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James homecoming gig in Manchester, live review – by Phil Newall

James can still sell out the arena in Manchester. Phil Newall went to find out how…

Christmas 2010 ”“ Two Saturday night gigs a week apart, two well established bands each synonymous with the city that hosts the gigs, and performed to a largely hometown crowd.

Last week it was The Bunnymen in Liverpool, this week James in Manchester ”“ Two cities with a longstanding rivalry, but two bands with a similar history, they formed around the same period, both achieved mainstream success, and both have enigmatic front-men who have either sacked or been sacked by their respective bands.

I suppose the only real difference being the venue’s; The Bunnymen played two nights in the faded grandeur of a crumbling Victorian theatre, James took to the stage at the M.E.N ”“ the epitome of corporate, soulless mammoth sized caverns that literally sucks the spirit from a crowd, the place is built upon Victoria Station, the crowds being spewed out of the arriving train carriages, herded like cattle towards the blank faced security ”Ëœarmed’ with barcode scanners to check tickets; this isn’t so much a gig as a machine ”“ Also being charged £4 for a half litre of luke warm Carling in a plastic bottle didn’t help, and then ordered by more security to decant it into a plastic beaker ”“ James had their work cut out returning this to a rock ”Ëœn’ roll gig.

They took to the stage largely unannounced, didn’t make any difference to myself stood beneath the stage but to the hundreds being ushered by the yellow clad security to their seats I guess they must of missed the first couple of songs.

As his band opened with ”ËœBorn Of Frustration’ Tim Booth as is his want took to wandering amongst the crowd, which went some way to creating a feeling of inclusion certainly amongst the seated crowd.

”ËœSeven’, and ”ËœRing The Bells’ follow before Larry Gott introduces ”ËœCome Home’ with the comment “Manchester likes this one” ”“ And he was right, at this stage James were in control and clearly enjoying being on home turf. Sadly, at least from the floor feeling did not seem to last…

James are a successful band, they have been referred to as a ”Ëœstadium band’, now that sort of success rightly ensures rewards for a band, but it may well come with a downside ”“ At least from were I was stood that downside was apparent; You can pick your bands, but the bands can’t pick their fans, and many in the crowd tonight were clearly out on a pre Christmas bender, soaked in lager before their arrival, which was continuously topped up by a succession of trips to the bar, and only really paying any attention when James played their hits.

When new material, such as was played, they ignored the band, shouted at each other, took pictures, updated their status via smart phones, and the group in front of myself resorted to snorting lines of coke when their fags and weed had ran out ”“ As such they missed Booths poignant explanation of the writing of ”ËœTell her I Said So’ a song about his 90yr old mother.

Then Booth picked up an acoustic guitar and was accompanied by the massed voices of Manchester Consort for ”ËœLookaway’ sadly a percentage of the crowd did exactly that ”“ returning to their smart phones!!

Tim Booth also commented regarding the playing of newer material that the gig ”Ëœisn’t all about nostalgia’ ”“ Sorry Tim for too many in the audience it was exactly that, but many of them weren’t even nostalgic for the old songs, just the sing-along albatross that ”ËœSit Down’ must of become, and when that didn’t get them going sections sang their own chants of ”ËœManchester, Manchester’ ”“ was this to reassure them of their location, or an act of civic pride; who knows?

A couple more hits followed ”ËœSay Something’, ”ËœFred Astaire’ dedicated to Gott’s father on the occasion of his 88th Birthday, before Booth struggling with flu just reaches the high notes during ”ËœRabbit’ lifted from the second of the recent mini albums; he was on safer ground as the majestic ”ËœSound’ led into set closer ”ËœStutter’

A bizarrely subdued crowd needed some encouragement from the video op to call James back for an encore, they returned once again accompanied by the choir for an extended ”ËœSometimes’ and ”ËœGold Mother’ before the corporate machine that is The M.E.N curtails the gig ”“ because hell raisers its 11pm!!

After a minute of confusion, a figure appears stage right to allow the band to perform one more song ”“ It could only be ”ËœLaid’ to finally close the night, and usher the crowd out into the freezing Manchester air.

I enjoyed James, they are a remarkably tight entertaining band blessed with a very talented and charismatic front-man – I just wished the idiots would either save their alcohol and narcotic fuelled antics or even just stay away.

On reflection both James and The Bunnymen were excellent, at least for myself though The Bunnymen took the plaudits, and that can only be down to venue, crowd size and make-up ”“ The M.E.N is a hell hole not suited to gigs, at least not honest passionate gigs, that said James made a damn fine effort to reset the balance; Maybe next Christmas James could do two nights at The Academy, now that would be a festive celebration. Or maybe a real mix-up, The Bunnymen play Manchester, and James visit Liverpool!

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. I’m not sure you can blame the venue for the crowd. I went to see I Am Kloot at Manchester Cathedral and people there were talking throughout the set. The kind of behaviour you describe has sadly become the norm at gigs. I blame it on the changing mentality of gig goers. It’s not about the music anymore, it’s about “being there”, or more accurately telling people you are there. James were just another band for them to tick off their list. I was at the Bunnymen’s Olympia gig which consisted of an older crowd of genuine fans, there to witness something special, I suspect that’s why they shut up and listened.

  2. You keep using the reflexive pronoun “myself”‘ rather than the objective form of I, “me”. Use “myself”‘when referring back to yourself in a sentence or emphasising that you were carrying out a task on your own.

  3. I love James but I don’t like the MEN arena. I didn’t attend because I knew it would be just like you described, full of ignorant louts going to the bar and back and not paying attention to the genius bands they’ve paid to come to see play. It baffles me.I really enjoyed seeing James at Manchester Central 2 years ago. They should of played there again.

  4. The crowd at the Bunnymen / Manchester was a bit rubbish too, no real enthusiasm despite the awesomeness of what was going on on stage [which it certainly was] only really joined in when the hits got played. Everyone seems to drink heavily too…..I really don’t get people these days…

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