With the GATEOTW tour about to kick off in Bristol, your roving Girl was lucky enough to find herself at a rehearsal studio in South London on Saturday evening, to join 20 lucky fans who had won access to what may be the most intimate gig James have ever played.
It was a completely new experience for the band too – even for one so used to doing unusual and spontaneous things, from playing acoustically in Greece with just a guitar and trumpet in the town square to a Guerilla gig at a station in Porto – but this felt so extraordinarily intimate – we were being invited into the inner sanctum, the very soul of the band and it’s no wonder that they were every bit as nervous as the 10 pairs of competition winners huddled on the car park of the studios waiting to go in.
After being led through a maze of corridors and offices, squeezed into an old goods lift with manual, finger-chopping heavy doors, we ascended to the top floor, waiting again in a corridor full of flight cases, under a sign strictly forbidding any cases to be left blocking the corridor for fire regulations! We were then led into the large rehearsal room where the band awaited our arrival like a group of troublemakers waiting for the headmaster to determine their fate.
The floor strewn with big cushions, we all took our places, swapping a bit of banter with the band. Saul’s absence was noted and calls put out for him – where is he? Was he hiding behind someone’s cushion? He duly appeared, looking more like a pilot than a musician, having found an airline pilot’s peaked hat from somewhere – “What?” he protested, “It’s just a hat….”
After some messing around to get the lighting right, we were off….
They opened with Move Down South – the mix in such a setting making the sound totally different to that in a larger venue – and also because we were missing Adrian, as he was playing a couple of gigs back in Brixton and the extra guitar/cello/mandolin we’re getting used to was noticeable by its absence – though the 6 of them carried that absence well – although they decided early on that anything that went wrong was going to be Adrian’s fault…
Catapult was next, followed by To My Surprise. Tim assumed we all knew the GATEOTW story by now, so it wasn’t repeated – he must be getting rather sick of telling it by now!
A surprise was next – the songs we’ve not yet heard live – Alvin and Waking – although Tim’s lyric sheet was written in very bad English approximations of the French lyrics – Saul joked about them being the reason for Britain wanting to leave the EU. We were privileged to be the first to hear these two tracks played to an audience and both sounded great, with Andy and Ron adding backing vocals and Andy prowling the ‘stage’ with his darting trumpet line to Waking.
The beautiful Feet of Clay followed – “the death wish song” said Tim – and then a surprise for us all – and hopefully a track that will reappear again during the tour – One Of The Three. They love to throw us these curve balls and this classic Laid track gobsmacked everyone with its beauty and simplicity.
An old favourite followed – Just Like Fred Astaire and She’s A Star – with Ron helping out with the high notes – Tim is still very jetlagged and is conserving his voice for the gruelling 15 gigs in 20 days to come.
Back to the new album next with Dear John and then another surprise – We’re Going To Miss You – Tim growls the words like they’re as fresh as the day he wrote them as a spell to reflect the ‘curse’ sent to him by an ex.
Bitch was up next – although the set list had Sound, which was dropped for some reason unknown. Still jetlagged, Tim wanted the lyrics which weren’t there – “Don’t worry” said Saul, “Get them printed, you got 3 minutes before you come in anyway!” Tim’s sister was despatched to ask for the words to be printed; “Love to hear her ask for that” quips Saul.
Surfer’s Song is added whilst we wait, with Bitch following. Tim is wearing a t-shirt that we can only hope is available on the tour – in the style of the original Ja-m-es shirt – spelling Bi-t-ch…. so with the original shirt having people assuming we were German with the “Ja” on the front, we will now all be assumed to be bi-sexual instead!
Attention follows – and the band have already made it very different to the recorded version – the connecting middle piece between the two parts now longer, gentler – more melodic and flowing – easing into the 2nd part rather than it bursting on us – it will divide fans between those who will favour this new version and those who prefer the spiky build up and burst of energy that the recorded version gives.
Moving On is next, which has lost none of its ability to make you incredibly sad whilst still having you singing along – and the last song is announced – we’ve been there an hour and a half and no one can believe how it’s flown by. Nothing But Love starts a little awkwardly without Adrian’s mandolin but soon gains its rhythm , with Andy and Ron again helping out with the vocals.
And then – too soon – it’s over. “Can you go off over there and come back for an encore?” someone asks. Tim apologises – “I’m saving my voice” “Nice try though!” says Jim, “Ten out of ten for trying!”
And with that it’s over – the spell is broken, and band and fans chat awhile. Set lists are obtained without the customary begging from the barriers, photos and signatures procured. Tim disappears – the jet lag is taking its toll and he retires for a while, but Jim, Dave, Andy, Mark, Saul and Ron chat away and seem relieved that the experiment has worked – they notice their own mistakes but we don’t – the songs change so much that what they think of as a mistake is what we see as them changing the songs as they go along, experimenting and renewing all the time – and without it, they wouldn’t be the James we all love.
- Move Down South
- To My Surprise
- Girl At The End Of The World
- Feet Of Clay
- One Of The Three
- Fred Astaire
- She’s A Star
- Dear John
- We’re Going To Miss You
- Surfer’s Song
- Moving On
- Nothing But Love