3 February 2009 saw the 700th post over at the old blog….it felt like a landmark occasion and so I did something a bit unusual.
BACK TO BASICS WEEK : TUESDAY
The 700th posting.
And for only the second ever time in all of them, a complete album is available to listen to.
One Man Clapping is a live album, released in March 1989. It had been recorded over two nights the previous November in Bath. So what?
Well, the fact is that James at the time were in dire financial difficulties, so much so that without this record they would in all likelihood have broken-up. The move away from from Factory Records some five years earlier onto the major label with Sire had been an unmitigated disaster.
The debut album hadn’t sold well, largely because the label thought it uncommercial and refused to give it any meaningful promotional budget. The band decided to swallow their pride and make a more radio-friendly second LP, only to find to their horror that the record label more or less rejected it – it was given a release more than a year later, again with next to no promotion. It was fair to say the relationship had broken down, and James manufactured their escape.
But that left them with no record deal and no incentive for touring, although their fan base remained loyal. The boys were reduced to taking part in medical experiments at a Manchester hospital to pay the rent, when they come up with the idea of recording a low-cost live album which would not only make them some money, but also showcase their new songs to other labels. But how could they get the money to pay for the recording of such an album?
Believe it or not, it was a bank manager who came to their rescue – one Colin Cook of the St. Anne’s Square, Manchester branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland – with a loan of £12,000. He did so after he’d gone along to see the band play live after they had put in the request for the loan.
The LP was a critical success, and its aims of making some money and getting the band back in the spotlight were achieved.
Only around 10,000 copies of One Man Clapping were made available. The cassette and vinyl versions have 12 songs on them, but the CD version has 13 songs; in 1989, vinyl was still way more popular than CDs, so in all likelihood, the extra track was included in the hope that the more loyal fans would buy both versions. Indeed, the CD version is a rare beast and changes hands for decent sums nowadays.
I’ve only the vinyl version, but it’s one that has a proud place on the shelf. I picked it up second hand some two years ago not long after starting the blog, and I always wanted to make it available on some sort of special occasion.
And today seems to be as good as any.
mp3 : James – Chain Mail
mp3 : James – Sandman (Hup-Springs)
mp3 : James – Whoops
mp3 : James – Riders
mp3 : James – Leaking
mp3 : James – Why So Close
mp3 : James – Johnny Yen
mp3 : James – Scarecrow
mp3 : James – Are You Ready
mp3 : James – Really Hard
mp3 : James – Burned
mp3 : James – Stutter
One Man Clapping was released on One Man Records, which in effect was an imprint of Rough Trade – the sleeve notes give a very big thank you to Geoff Travis.
Indeed, Travis went even further in terms of saving the band by giving them a contract with his indie label which had really made its fame and fortune a few years earlier with The Smiths – only to see James walk away after a couple of singles so they could have another stab at stardom with a major, in this case Fontana.
The rest, as they say, is history.
There’s quite a few who say James were at their very best in the era of One Man Clapping, but I think that’s a bit of indie-snobbery talking. Some of their very best songs lay ahead of them, and while the rise to stardom did result in some hugely over-produced stuff that changed dramatically the way the band sounded within a handful of years, I don’t think anyone who watched just how much of a struggle those first 6 or 7 years were for all concerned could begrudge them the success. If you can’t be bothered to listen to all of this album and want a recommendation for just one song, then how about I steal some words from Stuart Maconie and his book Folklore : The Official History of James:-
The album’s highlight is its least well-known track, Burned, a new song written in the aftermath of the Sire debacle. The lyric is a defiant denunciation of the music business.
“If you don’t look cool, they won’t look at you
But if your image is strong, any song will do
They think that the wrapping’s the gift….
All we want is an empty throne
I feel I’ve been burned
But I won’t let it show
My beliefs are all shaken
I’m lost in the grief at the state I’m in
Seen too much goodness chewed up by money men
If God exists she should make us king…”
And God it seemed was listening and yes, she was planning to make them, if not king, then certainly minor archdukes of the business they were so bitter about.