Violins and Trumpets… chocolate cakes

James live in Manchester.

A couple of years ago, James headlined the Vs Cancer gig at the MEN Arena. It wasn’t a usual set. They had a choir and orchestra. They also had Rowetta and Hooky singing and playing with them, but we will bypass that. The orchestra and choir worked. Then on their last tour, the choir came along again at the MEN show and you know, it worked again. So the natural progression was a full tour with orchestra and choir, and so “An Evening with James” was conceived.

Last night the tour finally hit Manchester and, man, are we glad it did. We had been told by Tim on his Twitter feed to be there for 8pm and leave the hits at the door and we were, well most of us were…..the empty row till just before the interval suggested not everyone is a tweeter but that is by the by.

The Orchestra of the Swan walked on stage, followed by the Manchester Consort Choir, the lights dimmed and the band followed. Tim told us that they were starting slowly and so we should sit back and enjoy as Dust Motes started up, Mark playing the piano beautifully. Hello followed, again with a great piano opening, the song getting a new lease of life freed from its overproduced recorded shackles. Another underplayed, underrated album track followed with Alaskan Pipeline from the Pleased to Meet You album, same rules apply as Hello, much better live in this environment that on record. The Shining, again from Pleased to Meet You followed and I started to get a little worried. Not at the performance on stage, but about how the crowd would start to react when it was clear this wasn’t the usual James gig, but I should give the Manchester crowd more credit as the ovation at the end of the song allayed my fears.

At this point Tim stopped the show to say a few words about a stalker who seems to have been fly posting Manchester regarding doing him harm and Someone’s got it in for me was dedicated to him/her. A favourite of mine from Millionaires and the song showed it’s true class tonight.

One of the best parts of this period of James is their willingness to revisit their past go right back into the midst of time and play really early 80s stuff and this is continued on this tour with Fairground.  The choir really start to come into their own on this song with the backing vocals and it is a song that is more than welcome in the setlist. It was then time for a Tim walkabout. Regular James gig goers know that at some point, Tim will be about in the crowd and on the tour so far, (Just Like) Fred Astaire has been that cue. He started by walking up one aisle, then into the crowd and moved along on top of the seats before being helped back onto the stage. The walkabout allowed for the strange sight of one lady dancing with her head pretty much jammed up against Tims buttocks (there is a sentence I never thought I would type.)

Hymn from a Village was up next, with Jim Glennie basslibne replaced by the harp, it probably shouldn’t work. It does. Within spades. With bells on.

Hey Ma and We’re gonna miss you when you’re gone close the first part of the show, the former built up well with the strngs of the orchestra, the latter showing the choir off perfectly and the acapella ending was superb with both band members and choir continuing to sing whilst back stage.

The second half started with some tomfoolery from Tim trying to conduct the orchestra, ending with a rendition of the William Tell overture, giving the choir time to file back on stage and kick straight into She’s A Star, with just Tim, Mark on piano and the orchestra and choir on stage. Haunting isn’t the word.

Space followed, another underrated Pleased to Meet you track, followed by Lookaway from the latest Morning After album. Possibly not the strongest James song, but certainly not out of place tonight. Old James followed with Riders before possibly the most obscure song of the night, The Lake, which was a Laid era b-side. It is a song that many James fans have said they want to see played live, hopefully after this tour, it will be played more in the set as it was stunning. Utterly stunning.

Fire so Close followed with the male choir members at the front of the stage and Larry duelling with the violin player from the orchestra. Then the moment I was dreading. Say Something. A song I have said previous on this blog that I am not bothered if I never hear again live, but tonight, it was superb. Two female choir members were down at the front of the stage singing with Tim and that made it work well. I just hope when the “regular” gigs come back, they do something different with it. For the last two songs the crowd were up on their feet and Tim warned people not to sit down now. A warning heeded by most.  Tomorrow followed and just when you thought that the gig was heading into familiar territory, Medieval sent it spinning into a different direction, with its refrain of “We are Sound” being sung with gusto by the choir.

Getting away with it finished the regular set and it was time for the encore. And regular James attendees knew that this was tghe time to look round the venue to see where Tim would apprear. The 1st tier was the answer as Top of the World was started. It s a wonderful song anyway, but tonight it was in a different stratosphere to paraphrase the song. Beautiful.

An extended opening to Of Monsters, Heroes and Men could only mean one thing….Tim was lost. A fact confirmed at the end of the song when Saul commented that it was a long time to play one note, but it was his best note.

Sometimes finished the set off with the now customary singalong, including Tim firing up the crowd saying we sounded like a London crowd and ending with a sing off between choir and audience.

Not many bands could pull this kind of show off, and not many would take the risk. Happily for us James fans, the band are happy to do both and as a result, the people of Manchester are treated to something just a bit special.


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