Saul Davies, (seen here on the left) a member of rock band James, chats with Kevin Cooper about his musical influences, the achievements of his charity organisation Everybody Belongs Here, his favourite James albums and the release of their latest album All The Colours Of You.

Saul Davies is a British musician best known for being a member of rock band James. He is a multi-instrumentalist whose primary instruments are the violin, guitar and percussion.

Davies was hired as a member of James in 1989, after the band’s guitarist Larry Gott saw him playing violin at the Band On The Wall in Manchester. Impressed by his abilities, Gott invited Davies to join the band at their rehearsal room the following day for an audition.

He immediately impressed the band members, who offered him a role in the band as violinist. Davies accepted, initially as a stop-gap measure, and went on to assist with guitar and percussion on the band’s 1990 album Gold Mother, which was also to become the band’s commercial breakthrough.

He remained with the band throughout the 1990s, and his creative input became more prominent towards the end of the decade, particularly on the 1999 album Millionaires. His contribution was recognised in the sleeve notes for the album with bassist Jim Glennie’s comment, ‘Jim Glennie would like to personally thank Saul for his work on this album over and above the call of duty.’

Davies also participated in the dance-based side-project Money, together with fellow band members David Baynton-Power and Mark Hunter.

Following the departure in 2001 of the band’s lead singer Tim Booth, the band became inactive. When the band reformed in 2007, Davies was confirmed as part of the reformed line-up and joined the band on their reunion tour in April of that year. He is known among James fans for his raucous stage persona and his skill at provoking audience members into exuberant sing-along’s.

Whilst promoting their latest album, Davies took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Saul good morning, how are you today?

I’m good thanks Kevin, but more to the point, how are you?

All is good thank you and before we move on, let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not at all, it’s a pleasure.

And just how is life treating you in the current climate?

To be totally honest with you, I think it’s alright (laughter). Of course, it’s all a bit strange as it is for everyone obviously, so it’s a case of getting on, getting done as much is possible, keeping your head down and most importantly, keeping safe. Obviously, lots of things are changing around us now. Where I live, we are seeing lots of visitors returning to the Highlands of Scotland, and to be honest, it is very nice to see people once again. It’s quite cool to be able to get out and about once again. Generally speaking, there is a feeling that we are heading towards some type of resolution to this whole situation.

Perhaps that’s right, perhaps that’s not; we will just have to wait and see what happens. Generally speaking, the people have had enough and want to get on with their lives once again. Which, I have to say, is only natural and that includes me too (laughter). Let’s just wait and see what happens.

Do you think that the music industry will ever recover from the effects of the pandemic?

Yes, I personally think that it will. Obviously, we have got to be very realistic about what we do and just what our expectations are. They are going to have to change, so we are going to have to cut our cloth accordingly. What I can say with a certain amount of certainty is that we are going to lose a hell of a lot of people; no doubt we have already lost a lot of people within our industry and those people will not be coming back. Whether they are musicians or technical, that is going to prove to be problematic. If you get the all clear to go out on tour and all of the bus companies have gone out of business, then there will be no tour buses and therefore, you cannot go out on tour then.

We are going to have to be very clever and come up with strategies which make sense somehow. People are going to have to be quite brave, but also very sensible in the way that they approach whatever they are doing. Whether the music industry will ever fully recover remains to be seen; which elements of the music industry remain and which don’t.

We must speak about All The Colours Of You, James’ sixteenth studio album.

(Laughter) yes, we must really.

I have been playing it now for the last few days and I have to say that I think that it is a great piece of work.

Really, that’s great.

Are you and the rest of the band happy with it?

Yes, or at least I think they are (laughter). I find it remarkable that, in the end, we have been able to make a record during this period. Having said that, to be totally honest with you, I am most probably not best placed to analyse it in any other terms other than, ‘wow, what a miracle that we have managed to get a record out there’ (laughter). So, I am very positive about the fact that we have managed to record an album at all. I personally feel that it is a very good record. We have had a few rehearsal sessions and I feel that we have now got our heads around what we need to get around in order to present the thing live, when we can.

I think that we are in really good shape, and I have to say that it feels like a really good record to play. I feel that it has got the best opening of any James record, when Tim (Booth) sings ‘we’re all gonna die’ I love it. I think that its ballsy, it’s funny and very true (laughter).

Tim recorded the track Recover in which he talks about the death of his wife’s father last April from Covid-19. Was it difficult for him as watching the video it is dark, stark and directly in your face?

Yes, it was difficult for Tim, very much so. Recover is a very personal moment on the album for Tim, which he has chosen to share with the world. Good on him for doing it, but I think that you can see in that video it really does mean so much to him; it’s not affectation, it is the real deal. I find it very interesting to be honest.

At this moment in time, I have four go to tracks; the title track All The Colours Of You which I think is fantastic, Recover, Beautiful Beaches and Wherever It Takes Us. I personally feel that those four tracks are absolutely fantastic.

Well, what can I say, if you get a record out there and somebody says that there are four outstanding tracks on an album, then I feel that is enough. Also, if that person is not offended by the remaining tracks, then that is even better (laughter).

Putting you firmly on the spot, do you have a favourite track?

For me, it must be the opening track, ZERO and I think that will be the case for most of the band, together with the fans once they get to hear it.

Most of the album was recorded prior to lockdown. How much was there left to finish during lockdown?

Well, Jacknife (Lee) got hold of it and did a lot of stuff. He did some extra recording asking the band to send in remotely some of our parts, from where we were, in order to finish stuff off. All of Tim’s vocals had to be done; there was some writing to finish off on the vocal front of course, but thankfully we had made quite a few demos for this album. Having said that, there was still quite a bit to do, plus there was quite a lot of detail to be done which Jacknife did which, without that, you don’t make that kind of record. So, his role really was very important. He worked a lot on the rhythm tracks and he generated a lot of parts, so yes, there really was a lot still to be done.

He took our demos and totally altered the aesthetic of the album whilst we did what we could do. Frankly, if we had been told “you guys are on your own, you have got to make a record”’ then we would have gone back to those demos ourselves and continued with the work in the way that we had been doing. Whenever you put together a demo, it is similar to putting a sketch together. You are not too critical of what it is; you are just doing it to see if there is something that can be useful to you. But it was at that point that Jacknife took over, and the results are, in my mind, fantastic. We were very lucky to get the chance to work with him, although it was only ever Tim who was physically in his company as it turns out that he and Tim are neighbours (laughter).

What does Jacknife bring to the table?

I think that he is very bold with his choices of sound and the way that he puts things together. He is also very good at identifying the melodic structure within a song. He really is very good at finding the path for a song to follow in many ways.

Did lockdown cause you any major problems by not being able to be together in the same room at the same time?

No, not really because we had done all of the writing for this record, as you know, prior to lockdown, which was when we all managed to get together and make a noise (laughter). We had done all of that. Don’t get me wrong, we really would have been in trouble if we hadn’t had already done all of that work prior to lockdown; very big trouble in fact. We would have had to either not do a record or find a different way of doing it, and I think that would have been very difficult. So, in reality, we lucked out on this one, in that sense.

Who has influenced you musically?

That’s easy; I would have to say Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Talk Talk, those kinds of people really.

Who is currently on your playlist; who do you listen to when you manage to get some downtime?

Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Talk Talk (laughter). Joking aside, I recently made a nice playlist for myself, which includes people like War On Drugs. I recently did a bit of work actually with a band from Manchester called Rosellas, who are an up-and-coming little band who I believe have a lot of class; they are really good. I am actually discovering quite a few new things, for example, towards the backend of January, my charity organisation that we have, called Everybody Belongs Here, held a big online event and we managed to raise a million pounds for food poverty here in the UK in association with the Co-Op.

That event was called Music Feeds which we held over two nights, and we managed to get some super artists such as Sam Smith involved, but we also had some emerging artists like the Rosellas for example, who came along and joined us, and I have to say that was really cool. To me, that was a great event to do as it gave me access to discover new things which I did not already previously. The world is full of great music; it’s all down to how you find it and how you discover it that is the problem, there is too much (laughter).

On the subject of how you discover and obtain music, what are you views on streaming sites?

I personally don’t think that it matters what your view is, in the sense that streaming is here to stay; it’s not going away. In fact, it will never go away. It is what it is; it is the way that the industry has found to be able to ‘do its thing’ but having said that, I really do hope that we finally get to a point where the people who provide the content for streaming sites, for example the musicians, are remunerated correctly in the way that I believe that they should be. Personally, I cannot see that happening anytime soon. I don’t think that is particularly right or sensible. We, the musicians, are generally fairly upset about the fact that we are not remunerated or even valued in the way that we should be.

Most musicians are not anxious to become superstars and become rich; we simply want to be in a position where we can pay our way. Most musicians are used to living quite modestly, although obviously the superstars don’t, and unfortunately, we only ever see the superstars. But musicians are really quite modest, quite sensible but we provide a great service. We give good music to the world and I cannot understand why we should not be paid for that, but anyway never mind (laughter). It is just a part of the strangeness of modern times really.

You mention that you have managed to get some rehearsal time together. How many tracks from the new album will find their way onto the set list for the forthcoming tour?

We have got about nine of these songs together I would say in a way that we could now go out onto the stage and play them. At this moment in time, I have no idea whether we will play the whole nine songs; it all depends upon where we are and what we get to do. We have this show on Thursday 24th June at Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath in London but even I do not know if that will, in fact, happen. I simply cannot guarantee that. If that goes ahead it will be like a mini-festival kind of thing, with us headlining so we will get a ninety-minute slot. However, there is no way that we would ever play nine new songs in a ninety-minute slot. For us to do that in front of a live audience in London just wouldn’t make sense.

So, it very much depends on what we are doing and where we are playing. Having said all of that, I’m looking forward to the big arenas that we will be playing in November and December. By the time that we get there I am sure that we will be playing six or seven of the songs off the new album, and I’m sure that the fans will by then expecting us to do that. I think that one of the strengths of the band is that we do that kind of stuff, but our fans expect us to.

On the subject of the forthcoming UK tour, I see that you have The Happy Mondays opening for you.

Yes, we have, that’s right.

Which one of you has been designated to look after them and keep them under control?

(Laughter) I do not know if anyone will, but it certainly won’t be me (laughter). I’m just going to stay well away from them; ‘our dressing room is here and yours is in another building’ (laughter).

A lot of James fans are saying that All The Colours Of You is your best work to date. Would you agree with that?

No, actually I wouldn’t agree with that. I say no because I have no idea as to how you would analyse that really. I think that it’s great if somebody says anything positive about the new music and stuff that you do. It’s never a given that they are going to like it, so I think that it’s great that people like it, that really is fantastic. There might be a tendency from some people, James fans, to say very nice things about it simply because it is a shock to them that we have actually got a new record out. A lot of them are saying “how have this lot managed to get a record out whilst all of this nonsense has been going on” kind of thing. They may be really positive about it simply because they are shocked that we have actually managed to do it (laughter).

I’m overjoyed with their comments and particularly, if the fans get into it then that is totally amazing. That justifies why we do it. That is the reason why we as a band continue to make music, so that our fan base can grow, and we can pull in new fans too. That is the whole idea behind the reason why we all continue to make new music.

You have personally been involved with and played on the last fourteen James albums. If you had a top five James album chart, would the latest album fit in?

My two favourite James records are La Petite Mort which we released in 2014 and Pleased To Meet You which was released in 2001. They really are my two favourite James albums. After that I would have to say Laid from way back in 1993 and Wah Wah from the year later. All four of those records I personally feel are brilliant. So, I think that this new album would come after those. As I said earlier, I do honestly feel that it is a very good record; that is how I see it. That’s not bad is it, we have made a lot of records that you have just made mention of, and if you like any of them then you will automatically have your own personal favourites.

What you also must remember is that people’s choices will change over time; one week you like one thing and the following week you will like something else. That is all part of it as well. So, as you can imagine, James fans would be totally shocked to hear that a member of the band does not mention 1990s Gold Mother. I personally think that Gold Mother is a great record, but for different reasons people will pick different albums which I think is great (laughter). You have opened a can of worms here as I also think that Seven is a great record and I may very well have to revise my list. Yes, I’m going to revise my list (laughter).

What was the first record that you bought?

That was Teenage Kicks by The Undertones.

Who did you first see performing live?

That was The Isle Of Wight Festival back in 1970, with Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell and The Doors.

And let’s not forget Free.

That’s right, they were absolutely brilliant.

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

Oh wow, where did that come from? Thinking about it that would have to be Handsworth Revolution by Steel Pulse. Jesus Christ that is such an amazing record, they really were amazing, fucking hell (laughter).

On that note Saul, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been brilliant.

Thanks very much Kevin, it has been nice speaking to you. Let us hope that we can get together in Birmingham.