Alternative Versions – #15

Sometimes (Live at Maida Vale) – James (1993, Fontana Records)

Sometimes (Album version) – James (1993, Fontana Records, Taken from ‘Laid)

I’m not sure what year or release of ‘Laid’ that this version of ‘Sometimes’ comes from.  It doesn’t say – but suffice to say it’s not on my version of ‘Laid’ so I suspect its from some record company repackage somewhere down the line.  This version of ‘Laid’ has four extra tracks on it – two tracks recorded at Maida Vale, one at GLR and one remix, all of which I’ve included here.

Anyway let’s talk about my version of ‘Laid’, which is for anyone counting the third best album by Rocks fifth Greatest J, (after ‘Gold Mother’ and ‘Stripmine’).

It is a record I have actually bought three times.  The first time was shortly after it came out.  It was a return to form for James, and it bought some of the older fans (people like me) back from our grunge and shoegaze records for a little bit at least.   I knew it was a return to form because when it came out, the girl who I was seeing at the time borrowed it from me and she hated James, and you can tell how much she hated them because I’ve stuck it in italics to emphasis the point. 

Sadly, she never actually gave it back to me, and as far as I know she still has it, and maybe she occasionally reaches for it off the shelf and sighs a sad little sigh as she picks her husbands dirty pants up off the floor.  Strangely enough, a friend of mine, also lent his copy of ‘Laid’ to his German girlfriend, and six weeks later she dumped him and buggered off back to Cologne taking his copy of ‘Laid’ with her (along with about fifteen more of his Cds)

Five – O (Live at Maida Vale) – James (1993, Fontana Records)

The second copy of ‘Laid’ that I bought I left on a train as I hastily jumped off at Birmingham New Street in order to grab a connection somewhere and left in on the seat, this was in about 2001.  I hope if you found that CD you enjoyed it.  I once also left a memory stick full of music on a seat in Somerset County Cricket Ground, so again, if you found that I hope you enjoyed what was on it.

The third version is the one that I have now, purchased in a second hand record stall in Newton Abbot market for the princely price of £3.50 and you know what, its worth every penny of that.

Laid (Live At GLR) – James (1993, Fontana Records)

The extra tracks are ok.  The version of ‘Sometimes’ is not a million miles away from the original and because of that it isn’t as great as the original.  Which means it allows the originals to stretch their lead to 8 -6.  The other Maida Vale track (‘Five -O’) is much the same as well, it has a more distinct

What the Maida Vale tracks do very well is showcase what a very good singer Tim Booth is, when his voice isn’t being drowned out by incessant trumpets and the GLR version of ‘Laid’ reinforces that.

The GLR live version of ‘Laid’ in an acoustic version all gently strummed guitars and accordions and Uncle Tim Booth’s lovely vocals which have homely and storytelling vibe to them.  It is far removed from the sex by numbers shtick of the original.  It’s great, really lovely, is it better than the original?  Possibly.

We’ll end with the remix, which has to be heard to be believed as James head in the direction marked ‘Happy Hardcore’ as their fans run towards the door marked ‘EXIT’ as quickly as possible. Good grief, it’s bad.

Say Something (The Say Nothing Mix) – James (1993, Fontana Records)

On Monday we enter the final week and start with Kendrick Lamar

Rocks Greatest J’s #5 James

… Pop tunes, false rhymes, all lightweight bluffs

Hymn from a Village – James (1985, Factory Records, Taken from ‘James II’)

Points 64

Welcome to the week in which we finally find out who is Rocks Greatest J, although I think most of you will have guessed that already (don’t get excited Jason Mraz, if you are reading).

When I started this nonsense, I predicted in a message to one of the Musical Jury what I expected the Top Five to look like.  James were at number four in that list, so in some sense they have performed worse than expected (for the record I got the acts right but in the wrong order).  Saying that there was a gulf between the top five and the rest of the Top Twenty that was quite wide (16 points between fifth and sixth)

I’ve previously discussed James and what I call their decidedly dodgy period in the early nineties where they flirted with stadium rock (‘Seven’) and some unlistenable electronica (‘Wah Wah’).  However, it seems most members of the musical jury were prepared to overlook this.

JM 6 for instance tells us that “The good stuff over a remarkable 41 year career outweighs the unlistenable”. 

He’s right of course, because James made more songs like this

What For? – James (1988, Blanco Y Negro Records, Taken from ‘Stripmine’)

And thankfully very few like this

Jam J -James (1994, Fontana Records, Taken from ‘Wah Wah’)

It was songs like ‘What For?’ and nearly everything that came before and after it (up to and including ‘Sound’) that made James one of the bands that I loved when I was aged between say fifteen and nineteen.  They were one of the bands that never failed to make me smile.

JM 13 and JM 14 both agree with me and both put it better than me as well –  “an essential band in my 20s, saw them live a number of times in the 90s and they always put on an amazing show packed with killer tunes.  Then they called it a day.  Then they decided to come back, minus the spark that made them so great…” that’s JM 13 and this is JM 14 who stuck them at the top of their list.

Consistently great tunes, but satisfyingly quirky and sometimes even quite odd.  They are #1 because they’ve long been a family favourite…”

I’m often undecided as to what I consider to be my favourite James album.  For a long time it was ‘Gold Mother’ largely because of the swirling indie anthem that is ‘Come Home’ (a record I first heard in a Girl’s Guides Tent on the isle of Guernsey).  Then as I became a fan that changed to those early indie folk blasts of ‘Stutter’

Skullduggery – James (1986, Blanco Y Negro Records, Taken from ‘Stutter’)

Come Home (Weatherall Mix) – James (1990, Fontana Records, Taken from ‘Gold Mother’)

Now if I had to pick one, I’d choose ‘Whiplash’ because it is genuinely the last album by James that made me smile and reminds me of everything that the band had that made them so great.  The last James album that had that ‘spark’ if you like.

Tomorrow – James (1997, Fontana Records, Taken from ‘Whiplash’)

Here is tomorrow’s lyrical hint…. “Well, my daddy left home when I was three…”

A Month Curated by A Ten Year Old #5

Wires – Athlete (2005, Parlophone Records, Taken from ‘Tourist’)

Now.  My daughter doesn’t actually like this track, she says that it makes her sad because it is about someone dying.  I think it featured in something that she watched on TV (Operation Ouch I am told) and I think she added it after that and hasn’t got round to removing it yet.  Which probably means she secretly likes it but because it makes her sad, thinks that I will remove it (which I wouldn’t do).

It’s not actually about someone dying, rather it’s a song that embraces the brilliance of life itself.  It was written by the band’s singer Joel Pott about a time when his daughter was taken seriously ill when she was born and was rushed to intensive care.  Pott took the time to personally thank the NHS workers who helped saved his daughter’s life when the song became popular (thanks to I think X Factor and then an episode of ‘Doctors’), which personally I think is a decent and lovely thing to do because the NHS is wonderful and we should support them and without getting political on everyone asses we should pay them whatever they want if they stop children, babies, and adults from, you know, dying and that. 

I kind of like this song, if only for the very last words of the song, when you know everything turned out ok as Pott sings

Looking at you now, you would never know”.

It’s a proper smile inducing moment that and if it doesn’t do that then you have a waxy pea sized heart and probably have regular dinner parties with Matt Hancock, Dominic Raab and other rancid bullies.

‘Wires’ briefly threatened to turn Athlete into the ‘next Coldplay’ and I suppose that is the sound and the market that they targeted.  ‘Tourist’ the album which houses ‘Wires’ is mostly full of radio friendly lightweight indie pop that, ‘Wires’ aside, is neither inspiring nor offensive.  Its just ok.  The dictionary definition of a six out of ten album.  Here’s the title track

Tourist – Athlete (2005, Parlophone Records, Taken from ‘Tourist’)

Athlete have become one of those bands whose albums (and by that I mean ‘Tourist’ in particular) are now ubiquitous in charity shops all over the place.  I think nearly every charity shop in Teignmouth has at least one copy of ‘Tourist’ in and you can probably blame ‘Wires’ for that. 

Anyway, lets move on and press the next track button, which gives us

Sit Down – James (This Version 1990, Fontana Records, Taken from ‘Gold Mother Reissue’)

Now that is probably more to everyone’s liking. This is on the playlist because I told my daughter that I listened to it when I was a boy.

The first time I saw James live, ‘Sit Down’ was huge and back then when the band played it people actually sat down.   The second time I saw James the band were so bored with playing it every five minutes that they refused to play it and use to play ‘Ring the Bells’ instead, no wonder people fell out of love with them, ‘Sit Down’ is genius, ‘Ring the Bells’ is not.

Ring the Bells – James (1992, Fontana Records, Taken from ‘Seven’)

The night that ‘Sit Down’ reached number two in the charts I was standing in a tunnel that went under a main road with may mates Chris and Adrian and so pleased were we that James were number two in the charts, we wrote on the tunnel wall with a Sharpie that Chris ‘just happened to have on his person “James Number 2!!” and the date and then ran off to relatively safe confines of Adrian’s house. 

Come Home (Flood Mix) – James (1990, Fontana Records, Taken from ‘Gold Mother’)

Tomorrow Waxahatchee

The One Word Countdown – #14

This bed is one fire……

Laid – James (1993, Fontana Records, Taken from ‘Laid’)

Points 151

I’d gone off James in 1993, largely because ‘Seven’ was so utterly ghastly and I’d discovered bands that I didn’t have to travel to a theme park to see live.  So, I was mildly disappointed when sitting round the Christmas Tree in the winter of 1993 when I slowly unwrapped a CD copy of ‘Laid’ in the hope that it might be a Buffalo Tom album.  It was a present from my uncle, the last time I’d seen him I’d been wearing a James shirt and he’d remembered that I must have liked them. 

I still hadn’t forgiven James for ‘Seven’ and so immediately placed ‘Laid’ on the shelf and made a note to take it to record shop and exchange it for something good in a weeks time.  A day later I went to a party. It was a good party, all my best friends were there and about half through someone stuck on a new mix tape and the raunchy opening of ‘Laid’ (the song) filled the room and it sounded incredible, it sounded like the James that didn’t sound like U2 (i.e when they were very very good).  It was song that all my friends were singing the words to, friends that not one year had mocked me for even daring to say think ‘Born of Frustration’ wasn’t that bad (it is that bad by the way).   It sounded brilliant and downed my drink (vodka and lime I was 18 come on, give me a break) and smiled and that was the exact point I forgave James for having the audacity for trying to be successful. 

Although I still haven’t found the time to forgive them for ‘Wah Wah’ or Tim Booth personally for all the nonsense he did with Angelo Badalamenti.

I Believe – Booth and the Bad Angel (1996, Fontana Records, Taken from ‘Booth and the Bad Angel’)

‘Laid’ was another sort of Marmite track, as it featured on less jury members votes than most of the records in the Top 25 (apart from ‘Rez’) but where it did score it did so very highly.  It was never voted at the top but scored twice in the Top Three and at least four times in the Top Ten.  It didn’t please everyone though, one Jury Member (Number six) said “I’m disappointed by the James choice, there are loads of songs better than ‘Laid’, ‘Sometimes’ for instance would have been in my Top Five, and ‘Stutter’ even higher but ‘Laid’ with its deliberately provocative chorus really annoys me, so I am ignoring it with the hope that everyone thinks the same”.

Well they didn’t although another Jury Member said almost the same thing about ‘Sometimes’, so just for you two moaning minnies.

Sometimes – James (1993, Fontana Records, Taken from ‘Laid’)

Give It Another Spin – #2

Seven – James

Ring the Bells – James (1992, Fontana Records)

I hated ‘Seven’ when it first came out.  For years I had been singing the praises of Booth and his band of troubadours.  I had been begging people to listen to the intricate folky brilliance of ‘Stutter’ or the majestic pop of ‘Gold Mother’.   When they finally did (thanks largely to ‘Sit Down’ conquering the hearts and dancefloors of the nation) I stood there with a smug look of my face that read “Told you”. 

Then they returned a few years later with ‘Seven’, an album so bland that could you place it next to the semolina in the supermarket and very few people would be able to tell the difference.  The smug look on my face was replaced by one of embarrassment and the record was quickly pushed to the back of the cupboard, never to see the light again.   I remember the trumpet that blurted itself through most of the bloody songs being one of the most irritating things that I had ever heard.  Andy Diagram (the trumpet player) had gone from being the Trumpet Triumph has was on ‘Gold Mother’ to a Brass Bellend in two short years and I thought he was a bastard because of it.

Sound – James (1992, Fontana Records)

Now, I can’t remember the last time I listened to ‘Seven’ all the way through but I might have been at University – I definitely found a copy on vinyl in a second hand shop in Woking for a £1 so it was probably then.  I still hated it because I don’t have that record anymore. So, some 27 years later, has my opinion changed.

Slightly.  For starters, I don’t hate it nearly as much as I did.  I think this is probably because James, don’t mean as much as to me as they did back in the early nineties.  In 1992, James felt like my band, and the songs on ‘Seven’ simply lacked the punch and pull of, well anything, that they had recorded before and I felt massively let down by them, but you know they are just a band.

What is clear is that the singles, particularly ‘Born of Frustration’ and ‘Sound’ aren’t as terrible records as I first though they were.  Admittedly they haven’t aged massively well but as James songs go, they are ok, worthy of adding to any collection of James songs.  ‘Born of Frustration’ is certainly far better than I remember it being.

Born of Frustration – James (1992, Fontana Records)

It’s the album tracks that still bother me, songs like ‘Don’t Wait That Long’ and ‘Live A Love of Life’ are still overblown, bland monsters that sound like they were recorded specifically for the Radio 2 audience that the band had become accustomed to.  Elsewhere ‘Next Lover’ tries to hawk back to the more folky early James sound that we might have heard on say ‘Stripmine’ but its not quite the same, Booth sounds too bitter, too angry and way its way too forced.

Live A Love of Life – James (1992, Fontana Records)

Oh and there is still too much bloody trumpet.

In Praise of the Band TShirt #1

Not Me

Come Home – James (Fontana, 1990, Taken from ‘Gold Mother’)

In Christmas 1990 Santa gave me a James T-shirt not dissimilar to one in the picture above. I think I wore it non stop for about a month. I thought I was the coolest kid about (in reality I was awkward, socially naïve, sported a haircut that was worryingly like a mullet (well I trying to grow it long), and had only just got round to removing the Milli Vanilli cassettes from the drawer full of tapes I had). It was a worn like a badge of honour, even though I had to explain to curious grandparents who James were and had to tell complete strangers about twenty times that I wasn’t called James.

Of course back then James sold more T-shirts than they did records, to the point that my T-shirt was neither cool or unusual because loads of people were wearing them, including bizarrely my P.E Teacher, Mr Arnold. The ‘es’ of the logo could sometimes be seen underneath his white shirt.

Mr Arnold was too many a complete bastard. Largely because he made us do laps of the sports field in the freezing cold or kicked footballs at us if we spoke whilst he was teaching us on the pitch. He also bowled a mean leg break, something I found out in the annual staff vs pupils cricket match, when he sent my middle stump flying just as I was getting comfortable on 7 not out.

Anyway, one school disco, I turned up in my James T-Shirt and this would have been about a week or two before ‘Lose Control’ came out and us cool indie kids (there were four of us, two James T-Shirts, one New Order shirt, one Clash Shirt) sat on the benches at the back and tried out best to look cool and pathetically fail in any attempts to impress girls, when over walked Mr Arnold, a pissed off look on his face, because he had to babysit half drunk teenagers on a Friday night and not be down the pub beating people up, which we guessed is where he spent most of his Fridays (like all P.E Teachers, right?).

Lose Control – James (1990, Fontana Records, Taken from ‘Gold Mother’)

I’ll be honest, we’d had a can of cider each and we had a slightly hazy look about us because of it – it would have probably have been Merrydown Cider lifted from my dads cupboard and downed in about two minutes on the way to disco. We quickly stuffed our mouths which polo mints, and tried to not to look scared when Mr Arnold sat next to us.

“Two things”, he said with a Northern growl, we shuffled along a bit in case he tried to kill us with his bare hands. “Firstly, James are on the John Peel Show next week, you should probably check it out.” A pause. A double take. “And secondly, because you four appear to have developed decent taste in music, I shall choose to ignore the fact that I saw you drinking cider down the alley behind the butchers before the disco, have a good night, lads, remember Peel next week.” and with that he wandered off to harass a lad wearing some Fila Trainers.

Sit Down – James (1991, Fontana Records, Single)