It’s 30 years since a struggling group of Manchester musicians finally decided to name themselves James.
Though founder member Jim Glennie’s band had various names since 1980, 1982 was the year they bumped into soon-to-be frontman Tim Booth, drunk in a club. And it was also the year they settled on naming themselves after Jim himself.
For one young keyboardist from Preston, it was a crucial moment - although he wouldn’t know it for another seven years. Fulwood boy Mark Hunter joined James in 1989 when, after seven years in the musical wilderness, they were on the brink of their greatest success.
He became a part of the line up known as “the Magnificent Seven” which, with the smash hit album, Gold Mother, and their biggest ever single, Sit Down, finally realised James’s potential.
Mark, then in local band Rubi Lazer, was recording at a studio in Lancaster owned by a friend who was James’s session keyboard player. Aware he wanted to leave, he gave Mark Booth’s number.
Mark’s first tryout was a crucial moment - he walked straight into the writing of Sit Down. Booth recalls: “This incredibly shy very beautiful young man, much younger than us, turned up. And we were writing Sit Down, recording it in the studio, and he turned up to that session.
“We played the song once and we said, ‘Just start improvising some piano to this.’ And he started playing piano, we recorded it, and it was just beautiful - and that’s what’s on the record. That intro was the first thing he ever played. And he came back and said, ‘No no no, I can make it better.’ And we were like, ‘No no, we like it like that.’ And we wouldn’t let him play it again, he was really mad with us. To this day, he doesn’t like playing it. To this day, we have to persuade him to play that intro. But it was just effortless with him.”
From the start, Mark was the quiet man of James. Booth remembers: “He didn’t say a word apart from that sentence I just gave you, for about two years. I mean, he was excruciatingly shy. Whenever we practiced with him, he’d have the keyboard so quiet, you couldn’t hear a note he played. You’d only discover what he played when you recorded it - and it was always perfect. Nothing ever had to be changed. He was just a remarkably intuitive musician and able to just know what was needed in a song
“He’s actually in a way the hidden musical genius in the band in many ways because his stuff is usually subtle. Every so often, we push him to the front like in the Come Home riff where he gets seen. Most other times, you don’t hear what he’s doing.”
But in 2001, after releasing Pleased to Meet You, Booth heralded James’s split by announcing his departure on his website. He says now: “I’d left really because there was a lot of addictions going on in James that I was just tired of being around and we were just very dysfunctional.
“The music was still really good, we were still totally happy with what we were doing. Pleased to Meet You is one of my favourite records of ours. But it was just hard work.”
But in 2007, Glennie, Booth and Larry Gott got together in a practice room in Manchester and discovered the creativity was still there. The resulting songs formed the basis for new album, Hey Ma.
Five years on, James set off their Gathering Sound tour next year and are marking their 30th anniversary with the release of a box set of all their albums.
They are writing and recording a new album and Booth says James is a better place to be these days. He says: “Much happier and I think we’re playing the best we’ve ever played. I think Hey Ma was as good an album as we’ve ever made so we’re in a great place. And we’re breaking South America and huge arenas in Greece, audiences we didn’t know about.
“You get these amazing surprises. You go to Machu Pichu and they’re singing songs from Hey Ma and you get mobbed at the airport.
“And you think, where has this come from?”