An Intimate Evening with James – Albert Hall, Manchester, UK (18th December 2017)

In October, Manchester icons James announced that on Monday 18th December 2017, they’d be playing an intimate one-off charity show at the Albert Hall to raise money for the ‘We Love Manchester’ Emergency Fund; an aid that was set up to help support people in the wake of the Manchester terror attack back in May. Special guests were teased from the initial announcement and the band promised to make it a memorable night, with them performing not one, but two sets.

The show was opened by “special guests” and familiar faces, The Slow Readers Club. Championed by James, The Slow Readers Club have supported them on more than one occasion and just last month, headlined The Albert Hall themselves. The band performed six songs acoustically as a three-piece, including a gentle version of their new single ‘Lunatic’ that drew attention to Kurtis Starkie’s talents as a backing vocalist, as well as a guitarist. The audience were captivated by front man Aaron Starkie’s powerful vocals throughout, particularly during the emotive ‘I Saw A Ghost’ and it would be a crime not to mention Jim Ryan’s infectious bass line in ‘Forever In Your Debt’. Each and every track in the bands set showcased their talents and how far they’ve come in the last couple of years and they definitely have an exciting 2018 ahead of them.

James began their first set with a nine minute jam between front man Tim Booth, bassist Jim Glennie, keyboardist Mark Hunter and guitarist Saul Davies (accompanied by an “80s style drum machine” on Tim’s iPhone!) With the jam in full flow and ideas for future tracks bouncing around the stage, the sound of a soaring trumpet filled the air and trumpeter Andy Diagram joined his band mates, receiving much adoration from the cheering audience and modelling the appropriate attire of a black shirt that was covered in bee print. Fans attentively watched in awe as they were treated to a rare insight into the bands writing process. For the rest of their first set, the band were joined by a string quartet, arranged by Joe Duddell, who previously worked with the band on their Orchestra of the Swan tour in 2011. A wall of strings teased the next track and you could almost feel the anticipation in the air, before Tim crooned the first line of ‘Seven’, causing the venue to erupt with 2000 voices singing along. The second orchestral offering of the night saw the lighting take a moody turn, matching the intensity of ‘Hello’ from ‘Millionaires’. After explaining that ‘Sit Down’ helped many people in the wake of the tragic event in May, Tim tackled it with the string quartet and Mark. The lyrics felt more poignant than ever and the addition of both haunting strings and Mark’s beautifully delicate keyboard was nothing short of beautiful.

As always, James weren’t afraid of the unknown and they gave two new tracks their live debut; ‘Mask’ and ‘Many Faces’. ‘Mask’ saw the band joined by Becky Unthank from The Unthanks, whilst Ainslie Henderson joined them for both tracks. ‘Mask’ possessed a classic James build up, before an explosion of instrumentation that gave Tim the perfect opportunity to lose himself in the music. Confident that ‘Many Faces’ is a sing-a-long track and with the hope that they’d use their fine voices as the chorus repeats at the end of the track, Tim taught the audience the lyrics to the chorus before they began; “there’s only one human race, many faces, everybody belongs here.” The track was incredibly well received and there’s not many bands that can have a room full of people singing a song that they hadn’t heard until that very moment.

Sandwiched in the difficult slot between James and James was Glasvegas front man James Allan. Sat behind his keyboard, thus hidden from the view of those in the standing area, it was one of his first solo gigs and he was visibly nervous. James’ vocals were stunning, as he glided from track to track with minimal crowd interaction, aside from proudly showing off his James watch from the 90s. Glasvegas tracks played included ‘Geraldine’ and ‘Charge’; the latter of which he invited his Mum on stage during, to perform her spoken-word monologue that features on the recorded version. Unfortunately, the set came to quite a sudden end as he battled with a persistent technical issue.

Kicking off their second set with ‘To My Surprise’, the atmosphere was electric and it was obvious by their beaming smiles that the band could feel it too. Next was ‘Born of Frustration’, which saw Tim make his way to the edge of the stage, where he crouched down and connected with members of the audience that were stood on the front row, singing lyrics that have enriched their lives, directly to them. It wasn’t just Tim that made a connection with the audience during ‘Born of Frustration’ and Andy appeared on the balcony, pleasing fans around him as the track reached the breakdown and his trumpet took over proceedings. Renowned for his crowd surfing, Tim visited the barrier once during the dance fuelled crowd favourite, ‘Curse Curse’, putting his trust in the fans to hold him up and keep him safe. Though the downstairs barrier wasn’t the only barrier that Tim visited and as the band launched into the synth siren riff fuelled ‘Come Home‘, he went “walk about” and climbed upstairs, where he danced his way through the crowd, never missing a note.

During the first set, Tim mentioned that there were two types of fans in attendance; those who attended their Orchestra of the Swan tour in 2011 and those who wanted to hear tracks of a more raucous nature. The band catered for both and their set list included hits such as ‘Tomorrow’ and the touching ‘Moving On’, alongside lesser-played tracks such as ‘Play Dead’ and ‘Lost a Friend’. Driven by drummer David Baynton-Power’s pummeling beats, ‘Play Dead’ in particular was phenomenal and a real gig highlight.

Part of what makes James gigs so exciting is the bands tendency to play around with their material and deliver different versions, with Monday nights euphoric performance of ‘Attention’ and stripped back rendition of ‘How Was It For You’ being the perfect examples. The first track of the encore, ‘She’s a Star’, received the same treatment and the result was a gorgeous, acoustic version, with multi-instrumentalist Adrian Oxaal on the cello and Andy’s trumpet swooping in towards the end.

The last two tracks of the night were the unifying ‘Nothing But Love’, that saw a sea of people waving their arms in sync and ‘Sometimes’, which the crowd proceeded to sing long after the track was over. It was heartwarming to see so much love in one room and I’m sure that everybody in attendance would agree that it was a very special evening that they’ll never forget.