A RE-POST TO BUY MORE TIME (9)

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.

JC

IT REALLY WAS A CRACKING DEBUT SINGLE (14)

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.

mp3 : James – Folklore
mp3 : James – What’s The World
mp3 : James – Fire So Close

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.

JC

FROM THE SOUTH-WEST CORRESPONDENT..WHAT’S IN YOUR BOX (22)

The Shoebox of Delights – The Robster Picked Number 18
‘Nowhere’ Original Soundtrack – Various Artists

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Soundtracks. I rarely buy them, in fact I own two. This one, which I didn’t buy, and Trainspotting which was a gift at Christmas. The problem with soundtracks is that you never get one that is 100% full of good tracks. You get the odd track, the odd unreleased gem, the odd hard to find song, but you wouldn’t buy the whole thing because it also contains Celine Dion, Phil Collins or Mumford and Sons.

Nowhere is no different. It contains some excellent music but it contains some utter utter shite as well. Believe me no compilation album with Marilyn Manson on it is worth buying.

Nowhere is a Gregg Araki film about the Doomed Generation or something – here is a snippet from the press stuff around the film

“A group of teenagers try to sort out their lives and emotions while bizarre experiences happen to each one, including alien abductions, bad acid trips, bisexual experiences, suicides, bizarre deaths, and a rape by a TV star. All of this happens before “the greatest party of the year”.

Now bearing in mind my favourite film of all time is Raiders of the Lost Ark followed by Back To the Future II – this isn’t my type of film but it does have a pretty good soundtrack (Marilyn Manson, 311, Coco and the Bean and Catherine Wheel withstanding)

Going off topic slightly I was once on a training course and we did this stupid ‘icebreaking’ thing where you had to name your favourite food, favourite album, favourite film and fantasy dinner party guest to a bunch of strangers. Anyway, I was sat on a table with four chaps, one I can only describe as a ‘hipster twat’ and when it was his turn to talk about his favourite film (this was after I said mine and the chap next to me, said ‘I don’t know, probably Jaws’) said this “I guess, I’m kinda leftfield, my film would be something by Russian avant garde agent provocateur Alexandr Soukurov”. That is what he said. Hope he’s reading this and if so – your beard looked crap and from the look of it your tattooist has put the Sanskrit word for ‘Knobjockey’ on your left arm.

Anyway, the soundtrack, let’s talk about the good stuff, the best track on it by far is by Chuck D ‘Generation Wrekked’ angry, shouty hip hop at its best by the guy who does it better than anyone else on the planet. There are some other gems ‘How Can You Be Sure?’ by Radiohead – which I think features on the B side on ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ but dates back to when they weren’t even called Radiohead (thanks Badgerman, for that snippet of information, he really is a walking Radiohead encyclopaedia). You get an Elastica track ‘In the City’ which I think is only available on a BBC Radio Sessions, and at just over 90 seconds, it is exactly what you expect from Elastica snotty, ferocious and bratty. There is also ‘Dicknail’ by Hole, which is them at their rawest, angriest and ultimately best. It’s a downright nasty song but its also great.

mp3 : Chuck D – Generation Wrekked
mp3 : Radiohead – How Can You Be Sure
mp3 : Elastica – In The City
mp3 : Hole – Dicknail

There are a couple of tracks which are not rare, ‘Life Is Sweet’ by the Chemical Brothers is here (given the Daft Punk remix treatment) in all its eight minute glory and ‘Trash’ by Suede – or The London Suede as the album calls them. Both are excellent – the Suede track ends the album and rather lifts the gloom from the Americanised College rock that precedes it.

You also get a few tracks by decent bands who recorded them specifically for this album – there are two of these that stand out ‘Nowhere’ by Curve, which is possibly one of the best tracks that they have ever produced. They sound sinister, angry and Toni Halliday vocal is more menacing than ever on it. The other one is ‘I Have the Moon’ by the much missed and loved Lush – and this may be the albums highpoint, a tremendously dreamy gorgeous song that is relaxing and a genuine chill down the spine moment.

mp3 : Lush – I Have The Moon

You also get a rare James track (saying that I gave up on James after ‘Whiplash’ so it might not be that rare) called ‘Thursday Treatments’ which is an instrumental track. Its bland. Really bland. They are trying to sound like Aphex Twin but end up sounding like the music I expect to be played in Japanese lifts. Seriously this is why I gave up on James. Twenty years ago I would have bought this solely for the fact it had a James track on it and would have justified its uselessness by calling it ‘Experimental’. I don’t know why but this song has angered me so much but I have just punched a cuddly toy owl.

mp3 : James – Thursday Treatments

So that is ‘Nowhere’ I am half tempted to give the film a spin now but I have just read that it has Ryan Philippe in it, so know it will be waste of time, a man that is to acting what I am to flying helicopters – bizarrely it also has Gibby Haynes from the Butthole Surfers in it, still no reason to watch it though.

That was Number 18, on the list, what’s next guys…?

S-WC

THE JAMES SINGLES (27) AND (28)

We're Going To Miss You FrontGetting_Away_With_It_(All_Messed_Up)

Apologies to those who don’t like James for them featuring two days in a row. But I had intended to have this series wrapped up well before now.

Yesterday’s single was the last of the James singles that I have in my collection. I did have a few gaps that I’ve plugged since beginning this series back in November 2013 and while it was tempting to chase down the final CDs via ebay/discogs etc I decided against it and instead hunted down whatever songs I could find online.

We’re Going To Miss You was an unexpected third single lifted from Millionaires albeit the track was re-recorded for release as a 45. However, the record label again seemed to mess things up by shoving it out just before Christmas 1999 when the airwaves were full of the usual cheesy numbers that abound at the time of year as well as filling time with a look back at classic pop songs of the 20th Century as the new millennium was just over the horizon. As a result, the single completely stiffed and for the first time in seven years the band missed out on a Top 40 placing:-

mp3 : James – We’re Going To Miss You (not available)
mp3 : James – Wisdom Of The Throat
mp3 : James – Top Of The World (Live at the Embassy Rooms) (not available)
mp3 : James – Pocketful of Lemons
mp3 : James – We’re Going To Miss You (Eno’s Version)

The next and final physical single appeared in June 2001. It was the only single lifted from the album Pleased To Meet You. The single preceded the album by a week and was released at the end of June 2001.

mp3 : James – Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)
mp3 : James – Make It Alright
mp3 : James – So Swell
mp3 : James – Stand
mp3 : James – The Shining (live at Ridge Farm) (not available)

It reached #22 in the UK charts. An anthemic number that, at the time, was dismissed as very much James by numbers and used to demonstrate just how tired and cliche-ridden they had become.

Six months later, James called it a day but signed off with a triumphant tour of the UK’s main arenas culminating in a gig in Manchester that was later released as a live album.

POSTSCRIPT

The band reformed in 2007. There have since been three singles released as digital downloads – Whiteboy, Waterfall and Not So Strong – none of which charted.

And that, dear readers brings the series to a close.

Next up, and in response to the positive feedback the other week, will be a short series looking at ten singles released by Altered Images.

THE JAMES SINGLES (26)

index

index2

I’d be amazed if anyone who was into James circa 1985 – with songs like Folklore, What’s The World and If Things Were Perfect – would ever have imagined they would g on to write and record what can only be described as an MOR love song such as Just Like Fred Astaire some 14 years later.

By all accounts, I should hate this song.  It is sentimentally soppy and tune wise it is the sort of thing that you would imagine would be handed to the winner of the X Factor or The Voice to grab hold of and release on the back of them winning the vote of the general public.  But, just like the Four Tops (and Orange Juice), I can’t help myself….and have to confess to having a real affection for this particular single.

There’s a place in the world for outstanding love songs and James, having previously delivered an absolute belter in Sometimes back in 1993, managed to deliver another one right here.  It the sound of a band comfortable with their place in the world – the success of the greatest hits package had finally put any money worries firmly to bed – and the notion of making new and innovative sounding music can now be left to others.  It is mature, grown-up music that in the hands of others could border on boring, but thanks to the collective talents of all concerned, they manage to pull it off:-

mp3 : James – Just Like Fred Astaire

It was released on 2 x CDs in October 1999 and came with three completely new tracks plus a re-working of a track from the Laid LP:-

mp3 : James – I Defeat
mp3 : James – Long To See
mp3 : James – Mary
mp3 : James – Goal Goal Goal

The first of these features a contributing vocal from Sinead O’Connor and is one of those songs that you listen to and wonder why the band chucked it away on a b-side. It’s another mid-tempo ballad but it is quite unlike anything else the band ever recorded and, with its catchy chorus could easily have cut the mustard as a single.

Long To See is a real slowie that relies heavily on Tim’s vocal to make it of real interest while Mary sounds like an outake from the Whiplash era, so if you liked that sort of song you’ll fall for its charms.

Goal Goal Goal is a real oddity. It takes the tune of Low Low Low but the new lyric is football related. The story is that the band were keen to have it adopted as the official anthem of the England Football Team at the 1994 World Cup taking place in the USA – after all, New Order had enjoyed a #1 hit with World In Motion at the previous tournament four years earlier. The problem was, England failed to quality for the 94 Finals……

The song was however, put on an excruciatingly awful album called Gloryland, released by the football authorities to commemorate the tournament. To give you an idea of how bad this record was – Queen, Jon Bon Jovi, Tina Turner, Fleetwood Mac, Scorpions, Daryl Hall and Santana are among those who feature. The band however, five years on, dug it out and shoved it on CD2 of Fred Astaire.

The two CDs do make for a decent enough package but the record label made a huge error in releasing the single just one week before the LP Millionaires. It did hit #17 in its first week on the back of solid amounts of radio play and the band carrying out promotional duties on UK television but the type of record buyer it was aimed at would have bought the LP when it came it out rather than boost the sales of the single.

It remains the last time that James went Top 20 in the singles chart.

Enjoy

THE JAMES SINGLES (25)

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It’s now approaching nine months since the nonsense of the Sit Down remix and it is time for what would be the 25th single to be released by James.

Let’s give the band a bit of credit.  They were wounded by the criticism offered by fans about the multi-formatting of recent 45s and that almost all of them had been padded out with remixes or live versions. and so it was made clear that the first post Best-Of single would come accompanied by high quality new songs unavailable elsewhere.

The single itself caught more than a few folk out:-

mp3 : James – I Know What I’m Here For

This was a different sounding James…well to an extent. It had a joyous sounding 45 with a catchy chorus but in a way that was unlike any of their other singles.  I was caught out by it at the time and to all intent and purposes I should have fallen for its charms.  But I couldn’t help but think that they were trying to take a leaf out of the book of U2 with a conscious and deliberate attempt to make something different just for the sake of it rather than head down any new and exciting musical direction.  And sixteen years on, I remain strangely unmoved by the single.  There’s evidence that I wasn’t alone as it stalled at #22 in the charts.

So what about these anticipated b-sides??

mp3 : James – All Good Boys
mp3 : James – Imagine Ourselves
mp3 : James – Downstairs
mp3 : James – Stolen Horse

CD1

All Good Boys is a slow song initially driven along by a strong vocal from Tim over an acoustic guitar before the chorus licks in where it sadly falls away into something a bit dull and leaden with the rest of the band joining in on backing vocals over a tune that could pass for a Robbie Williams b-side.

Imagine Ourselves is another slowie.  This time it is initially driven along by a strong vocal from Tim over some electronic noodling.  However, there is no upbeat shouty chorus to take the song to a different level so it sort of meanders along for the whole four and a half minutes but in a way that is quite lovely and moving.  It’s a song that needs two or three listened to be fully appreciated but there’s no denying it is top quality for a b-side.

CD2

Downstairs is very much James in the 90s by numbers in that if you were fond of the singles you’d immediately fall for its charms.  Regular readers will know that I found the James of the 90s a bit more miss than hit and so it is with this song. But I can see and appreciate why it is so well-regarded by fans

Stolen Horses is yet another ballad and again doesn’t do all that much for me but this is as much to do with the fact that James are no longer sounding anything like the band that I had fallen for almost 15 years previously than it being a crap song.

Listening to the songs some sixteen years later and I think I may have come up with the answer to as why I’m not a huge fan of them…….

These b-sides, and indeed the a-side could have been written today and no-one would be any the wiser.  There’s lots of singers and bands out there who have great sounding voices and whose technical skills on their chosen instruments are there for all to hear and who have no trouble filling large venues and arenas to ever-increasing fanbases.  These James songs from 1999 sound as if they would fit very comfortably into such sets and that’s what’s wrong with them.  The music snob in me shies away from the mainstream for the most part and these highly proficient songs repel me in the same way.

But this journey of looking at James singles is almost at an end and so I’m not disembarking the vehicle until it reaches its final destination.  I am however, bored with the repetitive scenery as I look out the window.  I need that ‘wow’ factor………

 

THE JAMES SINGLES (24)

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I hadn’t forgotten about this series….I was simply putting off having to write about this rip-off.

I mentioned last time out that the release of Runaground, while being a right pain in the proverbial with its 3xCd format, at least, and for the first time in ages, provided some value(ish) for money with decent b-sides, mixes and live session versions.

Six months later in November 1998, and with the Best Of still doing quite well in the album charts James were about to embark on a sold-out tour of large arenas in the UK complete with support from either Stereophonics or Gene.  The record label decided something had to be done to tie-in with the tour and also to prompt the Christmas market record-buyers that a James greatest hits CD might be worth popping into someone’s stocking.

And so the idea of a remix of Sit Down was hatched……

There’s lots to despise about this release.  It has an appalling sleeve and the remix isn’t very good…it sounds awfy like the Doctorin’ The Tardis by The Timelords which had got to #1 away back in 1988…and then there’s the heinous crime of the record label stating that the inclusion of Sit Down on the b-side was the ‘original version’ when in fact it was the hit single version already on ‘Best Of’ rather than going to the trouble and expense of getting permission to go with the version released back in the days on Rough Trade.

What almost saves it are the two acoustic tracks lifted from the April 1998 session recorded for GLR Radio and the rocking version of China Girl which the band had recorded as a one-off on 21 April 1997 as a contribution to a Radio 1 Show, hosted by Jo Whiley, to commemorate the 50th birthday of Iggy Pop.  If you hadn’t taped it off the radio it was otherwise unavailable:-

mp3 : James – Sit Down (apollo four forty mix)
mp3 : James – China Girl
mp3 : James – What For (GLR session)
mp3 : James – Sit Down (GLR session)

Enjoy.