James looking forward to playing Knebworth music festival Cool Britannia 2019
PUBLISHED: 19:32 29 August 2019 | UPDATED: 19:41 30 August 2019
Supplied by Cool Britannia
Cool Britannia Festival returns to Knebworth Park this weekend with James headlining on Saturday night. We talked to the band earlier in the summer ahead of their Knebworth festival appearance.
Expect the unexpected when James play Cool Britannia Festival 2019 in Knebworth.
During their recent UK tour in support of latest album Living in Extraordinary Times, they supported themselves with an acoustic set.
"We don't just do the obvious," band member Saul Davies tells me from his hotel room in Malta.
After more than three decades in the business, James are still probably best known for crowd-pleasing hit single Sit Down.
Others will know the Mancunian indie favourites for tracks such as Come Home, Born of Frustration and She's A Star. Then there's Laid and Sometimes in their arsenal.
However, if your knowledge of James is restricted to just the big hits, you're missing out on the band's recent work.
With a huge back catalogue to pick from, no two James live sets are the same.
After playing the Isle of Wight Festival and supporting The Courteeners at Heaton Park this summer, the seven-piece band jetted off to North America for a tour with Pretty in Pink rockers The Psychedelic Furs.
They will headline the second Cool Britannia at Knebworth on Saturday, August 31.
It will be James' first appearance at Knebworth Park, which hosted Oasis' seminal 1996 gigs.
"When you are offered the chance to play in a place that has such a legendary status, of course you are going to jump at it," says guitarist Saul.
"Knebworth has just got that name, hasn't it? I don't think we ever thought we'd play Knebworth on our own."
Festivals are different though, and Saul adds: "It [Cool Britannia] will be great."
The multi-instrumentalist is talking to the Welwyn Hatfield Times ahead of James' appearance at Rock'N Malta on the Mediterranean island.
The band like to mix things up live. So if you are hoping to hear a greatest hits set live, you might be out of luck.
However, there's enough anthems on the group's last three albums to more than make up for Sit Down's possible absence from the set list.
After 38 years as a band, the alternative rock legends are still going strong, and getting better - both live and on record - with age.
Proof of that is in the group's artistic renaissance since 2014, when Le Petite Mort was released.
Almost unnoticed by the mainstream music press, James have gained new followers and rewarded loyal fans who have stuck with them over the decades.
The moving and life-affirming La Petite Mort album is among the band's best, with tracks such as Moving On, Curse Curse, All I'm Saying and Interrogation sitting up there with classics from 1990s hit albums Gold Mother and Seven.
Girl at the End of the World, released two years later in 2016, was only held off top spot in the UK album charts by a certain Skyfall singer Adele. James were, in fact, leading the number one race in the midweek charts.
The band's 15th studio album, last year's Living in Extraordinary Times, is, to paraphrase the record's title, an extraordinarily good album.
It is arguably their finest work to date - no mean feat for a band that released their debut album, Stutter, back in 1986.
Remaining relevant in today's ever-changing musical landscape is difficult.
Since reforming, James have stuck to their guns. They just want to make music.
"Maybe we've got ideas above our station, but we think of ourselves as artists in a way," explains Saul.
"If you think about a lot of our peers, I think there's a tendency to say, 'well we've got some hits, we've got some big tunes'.
"The idea of writing new music and putting yourself out there to be slaughtered, potentially, is something a lot of bands shy away from because they don't necessarily have the confidence that it can work.
"I think there's also a tendency for people to be happy to be judged on their past work.
"But for us, we felt driven to reform as a band in 2007 on the basis that we would make new music.
"Being in a band again was to make new music. Actually, we had the rather naive idea that if people wanted to hear our music, great. If they don't, so be it. We wanted to create music for ourselves."
He adds: "We had different levels of success with the first recordings that we did after reforming in 2007.
"We did a record called Hey Ma. There are some great songs on it, but we were still finding our feet again in the studio.
"Then we did two mini albums, and then we met Max Dingel, the producer of La Petite Mort and Girl at the End of the World."
He adds: "Of those three records, my personal favourite is La Petite Mort. I think it's a great record. And if it was a record that someone else had made, I'd be listening to it very much.
"We took some risks, we decided to put ourselves back out there again and be judged, and we've done OK."
Saul continues: "The music industry is a strange one in the sense that people can make great livings and have completely viable careers just living off the past.
"I think it's almost unique in the arts to be able to do that. But we are not a band that can exist like that.
"Maybe at some point we'll go out and do an arena tour where we just play our greatest hits.
"We've never really done it. Let's go and play 20 huge, massive anthems. Sit Down, Come Home, Laid, Sometimes, Getting Away With It, Born of Frustration, She's A Star - let's do the whole lot.
"It would be cool. I'd quite enjoy doing that - once.
"But in the meantime, if you make a new record you should support that and play it, and try and pull people in.
"I know it divides some people, but generally I think we get a lot of plaudits for continuing to make what is regarded critically and by our fans as really good work. I wish we'd discovered this 30 years ago!"
Although only a year old, Living in Extraordinary Times has already spawned live favourites such as Leviathan, Picture of This Place and the title track, as well as the mass singalong of Many Faces.
Of the new album tracks, Saul says: "I love playing all of them to be honest.
"Hank, Heads, Picture of This Place, which works really well live, Many Faces. That's a pretty simple, straight ahead tune in a way, but it has a huge emotional appeal to people who get it. Those are songs we are playing consistently every show.
"There's a song called Leviathan on the record that we play which has become quite a powerful song on stage, it's gained an extra level of power and punch."
He adds: "I feel in terms of our consistency of performance on the stage, I think we've gained another level.
"We really know what we are doing when it comes to being on the stage. And we've got a great catalogue to play.
"We're in a really healthy position because at a festival like Knebworth, for example, people in the audience, other than our hardcore fans, will know us for those songs - She's A Star, Sit Down, Laid or whatever.
"And we won't play them all. Given it's a festival, we might play two of them.
"I've no idea what those two might be. God knows... we might play Laid and Sometimes, for example, or we might play Star and Sit Down. I don't know. But we won't play loads of them.
"Festivals are great but one thing that is always a bit problematic is where we are used to playing for two to two-and-a-quarter hours, you get an hour or so.
"So you have to cram a load of information into a tiny space of time, which is really difficult to do.
"But we feel confident enough in our new material and our ability to perform it. Even if people are unfamiliar with the material, if they are music fans, they will get it."
James are due on stage around 9pm on Saturday night for their headline set after performances from The Farm, The Bluetones, Soul II Soul, Black Grape, Sleeper and Embrace earlier in the day. The Cool Britannia 2019 line-up also includes a 1990s anthems DJ set from BBC Radio 2's Jo Whiley before James take to the stage.
Saul says: "If you've only got an hour, an hour is about 10 songs. An hour gives us an opportunity to play 10 songs, six minutes a song in the end with extended sections and chat and all the rest of it.
"How do you choose from the hundreds of songs we've written just 10 to play at Knebworth?"
It's scorching hot in Malta as Saul talks to me, while it is absolutely chucking it down in the green parkland of Knebworth.
The British weather will also play a part in what set James play at Cool Britannia. Sometimes the band simply play it by ear.
"What we tend to do with an event like that is gauge the day, what's the weather like," says Saul.
"Is it raining? Is it sunny? Things like that. What's the mood of the place? And we play accordingly.
"If its raining and dark clouds, then you think, 'I tell you what, let's just have a party. Let's keep it up'.
"People have paid a lot of money to go to a festival. That's the other side of it, as artistic as we try to be, we're not daft. We can flick a switch. We change the set all the time anyway."
Coming back to Sit Down, James sometimes open with the indie disco favourite. Other times it will be the set closer. There's no guarantee they will even play it at all.
Lead singer Tim Booth couldn't make this point any clearer. He has the following tweet pinned to the top of his Twitter feed.
"Most bands do a theatre set of the same songs each night in the same order. James change it up each night from an arsenal of a 100 songs. That's how we generate our passion. If you come see us live - try to let go of hearing your particular favourite or disappointment will follow."
That passion for performing live means fans are unlikely to be disappointed when James headline Cool Britannia on Saturday night.
Expect a few set surprises - Sit Down or no Sit Down.
For Cool Britannia tickets, visit www.coolbritanniafest.com They are also available on the gate.