James to start off the week – in a concert recorded in Lyon France by RFI on November 22, 1993.
James was formed in 1982 in Whalley Range, Manchester, when Paul Gilbertson persuaded his friend Jim Glennie to buy a bass guitar and form a band with him. Their line-up solidified when Gavan Whelan joined on drums. They played a string of gigs under the names Venereal and the Diseases and later, Volume Distortion, before settling on the name of Model Team International, then shortened to Model Team. They performed mostly improvised material derived from jam sessions, supporting the Fall at an early gig at Manchester Polytechnic. Vocalists and other musicians drifted rapidly in and out of their line-up, until the band encountered Tim Booth at a student disco. Gilbertson invited him to the band’s scout hut in Withington to join the band as a dancer; he was soon promoted to lead singer. After a brief period under the name Tribal Outlook, the band renamed themselves James in August 1982. A gig at the Haçienda caught the attention of Tony Wilson of Factory Records. He offered James an album deal with Factory, but the band, by now a settled live act, were worried about tarnishing their material in the studio and settled instead for a three-track EP. Their debut release, the Jimone EP, was recorded at Strawberry Studios, Stockport, in August 1983 and released on Factory Records in September. It led to the band providing the support for The Smiths between February and April 1985 on the Meat is Murder tour. The Smiths covered James’ ‘What’s The World’ track during this tour.
Although they were now being touted as the ‘next big thing’, several complex issues slowed their progress. Gilbertson’s drug problems presented the band with no choice but to ask him to leave. Booth and Glennie had joined a sect named Lifewave that imposed many restrictions on their lifestyle and threatened the band’s stability. The band’s second EP, James II, was released over a year after the first and accompanied by a feature on the cover of the NME, Gilbertson having been replaced by the band’s guitar tutor Larry Gott. The first two EPs would later be collected as Village Fire. Reviews were once again positive, and Factory were eager for James to record an album with it, but the band believed Factory were purely image-based and left the label, striking a deal with Sire Records.
Their third release, the Sit Down EP (no relation to the song of that name) came out in February 1986, and was followed by their debut album, Stutter in July of that year. The album reached number 68 in the UK Albums Chart. Low on money and lacking coverage and promotion, the band recorded their second album, Strip-mine, attempting a more conventional song structure in an attempt to please Sire. The album almost went unreleased, but after undergoing a slight remix to sound more radio-friendly, Sire released the album in September 1988, over a year after it had been initially completed. However the album only reached number 90. After finding a clause for ending their contract, the band left Sire. Desperate for money, the band members were driven to the extreme of participating as human guinea pigs in medical experiments at the Manchester Royal Infirmary, earning them a place on a TV documentary about the desperation of fallen rock stars.
James had by this point earned themselves a reputation as a live act and had built a solid fanbase. Sales of James T-shirts were particularly successful in Manchester even before they reached the Top 40. James financed the production of a live album One Man Clapping with a bank loan and the help of Rough Trade Records. The album went to number 1 in the indie charts, reinvigorating media interest in the band.
In 1993 James were invited on an acoustic tour of the US supporting Neil Young at a series of natural outdoor venues in the autumn. They returned to England refreshed and ready to record their new album with Brian Eno, who they had originally approached to produce Stutter but who had been unavailable at the time. Eno set about bringing out the ambience in James’ music, and took them through a recording process that the band later described as a “journey of self-discovery”. The process resulted in not one but two albums: the ‘song’ album, Laid, and the experimental Wah Wah, which showcased the band’s improvised jams recorded on the spot, then mixed by Eno. Booth’s vocals were then added to the results.
Laid was released in September 1993 to positive reviews. As well as being a success in the UK, the album also broke the band in the US, shipping over 600,000 copies and charting at number 72 in the Billboard 200, propelled by the popularity of its risqué title track on US college radio. The band spent most of 1994 touring the States. Wah Wah was eventually released in September 1994 to a lukewarm reception.
This concert puts them right in the middle of touring in support of Laid. If you missed it the first time around, crank it up and enjoy. Don’t mind the announcer, chatting over some intros and outros; it’s what many European Radio Stations do in order to cut down on bootlegging – and it’s a good excuse to brush up on your French.