The Art of Longevity Episode 5: James, with Tim Booth

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When you’ve been getting away with it as a seven piece band for nearly four decades, with 22 albums behind you - something’s got to give when it comes to longevity. Especially when, in the case of James and Tim Booth, you’re on yet another roll. The band has made another vital album (All The Colours of You) despite the backdrop of a global pandemic and, in Booth’s case, an unsettling period on the run from the increasingly virulent wildfires encroaching on his family home in the Topanga Canyon of L.A.

I wanted to find out just what has driven James on, through a prolonged pre-breakthrough struggle in the 80s, a break-up in 2001 and what must have been many creative ups and downs in-between. One has a sense of Booth as shaman, a leader of his merry band of brothers (and now sisters, with the addition of percussionists and vocalists Deborah Knox-Hewson and Chloe Alper). And leader too by divine inspiration, of James’ devoted audience. A cult, but one with entirely positive vibes.

James creates songs from jams, that’s how they work: nobody controls it. For James, it’s all about inviting the muse to descend and join together with the band’s four core jamming members (Booth, Saul Davies, Dave Banton-Power and bassist founder Jim Glennie). That’s perhaps why uber-producer and electronic music god Brian Eno (who has turned everyone down from The Red Hot Chili Peppers to REM) put in a request to be that muse and produce the band’s 1992 masterpiece Laid. ‘Honour thy error as a hidden intention’ was a card drawn from Brian Eno’s oblique strategies deck in one session, but James already lived by that particular axiom.

From day one in 1983, the band had a philosophy and pact to always take risks - whether that be creating new songs from jam sessions to walking out on stage in front of the crowd before finalising the set. James’ are driven to experiment, and it’s remarkable that such fully formed songs as Beautiful Beaches, Sometimes, Say Something, Fred Astaire or Sit Down came from short improvisations. Then again, the band will jam over 100 pieces of music and zone in on the best 10-15 to make an album, setting the quality bar high.

As such, the band has survived members coming and going and the music industry changing beyond recognition - such that their last single to chart was Getting Away With It in 2001. That unsuccessful single slow-burned its way to become one of James’ anthems and their third biggest song on streaming, typically atypical James.

As Tim Booth enters his sixth decade on this earth, he is of course the polymath one might expect - teaching transcendental dance, writing a novel, acting a little here and there and meditating throughout. But as All The Colours of You beds in as another vital James album, Booth and James' three other core jamming members were already due to be in Scotland working on the next 100 jams that might lead to album 23.

Let’s hope the muse lays in wait.

Tim Booth spoke with Keith for The Art of Longevity, ep. 5!

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