In his ground-breaking book ‘How music works’, David Byrne suggests that creation is not borne out of some interior emotion, or upwelling of passion or feeling, in an artist, but rather by the prevailing culture. Somewhat contrary to popular opinion, Byrne holds that ‘opportunity and availability’ are the mothers of invention; what we are told, and what is tangible to us, impacts our creativity.
Bryne’s theory is interesting in the way it suggests an artist, perhaps subconsciously, will use existing formats as the basis for constructing something new.
I’ve been thinking about this theory for some time, often believing that of most modern musicians perhaps the perfect riposte to this belief would be James, a collective of artists who have always seemed outside of the beliefs/ attitudes of popular culture. When the world gave us the hedonistic dance beats of Madchester, James gave us symphonic tracks with religious undertones. When we were led by rooted frontmen such as Gallagher and Brown, James gave us the shamanic firework Tim Booth. When ‘ladism’ and ape-ish masculinity became the culture norm, James sang about femininity being the star we should use as a fixed luminous point. At almost every cultural turn over the past 35 years, James have appeared to be on the outside. And yet the outside has never been lonely, as 25 million record buying friends would testify.
On tonight’s evidence, these friends provide James with a devout live following who blend into one collective; all seemingly knowing every lyric and beat to every song. It’s a testimony to the bands punk-esque nature of removing barriers between performer and audience, and the clear effort they put into including the audience into their performance, exemplified by audience interaction, Booth’s crowd surfing and the encouragment of sing alongs.
35 years into their careers, James are clearly still completely committed to both their art, their audience and creating something outside of the cultural norms.