The Manchester band makes a welcome return to Dubai this month
It’s 1990, the “Madchester’ scene that made stars of Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses is in full swing, and a wildeyed, youthful 30 year-old with a mop of curly hair has a huge crowd in the palm of his hand. James frontman Tim Booth cajoles Manchester’s G-Mex to “sit down next to me”, and thousands do just that, before roaring the chorus of the band’s enduring anthem back to him, over and over again. Booth is clearly overwhelmed at the reaction. “How do we follow that one?” he asks. It’s a question he, and his band, have probably asked themselves ever since.
This summer, he admitted to The Guardian that “a part of me can’t understand how I can be 58” – a natural reaction to the reality of the passing of time that anyone who loved that G-Mex gig the first time around can empathise with (it’s a brilliant YouTube nostalgia trip these days). But as far as Tim Booth is concerned there’s a more positive meaning; far from being a heritage artist looking back at his halcyon days, he’s now approaching 60 as the frontman of an indierock band who are more successful than ever.
After all, it’s usually a dispiriting moment when a much-loved band interrupts a celebratory gig to announce, “This one’s a new one”. But in James’ case, the material from August’s Living In Extraordinary Times stands up to anything from the early 1990s period that begat Sit Down, Come Home or Laid.
It’s a confident record of light and shade, marrying the personal and political in thought-provoking style. Not bad for a bunch of balding fifty-somethings, but it still feels spectacularly bizarre that 2016’s Girl at the End of the World came within a whisker of knocking the all-conquering Adele off the No.1 spot. Look a bit closer, however, and it made a lot of sense that James’ 14th album became their best selling ever. Packed with joyful singalong pop songs, sprinkled with synthy magic dust from Killers and Goldfrapp producer Max Dingel and appealing to exactly the kind of people who still buy records and feel an affinity – loyalty, even – to the bands of their youth, it struck a number of chords.
It helps, too, that the live shows have also become less of a nostalgia trip and more a celebration of the survival, creativity and the effervescence of Tim Booth. The band is now an eight piece, and the songs are bombastically powerful when they need to be, yet quietly intimate when the occasion arises. These days, indeed, they may not even play Sit Down every night. What would have seemed unthinkable in 1990 now makes perfect sense; the reunion 11 years ago rekindled the band’s love for new music. Nov 22
The Irish Village, Garhoud, 9.30pm to 11pm, Dhs175. Tel: (04) 2824750. Taxi: The Irish Village, Garhoud theirishvillage.com