James Glennie, (seen here second from the right), bassist and founder member of English rock band James, chats with Kevin Cooper about playing with Peter Hook and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, what is on James’ rider, their latest album Be Opened By The Wonderful and their 2023 tour of the UK.

Jim Glennie is best known for being the bassist in English rock band James. He is the bands longest serving member, having been there from the first line-up through to the present day and is now the only remaining original member.

The band was formed in 1982 in Manchester when guitarist Paul Gilbertson persuaded Glennie to buy a bass guitar and form a band with him. They played a string of gigs under the names Venereal And The Diseases and Volume Distortion before settling on Model Team International, shortened to Model Team.

Vocalists and other musicians drifted rapidly in and out of their line up until Tim Booth joined as lead singer. In 1982 the band renamed themselves James, after Glennie. Following the departure of Booth in 2001, the band became inactive, although in 2007 they reunited.

In 1991 the band won the Silver Clef Award for Best Newcomer and in 2014 Best Animation at the UK Music Video Awards.

Since 1986 James have released seventeen albums, including their latest, Be Opened By The Wonderful.

Whilst preparing for their tour of the UK, Jim Glennie took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Good morning Jim, how are you today?

I’m really good thanks Kevin. How are you doing?

I’m very well thanks for asking, and before we move on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

No problem, thanks for having me.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Life is good. I’m at home at the moment, but not for much longer (laughter). So, I’m currently at home, which is always nice; busy but good.

I have to tell you that you and I last spoke on 24th January 2016, just prior to the release of The Girl At The End Of The World.

Wow, that really does seem like a heck of a long time ago now, doesn’t it (laughter).

Before we move on to the latest album, I have to ask you were you happy with how that album was received?

Yes, I was, absolutely. I have to be totally honest with you and say that we were very lucky with that album. It was at that time that the pandemic hit us really hard and so we were all forced to go into lockdown which for most bands and most artists it was a case of shutting up shop and waiting but fortunately we had finished writing the songs before everything went into lockdown mode. So, all that we had to do then was basically producing the album. So we were very lucky compared to most people because we, purely by luck, had the songs written and we were ready to go pretty much. For us to be able to release something, to be able to keep busy, keep working, we couldn’t play live obviously, which was a big blow, but yes, we were really pleased with the album, and we were very happy with how it was received.

Coming right up to date, we have your latest album Be Opened By The Wonderful and I have to say that I have been playing it to death; I love it.

(Laughter) that’s good, that is really great to hear. I really am so glad to hear that.

Are you and the band happy with it?

Very much so, it felt like finished business to us really. We had previously done an orchestra tour back in 2011 but for some stupid reason we didn’t record it (laughter). So, this time round instead of recording the tour, we thought that we would record songs before hand and release an album at the end of the tour. At the time, it seemed like a really good idea. It meant that there was a lot of work in a short space of time, but it really did seem like a good idea. The biggest problem really that we were faced with was trying to condense so many songs. I think that the double CD has twenty-one songs, but when we play them live there are thirty-six (laughter)

That was the hardest part because we have so many sodding songs, and they are all great (laughter). That was the initial problem, choosing what songs we didn’t put onto the album or set list. But we left a lot of that to Joe Duddell. If he had a vision for something we tended to go along with him, and we ended up with a weird mixture of hits, album tracks and rarities which spanned the full gambit really, from the early stuff right up to the latest record.

At this point I would be saying to you I have got this many go to tracks, but I was writing as I was listening to the album and I have written, The Lake, She’s A Star, Sometimes, Were Gonna Miss You, Sit Down, Look Away, Moving On, and at that point I thought, ‘I’m giving this up as a bad job’ (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) I think that one of the joys about doing this whole experience; you are obviously listening to your own songs being re-interpreted, which really is an amazing experience. There is also that slight sense of separation. Ordinarily, when we go on stage, we are the only people on stage, that’s it; it is up to us what happens. However, this time around it is not quite like that (laughter). There are some songs that I don’t even play on; She’s A Star and Sit Down, I don’t play on those; I get to just sit there and watch. I find myself sitting on the side of the stage just watching it and I have to say that I find something magical about that. I don’t need to play it, I don’t need to perform it, I just listen.

There are a lot of other songs that I do play on, but maybe not for half of the song. There are quite a few songs where my contribution is minimal. And again, for me, it is just about sitting back and enjoying the experience, which I have to say, is an experience that we, as band members, don’t ordinarily get. This time around the whole experience is about the orchestra, the choir, and the songs. Yes, we might have roles to play at times; we might have to contribute, but inherently the show is all about the orchestra, the choir and the songs and I think that is such a different experience for us, it really is. It really is very special.

Now please do correct me if I am wrong but does the title of the album come from track three on your 1997 album, Whiplash, which is Waltzing Along?

(Hysterical laughter) just where do you get all of this information from (laughter). Yes, you are totally correct, the title was taken from a line in Waltzing Along, which, in a typical James style, isn’t on the album (laughter). But it will most definitely be on the next one (laughter). We had lots of discussions over lots of titles for the album; there were lots of suggestions and ideas being bandied about, which would hang around for a few days and then they would simply slip off the sheet. But then when this came along, we all sort of liked it. It is a lyric that we like anyway because we have always felt that it was positive, and it reflects that sense of positivity.

What I feel that this album gives you in a way, and we hope that the tour also gives you, is a joyous feeling. There is a hell of a lot of emotions both on the record and also when we play the songs live. I personally feel that there is something about hearing the sound of an orchestra which is terribly emotive. But when you bring the singers in as well then things just take off. And I have to say that is exactly what we want, especially at this moment in time because it really is a miserable old time out there if you are not really careful, so we are trying to somehow counter that in people’s lives to give them a positive experience and something that can raise their spirits because we have been through a lot of problems recently.

So just who’s idea was it; who is the man that you all want to shoot?

(Laughter) well to be totally honest with you, I think that because it was coming up to our fortieth anniversary, that was the main reason behind all of this. We all really did want to at some point film it and also make a proper recording of it because we didn’t do that back in 2011. We all knew that at some point we would want to do it again. Since 2011, the years have ticked by so much so that I really can’t believe that it was in fact 2011 when we did this the last time. Then, as the fortieth anniversary was upon us we all thought that this time around we really did need to do something special, and some bright spark said, “okay why don’t we record an album with the orchestra and take it out on the road” (laughter).

Our Management, God bless them, then had the idea of recording the live album and issuing it after the tour, which meant that instead of us being ready for April and May, we had to be ready the previous October. So, as you can imagine, we had three whole weeks of panic, getting the songs ready for us to go into the Blueprint Studios in Manchester for three days to record it (laughter). We recorded it all live; the band playing along with the orchestra, and we only allowed ourselves three run-throughs per song.

The first run-through was the rehearsal, the other two run-throughs were takes, and that was it, you then moved onto the next song (laughter). There were quite a few songs that we dropped simply because we didn’t have the space to put them onto the vinyl or the CD. We actually recorded twenty-six songs in total, and I have to say that somehow it all came together, and it really did work. We did go into a third day of recording where we all split up into different parts of the building, where we were recording lead vocals over here, we were recording bits over there, which really was exciting.

It was like a production line, and we really did take over the building (laughter). The amazing thing is that we somehow managed to do it, although goodness knows just how we managed to keep it all together. It really was amazing just how Joe Duddell managed to keep it all together. Everything was flowing relatively smoothly, we were uninterrupted, and we managed to get everything done on schedule. Joe really did do an amazing job.

I have to ask, was anyone against the idea?

I can’t say that anyone was against it, but what I will say is that the recording of the album was a curve ball because that suddenly condensed a huge amount of work into such a short space of time. I feel that if someone had mentioned that to us before we had already committed ourselves to the tour, I think that it would have been a very different reaction, but we had already booked the tour so it was a case of you either record the album now and it comes out or you don’t record the album now, it’s your choice (laughter).

I personally feel that it was a great idea, but we should have been given more time (laughter). It was really good fun, but it really was stressful. Having said that, I would take that every day of the week, it really was an amazing experience but there was no wiggle room if you made a mistake. With only having time for one run-through, if you did make a mistake, God, the balloon really did go up (laughter).

Who did the orchestration?

That, I’m pleased to say, was also down to Joe. He has worked with us before; he has also worked with Elbow, he has done New Order, and it was a case of, ‘if you want someone in the world of Rock and Roll who does orchestration, then you go to Joe’. His background, although he is classically trained, he still plays drums in an Indie band; so, he bridges two worlds very nicely because that is the challenge because there are two very different ways of working. The biggest problem for Joe is getting rid of the orchestra’s rigidity, to some degree, and also from our perspective, injecting a bit more discipline into the way that we work. I have to honestly say that Joe has found a happy medium that gets the best from both parties.

Do you have a favourite track on the album?

I have to say that, for me, Sometimes takes some beating I must admit. I have to admit that I find that track really moving. Plus, there are some surprises on there, songs like Say Something which I feel is an amazing tune, which came out ridiculously well. She’s A Star which has been all over the bloody radio now as we released it as a teaser from the album, and it is being played everywhere which is lovely; I will take that (laughter). I feel that track reflects the album well, its low-key but moving, as is a lot of the record. There are lots of good fun things on there as well plus there are a few curve balls (laughter).

The best way for me to put this is that there are a few exciting bits on the album, a few scary bits, which cover such a broad mixture of the history of the band and our style of songs really. It really is bonkers.

You have mentioned that there were a few songs that you had to leave off the album due to time restraints. Were there any songs that you wanted to put on the album, but you left them off simply because they didn’t work alongside the orchestra?

No, not really. There is a song called Many Faces which we will play live. We did try to record but we couldn’t quite get the song to work. It had this ridiculously huge ending which sounded amazing, but we couldn’t quite get the song to work at the front of it, so we had to basically postpone it, which is a bit of a shame. Don’t get me wrong, we will definitely be playing it on the tour, and hopefully, that will get released.

The songs that didn’t quite make it onto this album, we would like to release at a later date. The songs that we put to one side were more things like songs that were basically the band playing them like they would normally play them but with the orchestra. So, there were things like Frustration, which fell into that category, together with Fred Astaire, which pretty much sounded like the normal band version, but with the orchestra. There is nothing wrong with that, and I would have been very happy for them to have gone onto the album, but we simply didn’t have the space available to us.

The main problem that we were faced with was the vinyl. We very quickly maxed out four sides of vinyl, then we put one extra track onto the CD, but that was the main issue really, physically getting the tracks out there to people and not having the time in which to do it; that was another issue. We just had to drop a couple of tunes in order for us to get the album finished on schedule.

So, we can look forward to a second album with the orchestra?

(Laughter) yes, you certainly can. They will come out at some point. Let me say that the songs that didn’t make it this time around are certainly not forgotten by any stretch of the imagination. We recorded an absolutely banging version of All Because Of You, an amazing version of it but it was kind of like the record but with a massive orchestra and choir. I love it to bits, and it’s finished but we simply didn’t have the space to put it onto the record this time around.

Is this a project that you would like to revisit at a later date?

Yes, most definitely. It’s like we have unfinished business with this project. We have unfinished business because we have a lot of songs recorded that are almost finished. They haven’t been mixed yet, but they have been recorded plus, there are other songs that we would like to do. There are songs that we will be playing on the forthcoming tour that we want to record and release a new album, which I know we will absolutely love by the end of the tour. At this moment in time, I am not quite sure how, and I am not exactly sure when, but I am sure that it in the not-too-distant future there will be another incarnation of this album most definitely.

I personally feel that Chloe’s vocals on Hello really are sublime. Would you agree?

I totally agree with you regarding that, she has done a remarkable job once again. I have to tell you that Chloe (Alper) has been with us for a little while now. Our previous percussionist Ron Yeadon also sang backing vocals with us, but he left the band when his partner had a baby and he felt that it was time that he concentrated on doing other things. So, we were looking for someone to step in and help us out with the backing vocals primarily, someone to shore up what it was that we were already doing and also to help out with the percussion, around the time that Living In Extraordinary Times was released, which was back in 2018.

And, as I am sure that you will know, there are loads of drums and a hell of a lot of percussion on that album, so we really did need another pair of hands. We originally found ourselves working with Chloe’s partner, Debbie (Knox-Hewson) who plays in bands as a drummer, but she also sings as well. So that was like, ‘brilliant, we have now got a drummer and a singer and that is really cool’. Having said that, it’s funny just how life works out here but just at that point, Debbie got offered the chance to go out to Los Angeles playing the drummer in a band as seen in the Netflix Original show, ‘I’m With The Band: Nasty Cherry’ (laughter).

So, Debbie said, “I’m really sorry guys, but I am going to have to go and do this for a period of time, but Chloe would step in” (laughter). We all thought that was a great idea, so we gave her a bit of a test, a bit of a try-out and I have to say that she really was great. She really did just slip into the band, and everything worked out great. Debbie then finished the series over in Los Angeles and came back to the UK, but we carried on with Chloe.

We then found that both of them were basically coming to rehearsals and recording time in the studios, and they said, “we have both got other things on, so what we will do is, whenever one of us is available we will step in and do what you want if that works with you guys”. We all agreed that working like that would be the sensible thing for us to do, it suited everybody involved, and when they were at rehearsals together, they both started playing things and singing on the same songs, so they were both contributing rather than one at a time (laughter).

After a while we just said to them, “are you sure that both of you don’t want to do it” (laughter). So, as you can see, we ended up with both of them in the band, and it really was by accident (laughter). But yes, that is Chloe singing on Hello and I have to say that she has really come on. She no longer just sings backing vocals; she is a dual singer with Tim (Booth).She really is amazing, and she brings a different sound to the songs, she sounds absolutely gorgeous when singing Hello with Tim. Her voice really does fit perfectly with Tim’s. Whenever we strip a song right down, the fragility of her voice, I think, is lovely.

So, we are a bloody nine piece now, we are soon going to need a bigger tour bus (laughter). It really is such a buzz. Debbie really is such an amazing drummer; she is really energetic and really does throw herself at it. It really does give us an extra flexibility, Chloe plays a bit of guitar, which means that we can basically hit people with a thousand different instrument combinations if we want to. It really is brilliant, absolutely wonderful.

I have seen a few band and orchestra tours over the years so I have to ask, will the orchestra be onstage all night or will you split the time between the band and the orchestra so that we get to hear the full band electrically?

Good question. On this forthcoming tour the orchestra will be on stage for the whole show. There will be an interval in the middle of the show, just so that you can pop along and get yourself a nice glass of wine, go and have a wee or something (laughter). But yes, it will be all orchestra. I think that the two halves of the show will be different. We haven’t really talked this through, but I think that the first half will be a little more low-key than the second half.

Overall, we are intending to just go out there and have some fun with it. There are some songs which are really big, so everyone is going to be sat down and even by James’ standards; they are most probably going to be a relatively sensible experience. But there are still some big songs where we will kick off and pile straight in (laughter). I think that there is still going to be that element to all of this but there is not going to be any split times of orchestra and then band split as such.

It is going to be a case of trying to squeeze all of us onto the stage all of the time (laughter) which means that there is going to be forty of us up there on stage together. That really will prove to be interesting with some of the venues (laughter).

You are now officially the longest serving original member in the band having been there from day one some forty years ago now. Have you enjoyed the ride so far?

Yes, I have, as surprising as that may seem, yes, I really have although having said that I haven’t received a carriage clock as yet which thinking about it that really must be a good thing (laughter). It always means that you are on your way out whenever you receive a carriage clock (laughter).

Does your seniority carry any weight with the rest of the band, or do you get voted out of band decisions just like the rest of them?

I have to be totally honest with you and say that mostly yes, it does seem to carry a little weight. I mean, Tim and I now have a close relationship simply because we have now been together for a few thousand years (laughter). This will no doubt make you laugh because the so-called new boys in the band have now been with us for well over twenty-five years (laughter). Having said all of that, unfortunately I can’t pull the ‘I’ve been here the longest card’ because it really doesn’t hold that much water (laughter).

Me and Tim get on really well, and there is a lot of stuff that goes on within the band that simply passes the two of us by. Everybody in the group seems to get along really well and we are all coming at it from the same angle. Having been in the band for so long you tend to know what is going on and everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. We all seem to have similar views on a lot of things, and in a James anarchic way, I am always happy to contribute and chip in and that is how we get the most from people.

There are a bunch of individuals within this band, and they are all very talented people, songwriters, and musicians within their own right. They are so good at what they do that Tim and I leave a lot of the work up to them. We have four songwriters within the band, who will hand over their songs to the rest of the band, but it’s not like we tell them what to play, it’s more like, ‘see if you can find something for this, see if you can play along to this’ so we give them a free reign to enjoy themselves. It’s amazing how they turn our spindly little songs into lush and wonderful productions (laughter).

Showing my age now I have to tell you that I first saw James supporting The Smiths on their Meat Is Murder Tour here in Nottingham at the Royal Concert Hall back in 1985.

Bloody hell, that’s a long, long time ago now. I have to say that really was an amazing tour.

Don’t quote me on this but Tim actually had hair (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) yes, he did, he would have done, as it was that long ago. It was an incredible tour, they were so nice to us, they were so generous, and they really did help us hugely. At that time, we were travelling around in a caravanette which had the band in it together with all of our gear, plus two pressure cookers and a two-gas ring burner that we cooked all of our food on (laughter). At least we can say that we were self-sufficient, and we travelled all over the country in this very small caravanette (laughter).

Forty years in the band, what would you say has been the highlight so far?

The highlight of forty years, oh my God, there really have been so many. Thinking about it, I would have to say that it would have to be James getting back together after the break that we had. Also, I would have to say playing our very first Manchester gig after we reformed really was amazing. It really did feel as though we were giving Manchester back their band. It was the same as being a football team, the football team doesn’t belong to the management, or the players, it belongs to the fans.

It really did feel like you were part of something bigger than just being a band member. I remember we opened the gig at Manchester Arena, and we had the Pointon Marching Band at the gig, and we came in from the back of the auditorium, walked along the side towards the stage. Just as the marching band got to the stage, they started playing Come Home. We were hiding behind a curtain on the stage, in the dark, and the roar that went up literally made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It really did feel like you had scored at Wembley (laughter). Then, the curtain fell to the floor, and there we were, all of us in position ready to kick into Come Home, playing along with the marching band.

In a situation like that it is hard to keep it all together and I have to be honest with you, I stood on stage like an old man, crying my eyes out. It really was extremely moving. I have had so many highlights, so many wonderful things such as sitting outside the Royal Albert Hall knowing that in a few hours you are going to be playing it there, it’s totally mad, it really is ridiculous. It is one of those, ‘what am I doing here, pinch me’ kind of moments. It is always the silly things that are important to me.

Another highlight for me was playing with Peter Hook and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra for Manchester v Cancer when we played Joy Division’s Transmission and Atmosphere, playing with Peter Hook who is one of my heroes; from back in the day when I first got into Joy Division, it really was mad. Playing the bass line with Peter and his son Jack on Love Will Tear Us Apart live I just thought to myself, ‘this really is mental’ and is something that is really special and important to me. It really was absolutely wonderful. There really are so many highlights, getting my very first gold record and giving it to my mum. It really does just get you (laughter).

On the flipside of the coin, you must have had some disappointments along the way.

Yes, there have been a few disappointments, especially in those periods when we have not been able to get along as people. There have been a few problems with the industry, but we have managed to overcome them due to our bloody mindedness and self-confidence which I feel that you have to have really, which helps you to keep going and plough on. We have been dropped by record labels and at times we really have struggled to keep going forward, but the music has always been great to our ears.

That has never been an issue, and I have to say that we have never struggled with song writing. The problem has always been that we needed to find our way within the industry. But, being totally honest with you, the major problem within the band has always come down to personal relationships. It is the one thing that we have managed to get right over the last ten or fifteen years. It is all about personal relationships; they can be totally amazing, or you can simply mess them up. I have got the best job on the planet, but it can sometimes end as a car crash because you are stupidly not getting on with people and just how ridiculous is that.

We appreciate that now, we know that, and we now understand the fragility that comes with being in a band; you can mess things up. We now treat each other with respect; we listen to each other, we communicate a lot, we are very open and honest with each other, and I always try to be supporting and caring, the basics of humanity in what can be a difficult job sometimes (laughter). You find yourself away from home, away from your family, and it really isn’t easy.

You are with people twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and sometimes there is friction, there is no denying it. So, I put it down to failing to care for one another plus part of it is growing up, and you need to make that transition from child to adult, and it is worth it because it really is the best job on the planet (laughter).

What was the first record that you bought?

Oh god, where did that come from (laughter). I think that it was something by The Jam. It would most probably have been the In The City album by The Jam.

Who did you first see performing live?

That was The Teardrop Explodes at The Russell Club in Manchester. I was fifteen years old, and I was totally blown away by it all. I had no idea as to what was going on, but I totally loved it.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

That would most probably have to be James’ song, Sometimes, I have to say that it absolutely gets me every time. For me to be listening to that song, knowing exactly what is coming up and what is going to happen, it gets me every time. It never fails to move me. I think that I must be getting old and teary (laughter).

What is currently on Jim Glennie’s live rider?

That’s a good question (laughter). Actually, I’m not that pernickety and I have to say that I don’t drink whenever I am out on the road with the band. Don’t get me wrong, I do drink alcohol, but I never drink when I am with the band. Historically, it would have been alcohol, but those days are long gone. Oh God, there isn’t anything that I particularly ask for (laughter). I must sound really dumb and boring (laughter).

The bands rider is quite simple, it consists of mainly healthy snacks, fruit and things, whilst avoiding the crisps and chocolate (laughter). We also ask for a source of water so that the band can fill up their water bottles both on and off the stage, and its booze for the people who drink booze. And then we have caterers who always provide a lovely meal for us. So, as you can see, we are both spoilt and looked after, which is something that we really do take a great deal of detail in making sure that we all stay healthy whilst we are gigging.

If you don’t you find yourself eating all kinds of crap food at weird times of the day and night which, after a while, will take its toll (laughter). So, personally, I don’t really have anything which is a really crap answer isn’t it, sorry. We do have typically weird James things like a centrifugal juicer together with loads of ginger and apples and things to put into the juicer together with various vegetables to make healthy vegetable drinks. However, normally what usually happens is that the venue can’t find a juicer so we end up with a blender and lots of root vegetables which let me tell you, you cannot put root vegetables in to a blender and make any sort of drink that is remotely palatable (laughter).

The venues insist on giving us all of these vegetables that you can’t do anything with, bless them. We try our best to be healthy and we do try to look after ourselves when we have to, after decades of relative self-abuse really especially when we are away for quite a lot of time. You really do have to look after yourselves. Most of it is common sense really, which we do mostly now. There are two particular culprits who don’t stick to that occasionally but generally speaking, we are all relatively healthy now (laughter).

On that note Jim let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been fantastic. Let’s try not to leave it eight years before we speak again (laughter).

You are welcome, Kevin, very welcome. You and I will speak again sometime in 2031 no doubt (laughter).

I will be coming to the Royal Concert Hall here in Nottingham on Saturday 13th May to photograph and review the show and I can’t wait.

I hope that you have a great time and that you enjoy what it is that we are trying to do. Stay safe and speak soon.