James are one of my all-time favourite bands and they don’t tour often. This tour was a tour with a difference, though, as they performed with a full orchestra and choir. The result was stunning.

Date: October 27

Venue: Royal Concert Hall

When you’re a successful, multi-album-selling band like James, who’ve done it all, seen it all and worn women’s clothing; when the 80s spawned you, the 90s bathed you and the noughties pretty much ignored you, what do you do to stay relevant in 2011, to remain in the public’s conscience?

A simple greatest hits tour has been done already, and would have felt forced, nor would it appeal to the band’s ethos. For them, they needed something transcendental, something outside the box, beyond conventional, and thus, a masterplan was drawn out.

That masterplan was to enlist the help of the Manchester Consort Choir and the Orchestra of the Swan to re-imagine their illustrious back catalogue as a sumptuous symphony.

The songs are choice cuts. Partly chosen because they haven’t been aired for a long time, partly by lottery, but mainly because they lend themselves wondrously to sweeping orchestral arrangements.

Amongst rarities and never-before-played b-sides, nuggets lurk, each track starting with a degree of calm and serenity before bulging into a classical and empowering crescendo, beautifully backed by an army of violins, cellos, flutes, a 16-strong choir and every instrument you could wave a trumpet at.

This beatific sound is all a bit too much for one inebriated gentlemen during Say Something, when he’s escorted out of the building for ‘dancing’. Perturbed, front man Tim Booth makes it his business to have him reinstated. He succeeds, only for him to regret his heroic actions as the ‘dancer’ then tries to join Booth on stage.

It’s not his last interaction with the crowd, however. During Just Like Fred Astaire Booth enters the crowd like a bald Moses, effortlessly hitting every note whilst straddling and serenading an elderly gentleman.

But anyone who came just for the hits left disappointed. There’s no Sit Down, no Born of Frustration, no Laid. She’s A Star and the mesmeric Sometimes are the exception to the rule. The very fact that the latter has everyone on their feet and joyously belting back its chorus is proof positive that it should’ve ended the set.

But despite the set’s glaring omissions and strict no requests policy, it’s hard to criticise a performance of such elegance and grace.

James’s ambitious orchestral manoeuvre was an unmitigated, majestic triumph.


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