VIP Soundcheck Review – Main review below photos
The Nottingham Soundcheck began with Saul playing I Defeat and singing words taking the mickey out of Tim forgetting his lyrics and needing reading glasses to read small print.
They explain how they conduct these soundchecks by being irreverent to one another and playing songs they probably won’t play in the main set.
They play I Defeat properly as their first song, followed by Maria’s Party.
A question asks what the first gigs were that each band member went to, which digressed into Tim telling a long story about some pseudo scientists he met who claimed to have cracked nuclear fusion.
Eventually, the question is answered – Tim likes to claim his was Iggy Pop, although it was really Hawkwind, as was Dave’s. Saul’s was The Doors at the Isle of Wight festival as a child and Jim’s was The Fall. They claim that Mark doesn’t go to gigs and Andy has disappeared somewhere. Saul tells us Andy has a new trumpet and that it’s so shiny cos it’s made of platinum because despite being a socialist, he’s loaded cos he invested in bitcoin (totally untrue, but he does have a new trumpet as the one he’s been using he’s had since 1982!)
The final song is supposed to be Jam J. When it’s finished, a questioner says she’s a bit disappointed because she’s brought her young son Tom, who is learning the trumpet and was hoping Andy would have played more in the soundcheck and give Tom some tips and encouragement. Andy is dragged back from catering and whilst he’s being fetched, Tim tells us how Andy loves to make his trumpet sound like anything other than trumpet and that many weird sounds that we hear are actually Andy’s trumpet through various effects and pedals. He loves to improvise and plays with a friend where they will just go and improvise music for an hour and it’s fabulous (Andy has a duo called Spaceheads who are well worth looking up)
Andy returns and tells the young trumpeter that the key is simply to play as much as he can. It’s suggested that Andy plays some specially for the lad, and people throw suggestions of TV theme tunes at him before the band launch into a reprise of Maria’s Party, with Andy taking the lead on trumpet, which sounds fabulous.
Then we’re ushered out, we’re well over time but a really good soundcheck session.
Acoustic and Main Set Review
As much as many fans would love James to play the city’s Rock City venue, The Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham seems a fitting venue for this tour, its acoustics, raked seats and wide balcony giving everyone a superb view and fabulous sound quality.
It’s the second of the all seated venues on this tour, and not as conducive to people moving around or coming to the front to dance as Bath was, with the seats in unbroken rows all the way to the stage.
The band come on stage at the earlier time of 8pm for their acoustic set. Earlier, on Twitter, Tim announces that the support band are now named “All About Death” due to the theme of most of the songs, so just to prove himself wrong, only All I’m Saying deals overtly with the subject tonight. They open with Hello, which has so far featured in all the setlists this tour, followed by the beautiful Backwards Glances, with Andy, Adrian and Chloe on backing vocals. Pressure’s On follows – a song many of the audience will never have heard before and the melancholy mood continues with Broken By The Hurt.
Sensing this, we’re lifted into singing along with Fred Astaire next, before All About Death conclude their set with All I’m Saying, which Tim manages to get through without his voice betraying his feelings this time.
A break, and a buzz of excitement as the band return for their main electric set.
“The support band were shit” quips Tim as they prepare to launch into Hank, filling the auditorium with intense drumbeats and blaring trumpet. The seated audience remain so during this and What’s It All About, unsure of etiquette and not wanting to be the first on their feet. The opening bars of Ring The Bells, its first appearance this tour, brings the whole audience to its feet simultaneously, almost, as someone put it on Twitter, as if we were rising for a hymn in church.
Now they’re on their feet, the audience remain standing, defying security to make them sit, despite the slower tempo of Five-O and I Defeat.
Next comes the new album title track and Tim wants to connect with the audience. He drops into the stalls, making his way towards the middle, balancing on seat backs until he reaches row G, seat 13 where he stays, holding onto this reviewer for the remainder of the song before climbing down and returning by a more conventional route.
For Heads, Dave Baynton Power and Chloe Alper drive the percussion during this anti Trump song, berating the poor who vote the rich to hammer nails in their feet. Andy’s effects that Tim told the VIP soundcheckers about come to the fore, the trumpet spitting its foghorn-like defiance at the “Land of the Free”.
The third of this trio of tracks from the new album concludes with Picture of this Place, the false ending catching out those fans not as familiar with the new tracks as others.
They bring the ambience back down again, with Tim telling us we may want to sit again for this next song, which they’d intended to play in the acoustic set. Coming Home Part 2 gives us a break to catch our breath, Adrian Oxaal’s cello soothing and Andy and Chloe providing harmonies on backing vocals.
The audience less familiar with the breadth of the James back catalogue are given another unfamiliar track that Tim tells us is from 1989 although records indicate it was first heard in 1992. Mark Hunter adds an exotic, almost fairground feel with his accordion whilst Tim points at Andy as the “gypsy playing trumpet in a second hand dress”, although we’ve sadly not seen any of Andy’s dresses for too long now.
Tim eyes the balcony, he’s itching to get up there. There is a set of speakers leading inviting up to it, and he quickly scales them and up to the fans above, balancing precariously on the balcony edge, only a well muscled fan between him and a drop onto the seats below. At the end, he declares he feels like a cat up a tree, he’s got up there with no idea how to get back!
Next comes Waltzing Along, which gets the audience back on their feet, their hearts and eyes opened by the wonderful yet again and continues as Saul Davies strikes up the instantly recognisable intro to Getting Away With It. Andy’s effects come to the fore again, with Tim telling us at the end that the mad, swooping electronic sounds they can hear are “real trumpeting”. Diagram’s contribution to the James sound is so often overlooked when people are only listening for a brass trumpet within the songs when his sound is so often put through pedals and effects.
The leviathan of Leviathan follows, with many of the audience caught out again by the false ending, although it’s shorter than usual this time, as Tim continues his whispered “ride inside the starship…” for longer and Saul slips into the opening chords to Laid, starting this fan favourite slowly before bursting into the full version with Dave’s drums kicking off the party that leave the fans begging for more as they take their bows.
Never a band to disappoint, they soon return with the song that is taking over as the singalong from Sometimes (taking a bit of a break from the setlist), Many Faces – with the audience quickly picking up on both the chorus and the hand signals that accompany it, with one finger for one human race, five for the many faces and a clenched fist to state that everybody belongs here.
As a finale, we’re treated to a full 12 minute version of Sound, Jim Glennie’s bassline reverberating around the hall as Andy goes walkabout with the trumpet, the call of the wide balcony too much to resist, although he uses the back stairs rather than the speaker stack! Appearing in the middle of the first tier, he takes several fans by surprise, rapt in the sound from the stage, and delighted to find they’re getting their own trumpet serenade from close quarters.
As they take their final bows, everyone is on their feet for a band who can play a 22 track setlist, leave out their most well known songs and still have a standing ovation that many other bands can only dream of. We truly are Living In Extraordinary Times.
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