given it’s now over four years since it last featured, I think it’s OK to have feature again as part of this series.
I’d forgotten until a recent re-read of Stuart Maconie’s essential bio of the band that was published back in 2000 just how many name and line-up changes they had gone through prior to getting the first single out and into the shops. Venereal and The Diseases, Volume Distortion, Model Team International, Model Team and Tribal Outlook had all been adopted and discarded. Tim Booth was the fourth person who had taken on lead vocals, and indeed had only really been recruited on the basis of him being a dancer until it was considered his status as public-school educated university student gave him a capability for writing better lyrics than any of Paul Gilberston, Jim Glennie or Gavan Whelan.
Indeed, many of the most popular early songs written and performed by James were tunes that pre-dated Tim getting on board, many of which, including at least one of those on the 3-track debut, had their original words butchered or removed altogether with the vocalist far from keen to blast out lyrics that were, at best, ambiguous and, at worst, borderline misogynous.
They had been gigging a fair bit around Manchester, including some reasonably high-profile support slots for The Fall, when Tony Wilson asked them to sign to Factory and release an album. Despite Wilson and others such as Rob Gretton actively pursuing James and talking them up at all times, the band were very wary of the label and did everything they could to be awkward, including refusing to record what the label were hoping for as a debut single. Indeed, the band went to the other extreme and offered up what they saw were their three weakest bits of material that between them lasted less than six-and-a-half minutes.
Factory were already renowned for issuing material that wasn’t obviously commercial, but Folklore, as the lead track of a debut single was particularly bonkers. It’s a folk-song, almost sea-shanty like, with minimalist playing that was a long way removed from the indie-pop that many were expecting. On the other hand, the two tracks on the flip side were upbeat belters with a direct lineage back to the sounds of young Scotland on Postcard Records that you can still, all these days later, throw fantastic shapes to on the indie-disco dance floor .
No wonder Factory were excited and they went a long way to ensure they did everything to keep the band happy, issuing the single with a really cheap sleeve design that went against many of their principles and promoting a song whose lyric was a savage attack on the music industry and indeed could be interpreted as a direct attack on the label:-
What would you sell, with the glasses and suit
Heart and a soul that won’t wear out
That’s not enough, I want what’s inside
You took a fish fillet knife and cut right through my eyes
I don’t recall it at the time, but JimOne was given rave reviews in the UK music press with big things predicted for the band. What happened next, however, seemed to sum up just how ill-prepared James were, initially, for life in the music industry. Paul Gilbertson, who had been the main driving force from the outset, was sacked shortly after the debut single and the three songs remain his sole contribution to recorded music. Tim Booth fell seriously ill, not for the first or last time in his life. Jim Glennie, having gone through the pain of being part of the decision to sack his best friend, struggled with everything, and indeed he and Booth ended up joining a sect that placed all sorts of restrictions and limitations on their behaviour and so put the band’s very being in real jeopardy for a while. It would take a full 12 months before the follow-up was recorded, with a further four-month delay before Factory issued it. The success that had been predicted with the release on JimOne wouldn’t come until the 1990s….
JimOne is a very fine release. Folklore is one of those songs that, once you get used to its idiosyncrasies, is a very listenable number and, as I alluded to earlier What’s The World and Fire So Close have always been magnificent as evidenced by how well they have aged. Despite all that, JimOne is not close to being the best 45 ever released by James, but it is indeed, a cracking debut.