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21st April 2023

Let yourself ‘Be Opened By The Wonderful’: We ‘Sit Down’ with James’ Jim Glennie

In conversation with Jim Glennie, the bassist of James, to discuss their brand new Orchestral album and upcoming UK tour.
Let yourself ‘Be Opened By The Wonderful’: We ‘Sit Down’ with James’ Jim Glennie
‘James’, Photo: Lewis Knaggs

Time travel back four decades, and Manchester was a very different place. Sure, then as now, you could take a trip to Affleck’s or the Arndale, watch a City or United match, and of course Britain was still ruled by the Tories’ Iron fist (or Lady). ‘Madchester’ though, was only just starting to take off, and was far from having the international, supersonic presence it has today. Bands like James – and their hit songs like ‘She’s a Star’, ‘Laid’, ‘Sometimes’ and ‘Sit Down’ -were about to kick off a new age of Manc music.

Flash forward to 2023, and James have more than 15 albums/compilations and thousands of gig and festivals performances under their belts, as well as a permanent place in Manchester’s music history. Far from resting on their laurels, James seem busy as ever: they’ve got an upcoming UK tour, a new orchestral album coming out, and another album in the pipeline. I ‘Sat Down’ with Jim Glennie, bassist for James, to discuss this exciting new chapter in the band’s story.

‘James’, Photo: Lewis Knaggs

Born and bred in Moss Side, Glennie has been part of James since its inception: the band’s even named after him! He tells me he started in the band that eventually morphed into James  when he was just 15, never knowing that they’d hit it big. ‘It was really just a mad, stupid thing that I absolutely loved’, Glennie says, ‘And then it kind of just took on a life of it’s own.’ It’s when they came to the attention of John Peel that things really got going.

Decades later, and James hasn’t run out of steam- or new ideas. Glennie says that the concept for the orchestral album, ‘Be Opened By the Wonderful’, comes from a gig they did 2011, which was frustratingly never recorded. With this being James‘ 40th anniversary year, the opportunity to revisit and revitalize their back-catalogue was a welcome one. Featuring a gospel choir and a 22 piece orchestra, the new album lushly breathes new life into familiar songs, and also includes an anthemic new song ‘Love Make a Fool’ which I can already see winning over festival crowds. Songs like ‘Laid’ are beautifully rendered as more stripped back, contemplative songs, whilst ‘Hymn from a Village’ evocatively opens with the cry of a trumpet.

'Be Opened By The Wonderful' on vinyl
‘Be Opened By The Wonderful’, Photo: ‘James’

When I ask which songs Glennie feels most benefited from the re-recording, he immediately says ‘Sometimes’. ‘The first half is so sparse, and then everyone [in the orchestra] arrives at the same time. It’s got that emotional lift at the end.’ Another of his favourites on the new album, is ‘She’s a Star’, and not just because he doesn’t actually play on it so can actually sit at the side of the stage and watch, for once.

The upcoming tour – complete with orchestra and choir – looks likely to traverse brand new territory for the band. They’re off to the Acropolis for the first time, which certainly seems a long way from the grey skies of Manchester. Glennie’s enthusiasm and frankly glee at the prospect of the upcoming tour, radiates through the phoneline. He tells me that the fans of the band are the best in the world.

‘We’re a weird band to support, because we don’t give people inherently what they want or what they demand. We’re an awkward bunch! We play what we want to play, and that sounds a bit selfish but it’s why we’re still here. […] We want to deliver for people. We want them to go out of the gig sweaty and knackered.’

James has gigged at festivals and venues around the world. Glennie tells me some of his favourite gigs were with fellow Mancunians The Smithson their ‘Meat is Murder’ tour, as well as the likes of New Order and The Fall. Glennie reflects fondly on supporting Neil Young in the States, remembering watching him play from grassy banks as the sun went down over thousands of people, and supporting David Bowie at Maine Road. A particular stand-out is obviously the band’s first comeback gig, playing Manchester Arena.

Tim Booth
Tim Booth of ‘James’, Photo: Laura Toomer

‘God it was such a buzz! We opened up with ‘Come Home’, and we had a marching band who came in the venue with no music playing’, he says, ‘As they got halfway into the venue, they starting playing the riff, and I’ve never heard a roar like it. It was like scoring at Wembley! […] You realise the band doesn’t really belong to you, it belongs to them, like a football team belonging to the fans.’

His advice to young musicians hoping to break into the scene is refreshingly simple: ‘You basically have to do it because you love it.’ He speaks about the importance of being honest with yourself, and letting the music be its own reward.

Glennie clearly loves the band, the fans and the music, himself. With a new tour approaching, and the opportunity to perform with a full orchestra and choir, it seems that James’s fourth decade will by no means be their last!

Pre-Order ‘Be Opened By The Wonderful’ now, and book tour dates at:

Izzy Langhamer

Izzy Langhamer

Izzy Langhamer enjoys writing all things Manchester, covering food, drink and music across the city. In her spare time she studies English Literature.

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