When interviewing the lead singer of a band synonymous with a time when upbeat, feel-good guitar music had the world at its feet, a band who to date have sold more than 25 million records worldwide, you don’t expect to get anywhere fast.
In fact the second the publicist patching me through to James’ Tim Booth said “right, you have 15 minutes max. He’s over in LA and it’s morning over there so he’s just woken up”, all I could think was “marvellous, this is going to be fun”.
No need for sarcasm though. Tim Booth is not your stereotypical frontman. Carefully spoken, he was more happy to talk (for longer than 15 minutes) about James’ upcoming Gathering Sound tour and album, the band’s battle with addictions which led to their six-year hiatus and how he ended up on Peter Jay’s Comic Relief radar.
“I really want this tour to be different,” he starts off. James’s UK tour kicks off in Glasgow tomorrow. They play their sort of homecoming gig at Manchester Arena on Friday, April 26th and Booth is already pulling out the stops with a full choir on board for that show. “Playing the bigger venues, we try and make them as intimate as possible. The live shows are important to us. I consider us a live band. Live is when you truly see if a band is authentic. Only one gig out of 10 I’d say we don’t hit the heights. Nine out of 10 is pretty good I think.
“We’re always changing the set. 90% of bands songs don’t bother now and I reckon 96% of bands who have been going for as long as us don’t. It seems crazy. It’s what keeps us fresh and alive. We want people to come to the gig and be surprised, to leave happy.”
That’s always a decent bet with a back catalogue comprising the likes of “Sit Down”, “Laid”, “She’s A Star” and “Sometimes” but Booth and the band are certainly not resting on their laurels.
“We’re trying to get three or four of the new songs ready for the tour,” revealed Booth. “The new album will probably be finished for the autumn but it won’t be out before the end of the year. The new stuff is sounding absolutely fantastic. We have two songs recorded and mixed with a great producer. I don’t want to spoil the surprise by saying who it is just yet but they’ve brought out an aspect of our sound that we’ve never heard before. We’re really enjoying it.”
Rewind to 2001 (the year Booth left the band) and the odds of each member ever being in the same room again were slim at best, let alone the odds of them putting an album together.
“There were communication issues and battles with addiction. We weren’t functioning very well. Musically we were still very creative but it wasn’t working. I didn’t miss it at all. The last few years had been very painful, watching relationships and people decline. I stepped away thinking that was it.”
2007 saw the reunion and since then there have been two albums (2008’s “Hey Ma” and 2011’s “The Night Before/The Night After”) and a sporadic offering of tour dates mixed with festival appearances. “There was a great joy when we got back together in 2007. We have formed a new relationship and it’s just been getting better and better. I’m as passionate about music as I ever have been. There has been a change in communication, the addictions have mostly gone and we’re a more solid unit now. It’s exciting.”
Booth now lives on the outskirts of LA, in a national park overlooking endless woods and valleys.
And despite being so close to the City of Angels and its never-ending red carpet of stars, Booth, who has appeared in numerous television, stage and film production, currently harbours no real desire to step out in front of the camera.
“I do love acting. Actors are stuck doing what they are told to do though. They are at the mercy of a script or a director. We have never had to release a song that we didn’t want to in 30 years. Nobody gets that kind of freedom. I do love acting though but I haven’t had an agent for a while and without an agent then it’s more difficult to work. It has to come to me at the moment.”
And that was the case when his office rang to tell him that Peter Kay had been trying to get hold of him.
What came of that phone call was a music video featuring “Sit Down” for the Comic Relief “Funny For Money” sketch where Peter Kay travelled from Belfast to London on a sofa, “I’ve always wanted to do something for Comic Relief. The whole vision was his idea. It was just great to be involved with it,” said Booth.
“I’m very fulfilled at the moment. I’m also working on a solo album (this will be his fourth) and writing a novel. I say it’s a solo album but I’m working with great musicians. We have four songs recorded but it’s full steam with James now and everything will be going into that. My wife travels and teaches so when I’m at home I’m a single parent a lot of the time looking after my little boy as well. I love that and it’s something that I enjoy. When he’s at school I work. It’s all about finding a balance.”
After years of highs and lows it seems that Tim Booth has finally found that balance – and he’s savouring every second of it.