I’m in a hotel lobby waiting to interview Jim Glennie (JG), one of the original line-up of the kick-ass band James. And writing this armed with hindsight, I see that the odd looking fellow on the phone and the guy who walked by just seconds ago, were in fact other band members… TSK!
I’m escorted to the boardroom by the lovely Juliette and I’m met by a relaxed, done-it-all-before JG, who instantly makes me feel welcome and more at ease than I already was! We break the ice with the usual weather-related axes, before we get down to a good old chat about… well… music and stuff!
I must say a big THANK-YOU to James fan Catherine Lane, for without her invaluable input, this interview would not have been possible…
AS: OK, I see Manchester isn’t scheduled on the current tour; any surprises lined up for us?
JG: I’m probably not supposed to tell you this but we’re touring again in December. We’ll be doing Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham; places we’ve not played on this outing… we’re not avoiding Manchester for any reason!
AS: I know you’ve done a few (understatement of the decade) but would you say that was your best or favourite gig?
JG: The Philharmonic gig was special and Alton Towers was a big day too…
AS: How about the G-Mex in 1990 (Come Home Live), that’s my personal favourite?
JG: That was a great gig, we did 2 nights and it was snowing, madly madly snowing… we went on late because all the trains and buses were delayed… big homecoming on the tail of the success that ‘Sit Down’ brought us… great. We were one of Manchester’s best kept secrets really, Manchester loved us but the industry weren’t ready until that song happened, so those gigs were a celebration of sorts. It was like public recognition that yes, we did it!
I understand you picking those as your favourite, but our Empress Ballroom gigs saw us and our band t-shirts basically take over Blackpool for 2 days and got voted in that year’s top 10 events, despite the fact there were only 3-4000 people there each night. Number 1 was Thatcher getting in, then Spike Island (legendary yet abysmal Stone Roses show) and 30,000 people at Glastonbury… it’s so difficult to say really, different ones for different reasons…
AS: You got many more left in you?
JG: I think so… reckon… now we’ve come back it feels like we’ve got fresh legs; ‘Hey Ma’s done and dusted, we’ve got the new record and this year’s going to be busy and we’ll definitely do another record because we’re talking about writing already… we’re enjoying it is, I guess, the bottom line of it… we’re getting on and that makes it pleasurable as opposed to the total nightmare it was when we last split. It seems so ridiculous now, that we let our personal relationships get in the way of things back then… I can’t even relate to that childish pettiness it anymore. We’ve different pressures now of course, with children & family… you’ve got to go home and make that work too, you’ve got to keep an eye out for that side of it. From my perspective then yes… touch wood, we’re invigorated, we’re back on track and armed with a bunch of songs, so yeah, definitely!
AS: Can I ask what’s been your personal highlight throughout the years?
JG: WOW! Played a load of James songs (for Beat Cancer) with the BBC Philharmonic last December; that was pretty special & to have your bass-lines picked out by the string section too. Oh, taking my first gold disc home to my mum who cried, the one I got for ‘Gold Mother’, that was pretty good.
AS: What was or would be your career defining moment?
JG: Our Manchester comeback gig in 2000 was special, though I didn’t think about it too much at the time… I was nervous and when the lights went down, there was this roar from 15,000 people and you kinda go “FUCK!” You walk out to that kind of applause and you see it from their point of view almost, they’re thanking you, not for starting a gig but for coming back and it felt like we were giving something back that was theirs… it was much bigger than us and it was really really emotional… it was weird to have to play a gig after the welcoming actually. I felt like jumping in the crowd or going to the pub with them you know… it was more of a celebration of the James reunion as opposed to our concert; the whole thing felt like a party and to have to control yourself when the adrenalines rushing and your hearts pounding… phew… just massive… huge!
AS: 3 decades at it then, any career lows you’d like to share?
JG: Yeah plenty; in the early days when we signed to Seymour Steins label (Sire) in ’85, that was a pretty hellish experience after our success with Factory. For some reason we‘d decided to leave Factory and got ourselves into a deal that was two albums long and it was just awful. Nothing happened basically, they had no interest in doing anything with us and we just disappeared for the best part of 3 years. That was one of the few times we’ve talked about splitting up due to our lack of success or… it was like banging your head against a brick wall really, being stuck in a deal with a company who had no interest. There have been personal lows too; things being spoilt by people being silly and not getting along.
AS: What’s the biggest myth about stardom?
JG: People think it’s glamorous and that it ain’t! There’s a lot of hanging around, waiting, boring bits and being tired, but it makes for a good job! You have to do everything for yourself when you start, load gear, pack it away after gigs, drive home or stick at it in rehearsals at 4 in the morning… but success makes it easier I suppose… our version of that is great now, it’s wonderful, very sheltered & protected. We are lucky… and busy, there’s a tonne of business to deal with; that’s probably something people don’t realise, just how much business we get through in a day… just on-line, dealing with management, record companies and websites all the time. I like the challenge though, you have to rise to it and be on the ball, take a hands-on approach. It’s not like it used to be, putting a record out and sit back to see what happens, you can directly impact your business and connect with the fans through the website… you can mail your song out to 40,000 people if you want and that’s something you could never do back then… it’s so much more in our hands now and it’s great.
AS: Which era would you ideally have been born in?
JG: I love sixties music but I was born in the sixties, so maybe if I’d been born in the fifties I would’ve appreciated the music from an earlier age. Then there’s all the free-love and all of it really, before all the diseases. Oh… the really strong hallucinogenic drugs… ‘The Velvet Underground’ and ‘The Doors’ were amazing; they were the best bands in the world.
AS: Sweet, I love both of them; my girlfriend doesn’t like The VU though, I introduced her recently and she said it burned her ears! Okay, moving on… how important are the music charts?
JG: They’re not particularly important anymore; I think getting played on the radio is important still, though not as important as it used t be. The radios become much more fragmented too which is good; so you’re not just hearing the big players anymore and you hear stuff that hasn’t necessarily had the (airtime) nod of approval as it were. I think with a band like us and our demographic, fans being around my age I suppose, inherently get their music by going out and buying a CD, as is true of the download folk too I guess. It’s quite a complicated structure now though and you’ve got to do everything. It seems to change every time we have a record out… the radio, downloads, the free-streaming and the website… there’s no set course of action anymore and I like that.
I think what’s messed up the record business or record companies actually, is that you can’t just say “this is how it has to be done” anymore. There’s no fixed model anymore and there’s always going to be new ways of getting your music out to people and I think it’s good for music and in particularly, upcoming musicians. It’s exciting to think that you don’t have to go via the ‘suits’, the A&R men who are always too busy to listen to your record or radio producers who leave you off the play-list. On-line, you can develop a career virally, other than having to get off your backside and go play to people!
AS: Any bands you know of that are destined for greatness?
JG: There’s a band I tried to get supporting us on this tour but nobody agreed… so they’re probably not destined for greatness actually!!! But I think they’re brilliant; they’re called the Frasier Kings and they’re from Manchester. They sound like a crossover between the Happy Mondays and some mad deep south blues band and their pretty shambolic! They’re a bunch of scallywags and 1 bloke’s got the biggest booming voice you’ve ever heard… really odd, they’re a bunch of characters but their music’s alright! Not meant for commercial success maybe, but certainly success.
AS: Who would your dream collaborator be?
JG: Musically… probably Morrissey.
AS: Sweet, you’re a Morrissey fan!
JG: Yeah, I know it’d probably be a bit of a nightmare but yeah, maybe 1 thing.
AS: What’s your favourite Morrissey track?
JG: ‘Every day is like Sunday’… going to do a cover of it! We once covered ‘We hate it When Our Friends become Famous’ when we stood in at Glastonbury for him once… we figured there were going to be loads of Morrissey fans! The Smiths actually covered ‘What’s the World’ off our first single… it’s a live b-side somewhere.
AS: Do politics have a place in music (I know…‘Government walls’/Sinead ‘O’ Connor)?
JG: Yeah… just about! I think you have to be careful and maybe it’s okay to concern yourself with the stuff you see around you; people’s lives and such being reflected creatively is good I think, like seeing a great play or bit of television… but it’s not someone on a soapbox having a go about something. That’s where you’ve got to be careful and avoid banging on about your own critical viewpoint or you’re missing the point slightly. You’ve got to be clever and use politics sparingly although that said; everything boils down to politics to some degree doesn’t it, either on TV, walking down the street or whatever?
AS: When you take aim with your pea-shooter, pellet gun or sniper rifle, who are you aiming at?
JG: Any politician to be honest. I try to avoid the whole thing because it makes me so angry; it’s so frustrating and hopeless. There’s an election coming up and I don’t usually vote but if I do it’s usually Labour I go with. I couldn’t vote for the Tories and I don’t think I could stretch to the Lib-Dem’s either. A hung parliament, which hasn’t happened in my lifetime, might not be bad actually; at least then they might have to co-operate to make things better; the countries in such a mess at the moment. It’d be nice if they all sat round a table and discussed things, but they’ll just argue as always and nothing will get done.
AS: Which fictional character would you most like to be and why?
JG: I once played Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland at school… I’ll say Mad Hatter because he’s a good old loony I suppose! No major grasp on reality and no need to deal with a great deal… aside from silly tea parties with other fictional characters and the odd nice cup of tea!.
AS: Who would you invite to your ideal tea party… let’s say 4 people?
JG: George Best, Oliver Reed, Stephen Fry and my mum… I played football with George Best once… my one claim to fame that; I tackled George Best in a charity football match… got the ball off him! It was one of my many great sporting achievements!
AS: What’s your secret vice?
JG: I like a bit of snooker!!! I love football… I’ll watch anything, any sport… curling even! There must be some awful TV show that I enjoy watching that I shouldn’t admit to, although I’m not big on the soaps.
AS: Thank-you so much for your time, have a good show tonight… see you there!
JG: Pleasure… thank-you…