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16th May 2023

Live review: James Orchestral Tour spellbinds at Manchester Apollo

James return to Manchester for a helter-skelter, orchestral tour through fan favourites and deep cuts
Live review: James Orchestral Tour spellbinds at Manchester Apollo
Tim Booth of ‘James’, Photo: Laura Toomer

Since the early 1980s, James have been delighting fans across the world with their discography of smash hits, deep cuts, and hidden gems. Now they’re taking to the stage like never before, to perform their latest album ‘Be Opened By the Wonderful’. An imaginative revisiting of their back catalogue including a euphoric new song – ‘Love Make a Fool’ – the project sees the band join forces with a 22 piece orchestra and gospel choir, to produce a fresh and evocative sound. Taking their new album to Manchester Apollo last week, the band gave a tour de force performance unlike any other.

James the band
James, Photo: Lewis Knaggs

Settling down in the Apollo, it was clear that this show would be more than just your average gig. For one thing, the audience was seated, for another there were clear ‘no phones’ signs hung up around the venue. This initial atmosphere of calm didn’t stop the crowd from dancing in the seats, shouting the words to James’ familiar classics or the energy rising.

We watched as the stage filled up with the ORCA22 Manchester orchestra, Manchester Inspirational Voices choir, and finally James frontman himself, Tim Booth. Emerging to the roars of an exhilarated home-crowd, Booth begins the show with characteristic wit, jokingly conducting the orchestra himself whilst ‘waiting’ for the conductor (the brilliant Joe Duddel) to join.

Opening with perhaps James’ biggest hit, ‘Sit Down’, Booth is immediately at home on stage with the knack of a singer who knows just how to electrify the crowd. The ‘no phones’ rule creates an intimate spell over both band and audience, as Booth bounds into the aisles: he joyfully thrashes and spirals throughout the set in moves only comparable to a fuzzy worm on a string. We’re told by Booth that they ‘like to surprise’ themselves with the songs they play. My friend excitedly whispers to me that James went through a phase of leaving ‘Sit Down’ off the setlist. This sold-out gig is clearly one for the fans, and filled like a Christmas stocking with big fat hits and fan favourites.

James rattle through their reworked songs and the likes of ‘Space’, ‘Seven’, and ‘Top of the World’, the gorgeous sounds of the gospel choir breathing fresh life into them and harmonizing beautifully with Booth’s soaring voice. Some of the best songs include a revitalised ‘Say Something’ and the spellbinding ‘She’s a Star’, whilst others suffer a little from a lack of guitars and drums at points, ‘Laid’ being the one song I felt could have done with more punchy production.

Elsewhere, the orchestra and choir are welcome and energised additions. ‘Moving On’, a song written after the death of Booth’s mother, works wonderfully, the refrain “Leave a little light on” cascading movingly through the crowd. The sheer number of people and instruments makes for an overwhelmingly touching tribute whilst maintaining the intimacy of Booth’s performance. Saul Davies is impressive and charismatic on violin, and Jim Glennie‘s guitar injects a much needed call-back to James’ indie rock roots.

The band’s new release ‘Love Make a Fool’ is the one point in the set where the ‘no phone’ rule is dropped. The stage is flooded with light, with the orchestral production amplifying the anthemic power of the song. Another high point is ‘Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)’, which cuts to the heart of James’ strength: beguilingly complex lyrics with a stand-out chorus that unites the Manchester crowd in harmony. Booth seems to be having the time of his life on stage.

After the interval, he appears like magic in the circle seats to sing ‘Magic Bus’, stretching out with abandon over heads in the stalls. It’s these moments of surprise that give the show its atmosphere, and have cemented their place as a unpredictable, riotously fun live act. The last third of the show takes place with the audience entirely on our feet, swaying, singing, and hugging to songs like the heady ‘Born of Frustration’. At the end of a well-received encore, James finish with ‘Hymn From a Village’, the perfect jangly closer to an evening filled with elation and mad-cap energy. As hometown gigs go, you simply can’t get better.


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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