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LIVE: James – Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, 25/10/2023

Back in May James embarked on a lengthy tour of some of UK’s finest venues to celebrate their 40th anniversary – and they weren’t alone. The nine piece were joined by composer Joe Duddell, a 22 piece orchestra and Manchester Inspirational Voices Gospel Choir. Unfortunately, the Bath and Nottingham shows of the tour were rescheduled due to frontman Tim Booth contracting a nasty throat infection. Though never a band to disappoint their fans, they managed to find a date in the diary to reschedule and we were delighted to catch them in the stunning surroundings of Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall.

The night began with a stripped back rendition of ‘Magic Bus’ from the band’s sixteenth studio album All the Colours of You, though the stage was missing one thing – a frontman. Renowned for surprising the crowd, Tim began the track within the crowd, before eventually making his way onstage. The underrated ‘Space’ followed, showcasing the immense talent onstage. Usually the band would turn things up a notch for the infectiously catchy ‘Beautiful Beaches’, but things are different with the orchestra and the band were able to take a different route with it – and the results were sublime. 

Paying homage to 2014’s La Petite Mort, the tear-jerking ‘Moving On’ was next. Dedicated to anybody who had lost a loved one recently, the touching track resulted in one of the standout moments of the show as Tim and Chloe Alper joined hands and stood face to face to share the vocals. The lesser played ‘Dust Motes’ followed, showcasing the strength of Tim’s voice before the orchestra came bursting in in what can only be described as a goosebump inducing moment.

As a band celebrating their 40th anniversary, it can’t be easy to choose a setlist but as usual, they managed to surprise fans with a varied selection of tracks from their extensive career – from singles including ‘We’re Going to Miss You’ and ‘Nothing But Love’, to lesser played tracks including ‘Ten Below’ and ‘The Lake’. Joe Duddell well and truly worked his magic with the arrangements and ‘The Lake’ in particular reflected that. The first set came to an end with ‘Born of Frustration’ offering a whirlwind of chiming guitars and majestic trumpet from Andy Diagram, the joyous track saw everybody on their feet.

As the orchestra, choir and Tim returned to the stage for the second set, something was missing – and that was Joe and the rest of James. Joking that they’d been right behind him, Tim decided to carry on with the show himself by picking up Joe’s baton, resulting in a moment of discordance from the orchestra – after which, Tim conducted them through a section of Ravel’s ‘Bolero‘. Returning to the stage to well deserved applause, Joe cheekily offered to sing before segueing into ‘Sit Down’, complete with Chloe and guitarist Adrian Oxaal. Going from old to new, next was the band’s latest single, ‘Love Make a Fool’, which saw Debbie Knox-Hewson move to the front of the stage as she impressed with some epic drum work. Featuring clapping from the orchestra and choir that gave the track somewhat of a gospel feel, the track truly comes to life in a live setting and is proof that James are constantly moving forward.

A revitalised rendition of ‘Say Something’ saw the band take a more stripped back approach to the verses, with the crowd hanging onto every word that came out of Tim’s mouth – all coming together on the choruses, resulting in a pure moment of euphoria during the final one. The respectful crowd allowed the band to maintain a relaxed pace as they delivered the sedate duo of ‘Alaskan Pipeline’ and ‘Hello’. With the strings from the orchestra offering a perfect backdrop to Tim and Chloe’s hushed vocals, the piano-led ‘Hello’ was exquisite and served as the perfect reminder to what Chloe brings to the nine-piece.

Introduced by the sound of soaring trumpet – courtesy of Andy up on the balcony – the sprightly ‘Hymn From a Village’ saw things return to regular service and the band maintained the pace by following with with a raucous rendition of ‘Medieval’ from their second album, Strip-mine. Telling the tale of the pandemic and Trump’s time in office, the band erupted into the synth laced ‘All the Colours of You.’ Boasting emotionally charged vocals from Tim, the 2021 released track served as a reminder of the band’s passion for experimenting with their sound. In a move that only James could make, the exhilarating track morphed into a segment of the unifying ‘Many Faces’ – resulting in 2.5k people singing “there’s only one human race, many faces, everybody belongs here” at the top of their voices.

The addition of the orchestra intensified the emotions and feelings that came with ‘Tomorrow’, which saw Tim visit the stalls, balancing on a seat a few rows in and interacting with the lucky fans around him. The penultimate track of the evening was ‘Sometimes’ – one of the band’s biggest crowd pleasers that never fails to connect the band and their fans. Visibly moved by the response, Tim held the microphone out as the crowd kept the track going long after it had ended and it was both a powerful and uplifting moment for everybody involved. The evening came to an end with a slow-starting ‘Laid’, which burst into the anthemic version that we all know and love, offering a perfect end not just to the evening, but to the orchestral tour as a whole.

Not every band could pull off such an ambitious tour, but James are never shy of a challenge and it’s part of the reason that they’ve had such a successful and lengthy career. Despite having 40 years behind them, James are still able to continually surprise fans with everything that they do and with their 18th studio album due for release in June 2024, they’re definitely not done yet.

Be Opened By The Wonderful – an album of some of the band’s most loved and rare tracks, re-imagined with a 22-piece orchestra and 8-piece choir – is out now via Nothing But Love Music.

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*The header image is from the band’s show at O2 Apollo, Manchester on 10th May 2023.

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.