LIVE: James – AO Arena, Manchester, 03/12/2021 1

LIVE: James – AO Arena, Manchester, 03/12/2021

In June of this year, James released their sixteenth album All The Colours Of You – landing at number three in the UK album charts and produced by Jacknife Lee, it boasts some of the freshest and most personal tracks of their almost four-decade-long career.Having given the new material its first live airing at various festivals and outdoor events over the Summer, the band embarked on a seven date tour of UK arenas towards the end of November. Luckily for us, we were at their triumphant homecoming gig at Manchester’s AO Arena on Friday night.

Taking to the stage at 9pm, the band opened with ‘Zero’ – described by frontman Tim Booth to summarise how we’ve all felt over the last two years, it’s a powerful opener that encourages people to live in the moment. Despite its somewhat sinister lyrics – “we’re all gonna die, that’s the truth” – it’s not a melancholic track in the slightest and its swirling instrumentation – particularly Mark Hunter’s keyboard and Andy Diagram’s trumpet – give it a hopeful undertone. Next is ‘Isabella’, which packs one hell of a punch live and gets the crowd fired up for mass singalongs to classics ‘She’s a Star’ and ‘Born of Frustration’.

The cheerful melody and pummelling beats of ‘All The Colours Of You’ is next, telling the tale of the last couple of years (“haven’t hugged a human since the end of May”) and Trump’s time in office, it offers a moment of pure euphoria when the lights go down and the music pauses, leaving a stage of silhouettes singing “we love all the colours, all the colours of you”. Never a band to do what’s expected of them, Chloe Alper suddenly has an acoustic guitar in hand and the band flawlessly fuse the track together with the chorus of ‘Many Faces’ – highlighting the sheer strength of Chloe’s vocals and leading to a spectacular moment in which the crowd were holding their arms in the air in unison.

IMG 1910 scaled IMG 1864 scaled
Always experimenting and unafraid of the unknown, James soar as a nine piece and a particular highlight was seeing them breathe new life into older/lesser played tracks such as ‘Gold Mother’, ‘Maria’s Party’ and ‘Honest Joe’ – with the latter featuring intricate guitar work from Adrian Oxaal and the welcome addition of multi-instrumentalist Saul Davies’ violin. As the band approach their fortieth anniversary, their ability to perform a setlist that continually jumps across their back catalogue is impressive – for example, halfway through the set they played the chaotic ‘Hymn From A Village’, which was written in the 80’s, followed it with the brooding ‘Walk Like You’ from 2014’s La Petite Mort then were playing the exhilarating ‘Wherever It Takes Us’ from All The Colours Of You just a few songs later. You’d expect the set to sound a little disjointed but that’s not the case at all – it’s a risk that they’re willing to take and it more than pays off.

IMG 1886 scaled
Crafting the setlist is another skill of theirs and with a lengthy set of twenty three tracks both old and new, there was well and truly something for every fan – including a dance off between Tim and Bez from the Happy Monday’s during the synth-fuelled ‘Come Home’. Towards the end of the main set, Tim told the heart-breaking tale of his father-in-law asking him to sing ‘Sit Down’ to him via video call, shortly before his passing due to Covid – in a poignantly beautiful moment, the crowd sang the first verse and chorus back to him whilst the band watched in awe, before joining in. The last track of the set was ‘Sound’, complete with an extended breakdown that shone a light on both Andy’s talent and creativity as he demonstrated the multiverse of sounds that he can make.

IMG 1917 scaled IMG 1932 scaled

Led by bassist Jim Glennie, the band kicked the encore off with the infectiously catchy ‘Beautiful Beaches’, which included an epic drum breakdown from Debbie Knox-Hewson and received such a rapturous reaction from the crowd that you’d have thought it’d been in the set for years. After crowd pleasers ‘Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)’ and ‘Laid’, Tim shared how the band had been threatened with a 25k fine a few days earlier for breeching curfew, before asking if anybody wanted to hear a 25k song – based on the beaming smiles on the band’s faces, they wanted to play one just as much as we wanted to hear one! Ending with a lively rendition of ‘Sometimes’, it was clear to see that they were well and truly having the time of their lives on-stage.

Not only has the addition of Debbie and Chloe given the band a new energy, but they seem to have entered a new phase in their career. Since the end of the tour, Tim has tweeted that it was the happiest tour he can remember, so we’re sure that there’s a lot more magic to look forward to!

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.