After the excitement of the opening night of the tour in Bristol, came the long trek across country to Southend for the second night. The Southend Cliffs Pavilion, perched high on the Cliffs overlooking the Thames estuary, hosts a wide variety of events and James fans perusing the merch stalls for both James and excellent support Band The Slow Readers Club could also contemplate coming to see a Roy Orbison tribute, Jimmy Osmond and a night with Joan Collins…. I don’t think there were many takers though for a ticket swap! There aren’t many other places though that you can buy a slush and a bag of sweets before going in…
The venue itself has a large standing area and seating upstairs, but didn’t look the easiest of places to get up and down to the balcony from the stage area, so it’s always interesting whilst waiting to try to figure out what forays into the audience may have been planned and get a feel for how the band and crew plan ahead. We hope to be able to shed a bit of light on questions like this a little further along the road.
The Slow Readers Club opened again, their singer looking slightly less like a rabbit caught in the headlights and a little more relaxed as they impressed the amassed James crowd with their set.
For anyone foolish enough to have turned up tonight not having at least heard the new album and expecting to hear a typical Southend venue nostalgia set, it was going to be a challenging evening – rather than easing us in as they had done in Bristol, they launched straight into four songs from the new album – Move Down South, To My Surprise (missing, to my surprise, from last night’s show), Alvin and Waking. If there were those in the crowd that were expecting a night of hits, they were in a minority, as the crowd greeted these new songs as ecstatically as old favourites Ring The Bells and Sometimes which followed. The latter certainly seems to be being reinvented as a mid-set song with a definite ending, and for anyone wanting to continue the singalong, this is soon forgotten as the first crashing chords of Bitch fill the auditorium. Tim gyrates centre stage throughout the long intro, which is definitely one that has the power to hold the attention of those prone to chatting through instrumental sections.
Surfer’s Song is getting stronger and stronger every time they play it live, and with the excellent acoustics at this venue, you feel the sound waves washing over you almost as if the real, though very tame, waves on the beach below were the catalyst for the song rather than the Californian surf – and staying in that US State, the title track of the album follows – “about dying ecstatically in a car crash” Tim says.
The lighting on this tour should be mentioned at this point too – there has obviously been a very lot of hard work put into complementing each song with lighting to match its mood – previous shows have been heavy on the blue and red lighting but this time, flashes of orange, green, purple add to those – and at other points, pinpricks of white light create stars at appropriate points and add to the whole experience.
One of the Three makes another appearance, at once calming the mood but losing none of the excitement as its lilting melody has everyone singing along. It’s described as an, “old old James song” – but with far older ones in the set, maybe this comment was meant to be a nod to how many new songs made up this set rather than a serious observation. The beautiful acoustic set that was tried last night in Bristol then makes a reappearance – almost an interlude, a set within a set – with the lights dropped down and a chair brought on for Adrian to sit at with his cello. Jim and Saul take centre stage, with Tim to the left and the rendition of She’s A Star has both a stripped down feel whilst also bringing to mind the wonderful Orchestra Tour with Joe Duddell, showing that these chart songs have a real orchestral quality to them if they’re arranged properly. Halfway through, Andy wanders on, picks up his trumpet and joins in, almost as an afterthought. Like last night, Fred Astaire follows, starting stripped down but building throughout until the lights kick back in and bring us out of the trance, although only just enough to appreciate the irony of their greatest love song being followed by what Tim describes as their ‘divorce song’, with the words of Dear John bringing to an end the ride that Fred Astaire started.
Catapult follows but then real surprise and bemusement for the casual fan with Dave’s drums kicking into a driving beat and the resurrection of a song from Wah Wah that hasn’t been played in almost 20 years, the wild, manic Honest Joe, with Saul and Tim on megaphones and those who were hearing it for the first time, mesmerized. No sooner had we caught our breath at the end, then Jim’s bass kicks into the opening line of Sound – a song that is played often but is always different, showing us something they’ve never done before. Those of us at the front have spotted Andy’s white trumpet and shirt behind the mixing desk but he seems in no hurry to dash off to find his way up to the balcony tonight. He appears instead at the barrier, edging his way along the steps behind it, to the delight of those at the front – the red LED has been changed to a white one, which gives it an ethereal glow under the UV lights shone onto him as he brings the song to its crescendo.
The main set concludes with Attention – again, with more experimentation in the centre section, and lights flashing and twinkling to reflect the electricity of Eno’s joining part before the second half has the crowd dancing again. They take their bows and leave us for now – but within a few minutes, Adrian’s mandolin is heard striking up the familiar start of Sit Down, and we can track their progress through the crowd by the rash of mobile phones held aloft, capturing shaky images as they pass through back towards the stage.
Moving On follows – the subject matter maybe a little strange, sandwiched between two happy and uplifting songs, and the evening concludes with Nothing But Love – and unbeknownst to the rest of the crowd and the band, one of the VIP soundcheckers at the barrier had been waiting all night for the song in order to propose to his partner, who fortunately for all concerned, accepted – we send our congratulations to Martin and Karen and hope that Dear John will never be their song!
- Move Down South
- To My Surprise
- Ring The Bells
- Surfers Song
- Girl At The End Of The World
- One Of The Three
- She’s A Star
- Just Like Fred Astaire
- Dear John
- Honest Joe
- Sit Down
- Moving On
- Nothing But Love
Video courtesy of Andy Petrou
Video courtesy of Andy Petrou