A very big tock.
11th May 2016 | Juliet
Today the sun is shining. All is well in the world and Tim has just returned in time for soundcheck after a day out on the Great Orme by himself communing with nature.
Tim is happy as his throat is so much better. He has some turmeric capsules. He is feeling good. He also has a special inhaler which comes from an apothecary on Wigmore Street. It looks like a tea pot with a pipe coming out the stopper on top. Fill it with boiling water and inhale the steam. It helps with the throat.
Today is Thursday and we are in Llandudno, Wales. Day Off in Wales is going to be covered by Nick, James Welsh correspondent and drum tech.
After London we were in Norwich and then we were in Bournemouth.
The evening in Bournemouth was a bit damp as the mist came in from the sea. I didn’t have the soup of the day. But the individual fish pies made by Sam were spectacular and most people ordered fish pie as that evening in Bounemouth as it said it was local fish.
Smiley Neil was there backstage again after the show.
I cant remember any more than that.
We slept on the bus two nights in a row. Arnie is our bus driver. Arnie is from Austria. Arnie is very cheerful. He has special Austrian coffee beans for the coffee maker. Arnie shares his beans. He says they are best ground fresh to get the oil from the coffee.
We now have a very big backstage clock. The clock has a very big tock.
“OK Paul, tell us all.”
9th May 2016 | Juliet
This is the seventh time that James have been booked to play at UEA.
The first time they played it was 17th June 1990 and the ticket price was £5.50.
Interestingly on the 12 December 1993 they played and had Radiohead as their support band. The price was £11.
Anyway today is a lovely sunny day and the band travelled from west London to East of England to Norwich. The crew travelled overnight and arrived in the small hours.
The venue is a modern University complex set in nice grassy grounds.
We do VIP sound check and Saul’s son Vinny is chief assistant for this today. During the soundcheck Tim shows the audience his Chinese tea. Basically these look like creatures from the deep floating in warm water. It’s called Pang Da Hei and used by Chinese opera singers to moisten the vocal apparatus.
Saul and his children are part of the entourage now. They are travelling in Saul’s Skoda Yeti and staying in Travelodges and Premier Inns hoping that they will meet Alan Partridge.
They haven’t met him yet but Saul did have an off the radar chat with a DJ earlier this year.
Saul was driving down from the Highlands, from Stirling on the radio was a late night phone-in about alcohol. “Oh,” thought Saul “I will give them a ring.” So he got on the line and the guy said, “Hi yes Paul”. “No it’s Saul” said no it’s Saul. “OK Paul, tell us all.” So Saul said, “Well I gave up 9 years ago”. “Oh that’s great,” said the guy “we’ll give you a call back.” Next thing another guy rings him back live on the radio and says, “Hi Paul, I hear you have been drunk for 9 years…”
“Er no,” Says Saul, “my name is Saul and I’ve been sober for 9 years.” “Oh that’s great Paul and what do you do for living?” “Oh I play in a band.” “Oh” says the interviewer, “that’s great. And who do you play with.” “A band called James,” says Saul…
Cant remember the punch line of this story and cant find Saul to ask him. Answers on a postcard if you were listening in.
Ron has found three rabbits loitering in the grounds just outside the entrance of the venue. Ron is the Dr Doolittle of the rabbit world and is engrossed chatting to the long eared ones.
Meanwhile Tim has gone to sleep for too long. His 20 minute pre-show nap has slipped into another cycle….
Wake up Tim. Time to get on stage…
Chef Sean goes shopping.
8th May 2016 | Juliet
A touring band takes caterers with them. They set up a kitchen backstage, create a dining room and feed everybody all day, every day of the tour.
Sean is one of the caterers on this tour.
I am sitting in catering and the band are doing soundcheck. The chefs are flying about in the kitchen.
So Chef Sean what you been up to today?
Fly out of bed at about 7, meet the runner at the venue. Go to supermarket. Grab 3 trolleys. Shop like a maniac for lunch and dinner. We do 20 for breakfast, 30 for lunch 40 for dinner and some ’cos we are in Brixton tonight.
Three trolleys filled to overflowing. Shove ’em in back of the van. Back to the venue. Unload at venue. Runner takes trolleys back to supermarket. Cook cook cook cook cook.
Do dressing rooms. Follow rider. Bus riders, stage rider.
Follow orders from Chief Chef Sam. Sam does all the hot food. I do the shopping, salads and deserts. And answering all requests for band extra things. I think we have nailed it now on the rider.
I have researched gluten free oatcakes with caramelised onions and even with poppy seeds so I can get some for Tim.
Serve Tim hot food after the show.
Clear up. Pack the flight cases. Get on crew bus, go to hotel. Sleep. Tonight was Day Off eve.
Next show day do it all again…
6th May 2016 | Juliet
It is Groundhog Day and the crew are back at the same venue doing it again. Setting up and checking everything still works. This happens in the morning.
In the afternoon the dry cleaning is back but Tim’s trousers have mysteriously disappeared and been replaced by a Biba black and fur waistcoat.
Saul’s children have made an 8-hour journey from the furthest tip of Scotland to London, and Saul has received the following text:
Hi dad we’re on the train now. We’re fine. I’m doing HomeWork and Mia’s knitting…. Breakky was lovely. I had a drop scone and smoked salmon. Mia had porridge
(The text is unsigned and there was no full stop at the end.)
Soup today is spicy tomato. Dave is sad. He cannot have any soup.
Due to overindulgence in all things chili, and subsequent adding of red hot pepper sauce to everything including muesli over the course of the past year, he has become chili intolerant. JP Sears should be informed. (Check youtube JP Sears on how to be gluten intolerant.)
Dave has learnt to say no to the wicked ways of Cholula and Tabasco. He is a reformed human and now takes no more than a light grinding of sea salt.
I make Dave a juice using every vegetable and fruit from the box. Chef Sean chops so fast and leaves the ends on the carrots and the beetroot; loads of greenery as kale goes in and limes and ginger and some pears. Dave is happy. But Dave needs a straw. Dave has a beard and the drink is very thick and purple.
Luckily we now have 16 boxes of backstage straws in all kinds of colours and thicknesses so if anyone needs a straw just shout. There are currently straws on every floor of the backstage area. There are Waitrose paper straws in red and white barber shop pole design, there are white straws and fluorescent straws… I currently know the whereabouts of all the above.
Day off in London.
5th May 2016 | Juliet
Today is Day Off.
It is very hot and sunny.
Finding and getting things.
4th May 2016 | Juliet
The Forum was built in 1934. It was built in art deco style and originally a cinema.
After the cinema closed it became an Irish dance hall. Then in the mid ’80s it became a music venue the Town and Country. Later it changed its name to the Forum. It holds just over 2000.
Backstage this time is a different layout to Southend. Instead of room by room down a long corridor, it has a room for a different function on each floor. This provides a great opportunity for everyone to run up and down stairs and tone those glutes.
I take the stairs in twos as I search from top to bottom for people, items and things. My job includes finding things and getting things. Sometimes things are not where they should be. And sometimes things go missing. There are a lot of things all round and it’s important that things are collated just in time. Sometimes things are not where you last saw them and sometimes things get forgotten.
Things include lyrics.
Things include straws.
Things include shoes.
Things include dry cleaning.
One wardrobe is on the stage left, as it didn’t fit anywhere else. This wardrobe is on the stage in the dark. There are lots of necessary things in the wardrobe in the dark. Adam lends me his torch
Production office is downstairs.
Then there is a floor with a room marked wardrobe, but this is a slight fib because it has only one wardrobe and also doubles as the crew room full of suitcases.
Up more steps to a floor marked Tim, and and another marked for Ron and his hi-tech kit, to be shared with Saul’s children from Friday.
Then there is a room for The Slow Readers Club.
Then up more stairs there is a spacious room for the band which has a roof terrace and lots of brown leather sofas and ornate mirrors.
Catering is through the auditorium up the stairs and round and round somewhere.
Soup is pea and mint today. Cooling for a summer’s day…
Today is headlined Final Rehearsal.
30th April 2016 | Juliet
Woke by the dawn clanking of buckets of last night’s bar bottles dumped into bin outside window. And there goes another load. And another….
Good morning London. Time to get up.
The sun is shining. Join Matt and Dave for breakfast al fresco on the decking beside the Thames, watching the boats and ferries go by. Matt tells tales of his glitzy star studded adventures across the globe. Dave and I listen and pick at our eggs, baked beans with Tabasco and stuff.
There’s a bit of free time so we take the ferry across to Canary Wharf where the buildings are new and grandiose and the pavements are not dotted with ground down chewing gum. The sky is blue, the people are fresh faced and eating designer sandwiches with Italian names, so we do too.
Later it’s a hop on the ferry to gather our stuff and return to that sprawling space where the little show is happening later.
Saul has found a hat. It’s an old hat. A big hat. A captain’s hat? He looks taller in the head. It was in a box. “It’s coming on tour,” says Saul.
The competition winners have been selected and we throw the leather sofa cushions on the ground to create comfort. It’s a happening.
The guests and friends and family assemble and Nick closes the blackout curtains.
Cally is back in the office doing all those things that need doing. We all get our new laminates and a book which tells us what is happening. Today is headlined Final Rehearsal.
Jim has got a stunning new acoustic bass. His friend who knows about guitars told him to play Mozart to it, basses like that and it helps them to sound nice. It sounds very nice already.
Ron is playing one of Adrian’s stringed things. It’s a small mandolin or something. Ron is clever.
The band have finished rehearsals and Dave is having a sugar dip. I find an emergency flapjack in rucksack outer pocket grabbed at Piccadilly Station Pret… Always carry emergency flapjack. Dave shares flapjack with Nick.
The competition winners come in. The show goes on. Tim wears a red BITCH t-shirt.
James are playing old stuff and new stuff. Fred Astaire is back and One Of The Three, “which hasn’t appeared since 1999,” whispers a fan. How does anyone know this?
Cally is eating small quorn sausages at her desk. She is the hub of everything and is prepared for anything including the need for food.
She hands me a sack of Dead Sea Salts. “Sorry no Epsoms available.”
The moveable wardrobe is coming on tour. We fill it. Tim’s togs mostly. Lots of tailoring going on. The heavy horse massage machine goes in a drawer just in case.
The table has its own flight case now….
There is an extra wardrobe on wheels for extra things. It has lots of drawers. This is good. I fill drawers with irons and wires and things. But we cant find the file of laminated lyrics. Where can they be? Kerry made them a few years back and were all arranged and organised for ease of access….
Matt has to resort to lyrics.com or something.
Next we are off to Bristol. I am lying on top 3rd tier monkey bunk. Once up it’s tricky to get down, so stay. Much shrieking and laughing coming from back lounge. Doze….
Arrive in Bristol a few hours later. Tim’s lovely top floor suite has luke warm water, and there are lights not working as well as a few other glitches. There is, however, a window that opens. This is key…
A Spanish man comes to help sort out the snagging….but it’s well into the small hours now. He says the boiler will be OK.
The Dead Sea Salts will have their day.
Friday, East London somewhere.
29th April 2016 | Juliet
The Peak District is packed with snow this April morning. Snow in April. Mountain rescue and the collie dogs have been out on Edale rescuing. Cars are skidding and it’s a white-out. Am soaked by snow flakes by the time the train arrives. It’s like Ice Station Zebra. Two suitcase awkwardness and board the train going north before going south.
“Noideawherethatis. Musicwhatsermercallit?” says the taxi driver so fast in London-speak I can hardly catch up. Round the block a few times and we find the entrance.
“Yougettinthedrugsinforem?“ Er nope, not quite. Bye bye Mr Taxi. He drops me at the studio complex. Complex it is. Finding your way in and finding the relevant space.
The band are running through all the songs from the new album. It’s mid afternoon. Ron jumps off stage to say hello. There is a brief sighting of Adrian before he heads north to snowy Buxton to play a gig. Tomorrow there is a friends and family do. Twenty fans will have the chance to come along to this.
After a few hours there is a food break, and while Tim is in a meeting in the empty desked big room behind the sliding glass door, some new music gets going.
On stage Saul sings “Doctor what is happening to me….etc….feel like Fred Astaire” in the style of Bob Dylan…
Then Matt J our new leader arrives and there is another song about Ezra, as in George, to welcome him back.
Everyone finally goes home. Andy has a hot date at the Working Men’s Club and he is first to go. Me and Tim are last to leave. Matt says something about down the lift to the something floor, turn left, right, left, reception, shut the big door, tell ’em your going then lift through and your out.
Huge industrial lift descends after the shutting of the huge collapsible pleated door and the clanking cage type inner door. Get a strange sensation of oh dear and oh no, as we open the lift into a basement darkness, all the boxes and drum kits through the ages live here but where are we?
It’s like a scene in Scooby Doo where the gang and Scooby sink into some inescapable dark underworld. He did say take the lift down didn’t he? Where’s the entrance?
Tim uses his iPhone as a torch to guide us back to the lift. Phew.
Then two phone calls later we are guided out the building by the bouncy man who knows the maze of corridors and entrances.
I head east, Tim heads north via Uber…
Meanwhile the winners of the James competition are being decided somewhere. Who will get a pair of tickets to the show run-through tomorrow?
Beginnings of Girl At The End Of The World
11th March 2016 | Tim
So as with La Petite Mort, we built a rehearsal recording room in a Scottish stone walled bed-and-breakfast and bunkered ourselves down for three weeks to improvise the songs that would become Girl At The End Of The World.
In our man cave, with mattresses gaffer taped to the windows to soundproof us from the neighbours, we cut ourselves off from our families and the rest of the world with barely a cellphone bar between us.
Some of the jams went on for 10 minutes, some went on for an hour and 20. Mark recorded everything. Then if one of the five of us fancied a particular jam we would start editing it into a more manageable 3 to 8 minutes.
I think we were pretty conscious of starting drum machine tempos quite fast, to drive us on through the dark Scottish winter and to give us some songs that we knew would be great live. I used the FunkBox iPhone app to generate groovy beats when I had control of the rhythm.
Two months later we had maybe 17 edited songs that WE knew would be strong enough for an album, but our demos are famously difficult for outsiders to get.
Max Dingel understood them straightaway. After La Petite Mort we knew we wanted to investigate the direction we had taken with him.
After 13 albums you know which songs are likely to bear fruit from rough jams, but sometimes a song blindsides you, an outsider becomes a favourite, the favourite falls away. Our process is pretty intuitive. Anyone in James who really has a vision for a song has the opportunity to work on it, on their own or in a smaller group. Songs that were popular by general consent got thrown back into the room at RAK studios to be worked on by the whole band, and ultimately recorded when we felt we had the parts.
A Few Words from Max Dingel
1st December 2015 | wearejames
I first started working with James in the spring of 2013. I remembered them from the “Laid” period in the early nineties and, being a teenager then, I had lost touch with what they had been up to since.
We initially had a conference call to chat about working together and discuss the demo recordings they had sent me. I remember that call very well as there were so many members in the band and I had trouble putting names to the voices I was hearing at the other end of the line.
I was really impressed with the songs they had written and we decided to go into the studio together to initially work on “Moving On” and “Gone Baby Gone”. The session went really well and after we had gotten to know each other they asked me to produce the album that would become “La Petite Mort”.
After the band finished their tour at the end of 2014 I had a chat with Tim and he asked me to produce their next album, for which recording was scheduled to take place in the summer of 2015.
The band were going to write and demo songs early on in 2015 and sent me some 20+ song ideas. Most of them were very good and it became really tricky to make a definitive selection early on – which is why we ended up working on most of them to some extent, to see how they might fit together in the context of an album.
The recording was going to be split into two stints, one in late May / early June and the other in July. After our experience on “La Petite Mort” I expected us to more or less pick up from where we had left off. However, our first session started a bit more slowly as it seemed to take everybody a bit longer to get back into the frame of mind of recording. Also, with the amount of demos available we worked on a few songs which ultimately did not make the album. This was an important part of the process, but it meant that we left the studio with fewer songs completed than we had set out to do when planning the sessions initially.
Following a brief moment of panic, the second stint ended up being much more productive. Everybody was on their guard and applied themselves. In contrast to “La Petite Mort”, more songs were played live in the studio and a good few live takes ended up on the final recordings. One song benefiting from this in particular was “Nothing But Love” which we had initially recorded in the first session. We ended up scrapping that version and started again from scratch. Because everybody played together in one room there was a lot of bleed and spill between all of the instruments. On the multitrack you can hear drums coming down the microphones of guitar amps, and bass guitar on the drum channels. You can even hear Tim’s screaming being picked up by some of the microphones of the drum kit. Somehow it all worked and the vibe of the recording was great.
James as a band really come into their own when they all play together in a room. It’s something the band is really brilliant at and when they play a great take the end result is always better than the sum of it’s parts. On “La Petite Mort” there seemed to be an effort to get away from the playing together and approach the process by recording instruments in isolation. At the time the band were keen to update their sound and be able to concentrate on the sonic aspects of the recording. Since I have no set way of working I went along with that approach to some extent. It turned out later that the band had assumed that I would want to work in this particular way – which had not been the case at all!
So on this album there is a slightly different balance between songs being performed live in the studio, and songs being built around programmed and electronic elements.
We ended up doing a short third stint in late August / early September to tie up some lose ends and finish off some of the lead vocals. I mixed the album in late September and early October over a period of about three to four weeks. At that point we were already behind our schedule, so there were more than a few late nights and it ended up getting quite intense and slightly mad towards the end. I had already committed to another album project straight after so there was no room to manoeuvre.
Looking back on the experience I feel very proud of what we have achieved. Everybody pulled together and worked very hard for the same goal. When we started working together just over two and a half years ago I did not know what to expect from a band about to record their 13th album. What I found was a band with a strong desire to experiment, determined to push themselves and explore new musical ground. They’ve certainly pushed me, too, and I’ve enjoyed it every step of the way!