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James at Scarborough Open Air Theatre

I've lived in Scarborough for about 18 months, and yet somehow never managed to set foot in the Open Air Theatre until it was time to review James - it was an excellent introduction to the venue.

Clichéd though it might be to write about the weather, it really was a beautiful evening for live music - the sun was just managing to break through the clouds, shining down on a large and enthusiastic crowd (I wasn't aware that James had produced such a varied array of band t-shirts over the years, but there were so many people wearing them that I almost felt slightly out-of-place!).

The first James of a distinctly James-y evening was ex-Starsailor frontman James Walsh. Despite looking a little small in comparison with the gigantic stage, he managed to command the audience's attention with just his voice, a guitar and a bit of backing track. The setlist mixed original material with a selection of songs from his Starsailor back catalogue to great effect, culminating in a highly melodic but driving version of 'Silence Is Easy' which had that entire crowd going. All in all, it was a perfect beginning to the night's music.

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A confession - I wasn't in anyway familiar with James' work until about a fortnight before this gig (beyond the obvious 'Sit Down'). Some in-depth Youtubing and a thorough reading of the band's biography gave me a scattered overview of what I could expect:

  • A band on the go (intermittently) since 1982
  • An incredibly varied sound, with songs varying from jangly '80s guitar-pop and Madchester melodies to a maturer, more anthemic sound
  • A core fanbase that can best be described as 'die-hard' (I overheard someone at the bar ask another fan, "So how many times have you seen 'em this year then?", to which the reply was a nonchalant, "Ah this is just the third; it's been a busy few months.")

So bearing this all in mind, how does a band manage to put together a setlist which will encompass everything they can do, while still pleasing as many members of their adoring audience as possible? Well according to James, the answer would appear to be 'easily'.

Opening with 'Walk Like You' from latest album 'La Petite Mort', the band were quick to show how well they could combine varied instrumentation such as keys, violin, and trumpet with crystalline vocals and fluid shifts from slow melancholy to louder singalong sections.

Following this, they seamlessly shifted back in time through no fewer than 23 years to perform 1992's 'Ring The Bells', which was frankly more soaring and whole-heartedly euphoric than the second song on a setlist has any right to be (and those vocals towards the end! I know I've already used the word 'crystalline' in this review, but there really is no better word for them).

A couple of songs later, and we were back with material from 2014's 'La Petite Mort' in the shape of 'Curse Curse'. With its shoutalong chorus and dancey, '90s-style keyboards, it was a song that could've been written anytime within the last 20 years, and yet somehow managed to sound entirely fresh. I don't think there was a single person not up and grooving to it.

And now that I mention dancing, I think we need to address frontman Tim Booth's smooth moves. Anytime he wasn't singing, he was shaking, twisting, shimmying and gyrating like a man possessed - it was refreshing to see a performer who was clearly as madly in love with his band's music as the audience were. I should also add that these unique dance moves were widely emulated throughout the crowd (to varying degrees of success).

All evening long, there was never any sign of flagging from either the band or the audience, just a constant flow of energy. A highlight for me was the performance of 'Sound', which built over its 6+ minute running time to a huge crescendo replete with those inimitable vocals and huge, propulsive percussion from drummer Dave Baynton-Power.

Finally, bringing a night of euphoria to an end was an encore in the form of some of James' biggest hits - 'Sit Down', 'Come Home', and 'Sometimes'. If I'd thought the crowd were going wild already, it was nothing compared to the reception these songs received. The entire audience was yelling out every single lyric so loudly, I'm sure there were people as far away as Scalby hearing them loud and clear (and no doubt joining in, too - this band really know their way around an earworm).

In conclusion, it was an excellent evening full of true fans, ecstatic music, and a genuinely lovely venue. No matter how many more times that James fan from earlier sees them this year, I doubt he'll get a better show than he did here.

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