In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: James frontman Tim Booth.
1: At 2017s Ariana Grande ‘One Love’ concert, which band used part of a James song in their set?
“Coldplay used part of ‘Sit Down’”
“Which was very kind of them, because we’d have loved to be part of it. When the bombing happened, we rang round friends in Manchester and were willing to do anything to do help. Coldplay playing that song made us feel a part of it which we really appreciated.”
Apparently Chris Martin’s a big fan…
“I once presented him with an award for best newcomer, which was between Coldplay and Badly Drawn Boy. The organisers said: ‘We want you to say that you really want Badly Drawn Boy to win’, trying to embarrass me, and I refused. Afterwards, Chris Martin drunkenly came up to me and said: ‘I’m a singer because of you’ – which made me even more glad I ignored them! Lots of Britpop bands – including Damon Albarn and Bernard Butler – told us we influenced them too.”
2: When James stood in late for Morrissey at Glastonbury in 1992, what song did you open with?
“We opened with ‘We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful’, which Morrissey had written about us. We learnt it as an ironic tribute and thank you to him.”
“The Smiths were amazing with us. They covered one of our songs [‘What’s The World’] and at the time, Morrissey said we were the best band in the world. He saw me as a kindred spirit. I used to go to his house a lot – we had a close relationship. We’d go walking in cemeteries – quite Morrissey things! In those days, he was shy, nervous, wanting fame but afraid of it, and overwhelmed by the success they were having. He was vulnerable and easy to be friends with.”
Has he changed?
“Yeah. I last spoke to him at Hop Farm festival backstage in 2011, when he breezed past me and said: ‘Oh, are you still alive?’, before disappearing into the night. (Laughs) It was one of those little Morrissey jokes you’re not sure about because he can be vindictive. I was on the bill with Patti Smith and the promoter rang me saying ‘Morrissey’s insisting you aren’t on the main stage’. He knew how much opening for one of my idols meant to me – we both became singers because of Patti Smith; ‘Sit Down’ was meant partly as a thank-you letter to her. It was mean, and I think he did it because I wasn’t vegetarian anymore.”
3: How did you offer to calm Kurt Cobain’s nerves when you played Top Of The Pops together in 1991?
“Kurt Cobain had lost his voice from touring and was terrified. They were thinking of pulling out of Top Of The Pops because he couldn’t sing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ in the right register. I’d worked with different healers in my time, so said: ‘I can massage your throat and vocal chords for you to help you get your voice back.’”
“He was with his band – they’d inadvertently got locked out of their dressing room – and looked at me like: ‘Who the fuck is this guy?!’. This was something outside his safe domain. He thanked me and went and did that famous performance where he sang purposefully in the wrong key, where it looks like he doesn’t give a fuck. But actually he gave a huge fuck, and was upset he couldn’t sing it. What he did was pretend to take the piss out of it, so it was amazing watching it become a legendary performance.”
4: What is the name of the character you play in the 2005 film Batman Begins?
“A serial killer who broke out of a mental hospital, had a trial and was convicted, and also put a can of hallucinogenic in Gotham City’s water supply – but they cut that scene. I tried to attack Katie Holmes’ character then got knocked out by Batman! Not bad for a two minute cameo!”
Christian Bale is partial to a bit of James…
“I was in make-up receiving my scars, and he was there in full Batman regalia. I’m looking at him in the mirror looming over me and he says [Adopts Batman’s gruff voice]: ‘Are you Tim Booottthhh from the band James? Laid saved my life! One of my favourite albums!’. Seven-year-old me is thinking: ‘Fucking hell, Batman loves our music!’. Because Christian Bale stayed in character the whole time, which I didn’t realise until afterwards. I just thought he was a bit weird when I’d talk to him when he was dressed casually – but then worked out ‘Shit! He’s being Bruce Wayne!’.
5: What did you wear to troll prejudiced Korn fans on a 1997 tour?
“We met them head on. We played Lollapalooza with Tool, Snoop Dogg, Tricky Korn and The Prodigy, to 15,000 people each night. We walked onstage at the first gig. I was in a neck brace – I’d broken two discs in my neck – and within minutes, they were screaming ‘Fucking faggots!’ and abuse. On the third day, I bought matching mirrorball tops and sequinned miniskirts. I said: ‘Let’s dress to really provoke the fuckers if they’re that homophobic!’. I wore a purple disco miniskirt, cowboy hat, and neck brace – each member of the band had matching glittery attire.”
“We’d go onstage to an ant’s nest of abuse! After the third song each night, I’d say: ‘I appreciate the fact you’re attracted to me enough to enquire about the nature of my sexuality…’, launching into a speech that would inflame them. Afterwards, Korn asked us to support them on tour. But after six weeks, we’d had our fill!”
You once described it as the ‘tour from hell’…
“It broke James. The rest of the band were self-destructing and caning it. I wasn’t – I was in a separate bus being looked after by a nurse (Laughs). Whereas they were stealing golf buggies and driving down the steps of auditoriums or crashing them into the stage, and partying so loud that other bands demanded to be moved away from us. Snoop Dogg was told we were a bad influence! (Laughs) We’d break down dressing room doors; we even knocked Orbital’s wall down! Afterwards, our band suffered and people had lost themselves. It was heavy in James towards the end of the ‘90s. But it was a wild fucking ride!”.
6: At a gig in Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall in 2011, what was unusual about the poster you held up?
“Oh yes! It was a death threat from a stalker who was putting up fly posters around Manchester saying he was going to kill me. He hadn’t got much sense of grammar or spelling! I read it out taking the piss out of it – but also because I thought it might provoke and flush him out!”
CORRECT. The poster said you were going to get your wobbly chin kicked in.
“Which was a clue that meant it was someone who knew me quite well because I have an inherited chin that ululates when I get very emotionally involved in a song.”
7: What Factory number is ‘Jimone’?
“Fuck, you’ve got me! That kind of trivia never interests me. I’d guess in the 40s?”
WRONG. It’s FAC78.
For a bonus half-point, what is FAC79?
“(Laughs) No fucking clue! Honestly, I didn’t like a lot of Factory music. I loved Joy Division and the Happy Mondays but most of those Manchester bands left me cold.”
WRONG. Bizarrely, FAC79 was a Christmas present of earplugs and a breathing mask.
“I felt Factory were too much form over content – which was partly the reason we didn’t stay with them. We were anti-image. We turned down the NME front cover and, when we had our first photoshoot with Kevin Cummings, refused to show our faces. When the Haçienda opened, we excitedly went along only to discover they had the worst sound system ever! So I wrote a letter to NME anonymously slagging it off. (Laughs) Terrible little pompous git that I was – we were on their label at the time. But I just wanted them to deal with the sound! Years later, I fessed up to Tony Wilson, apologised and told him we’d made a mistake by not doing at least one album with them. We’d been brought up by NME to believe record labels were the big bad wolf – it wasn’t until we ended up on Sire records, who tried to destroy James, that we realised how supportive and trustworthy Factory were.”
“Also, Jimmy [Glennie, bassist] and I were in a meditation cult at the time and not taking drugs or alcohol for years. Whenever you went for meetings at Factory, they had bong going! You got a contact high from the amount of dope Rob Gretton chain-smoked, so we didn’t like going into that environment!”
8: Who did you once get into fight with when you pretended to be a journalist to interview him?
“(Laughs) Nick Cave”.
“He threatened me and I laughed which made him more aggressive. Nick Cave was strung out and hated journalists. I said: ‘Your lyrics are violent, is that reflected in your personal life?’ – to which he took umbrage. He told me that yes, he was a very violent human being! And I laughed at him because the man opposite me was so damaged, he couldn’t hurt a fly! He got more and more aggressive, then stopped the interview to prevent it escalating.”
9: You were once a member of the Lifewave sect. But can you name the cult from Netflix’s Wild Wild Country?
“The leader was called Bhagwan, then became Osho. I can’t remember what the cult was called though! (Yelling to his wife) Kate, what were the devotees of Bhagwan called?”
Oi! You have a ringer Tim!
“They were Rajneesh and the followers were called sannyasins.”
“When I was looking for the meaning of life at 21, I tried to join Bhagwan but they charged too much money. I was a broke kid on the dole and couldn’t afford their workshops. I ended up joining a cult meaning I was celibate for three and a half years while they were having loads of sex! It looked more fun than our cult! (Laughs)”
What was Lifewave like?
“We joined partly to get the founding member of James, Paul [Gibertson] off drugs because he was destroying himself on dope – he was suffering mental delusions. But he got kicked out because he turned up to meetings stoned. He ended up in a psychiatric hospital and then prison. I was miserable – I’d been sick with inherited liver disease from the age of 11 and nearly died of it. Unless I found purpose in life, I wasn’t going to continue. The discipline of meditating two hours a day, 16 hours every weekend – celibate, no alcohol, no drugs, vegetarian – helped us deal with the temptations of being a rock band. I don’t regret a thing. I found myself. It was a complex period that was brilliant but I can look back and go ‘Wow, that was a cult!’. Sometimes on the path to spirituality, you have to go down some fucking crazy alleyways! Once, we met some kids who said: ‘We were born into a Christian cult and your music gave us the strength to break out of it – ‘Ring The Bells’ was our theme song.’”
10: What is the B-side to ‘Just Like Fred Astaire’?
“You bastard! Hmmmn….I’ll guess ‘I Defeat’?”
“Which sums James up – seizing defeat from the jaws of victory! Sinéad O’Connor came to the studio to meet producer Brian Eno while we recording, heard ‘My Defeat’, thought it was wonderful and we asked her to sing on it. It was lovely, creative, and effortless. The lyrics were tailormade for her in some ways – in a distressing way in retrospect. But it didn’t make the album and ended up as a B-side of my duet with one of the greatest singers of all-time – and it should have been a single.”
The verdict: 9/10
“That’s what relative clean-living does for you! I have my vices, but they’re not the day-to-day recreational ones most rock bands fall into.”
James are on tour throughout the UK from March 6.