When Tim Booth, frontman of ’90s British group James, walked away in 2001, he thought there was no going back.
15 years later and the band are getting ready to release their first album since the unintentional hiatus. In March, they’ll drop the groove — and keyboard-based Girl at the End of the World, a follow-up to 2014’s death-inspired Le Petit Mort.
“When we’d finished in 2001, we’d finished,” Booth told tabloid! over the phone, ahead of their first UAE concert. “We had no intention to start again. It wasn’t a sabbatical or a rest. We’d finished. And it was a real surprise to us all in 2006 when we got back together again. I think that was important, psychologically, to believe we’d finished, for us to then come back to it fresh.”
And fresh they are. The boys will bring their psychedelic onstage flair and a few new songs to Dubai with on February 24, when they perform at the Emirates Airline Dubai Jazz Festival, opening for American rockers Toto.
But ahead of that, Booth, now 56, tells us the gritty details of a not-so-great gig supporting David Bowie back in the day, and why he decided to start breaking boundaries and teaching dance classes in his new home, California.
What can you tell us about Girl at the End of the World? What does this album represent?
The last album, La Petite Mort, was very influenced by people who died in my life, so lyrically I could give you a theme. It was a theme of death, but there was a bit of sex in there, too. This time, there’s no coherent thing that has given me that thread. It really is a song-by-song basis. There is something hopeful, and there’s quite a lot about love and passion — love as a bomb that goes off in your life and causes all kinds of fall-outs. There’s quite a lot about passion and craziness, there’s a bit about where I live in California. I live in a fire area in California, I’ve had to evacuate three times in the last few years, so there’s fire imagery and imagery of moving and being almost like a refugee.
One of the things you’re known for is your dancing on stage. You also teach dance classes now?
I’ve always danced the way I dance, but many years ago, I met this woman in New York, like ‘94, named Gabrielle Ross, who had a system of movement where she could teach people to go into a trance state while dancing. It was something I did naturally, but she knew how to break it down and be methodical about it, and teach it to other people. And so I teach classes where you might have 30, you might have 80 people, and I DJ music, which kind of builds — it’s not like DJing in a club where it’ll be one genre of music, like house or a genre of music that I like — it’s music that seduces people into moving a certain way, and then finally [gets them] into a place where they can let go and dance whatever’s coming up to them emotionally, mentally, physically. They may be ragingly angry — they may need to dance an angry dance. Or they may be bursting into tears. How do you dance that? How do you dance Friday night — you’ve had a really bad week at work and your boss’s been on your back and your girlfriend’s leaving you? How do you dance in those states? It’s really creating a forum for people to express themselves through dance in a way that culture doesn’t normally acknowledge.
Who comes to the classes?
It fantastically varies, but it’s generally people who may love dancing, but have only gone to clubs and taken loads of drugs when they were younger and danced, and now they’re older and they don’t want to take loads of drugs but still go, ‘I did love dancing.’ Last week, I taught this class to about 50, and there was a family there, the daughter who was probably twenty, the mother who was probably in her 40s or 50s, and the grandmother who was 80. And they were all in the class, and they all loved it. Raved about it. Invited me to come and teach in Greece. It’s quite remarkable, really. You get people in wheelchairs coming, you get people who haven’t danced in 20 years. We had a lady who had been part of a religion that believed that dancing was the devil — she was 60, and she was dancing for the first time in her life. And you get teenagers. This is what’s so amazing about it, because it completely crosses all boundaries.
Speaking of crossing boundaries – David Bowie recently died. James supported him at a show in the early ’90s. Do you have any memories of that?
It wasn’t one of his greatest shows. He’d stuck a gauze curtain between the band and himself and the audience, so the first half of the show took part behind the gauze that we were peering through to try and see him, so it was a little weird gig. It was like, ‘Oh, that was an interesting experiment.’ And then he played some great songs, obviously, that were wonderful. But I remember that, being like, ‘I’m not doing that. I’m not going to perform behind a gauze curtain, that’s not a good idea.’ But Bowie was Bowie, and he took risks, and some of them paid off and some of them didn’t. I think he was in his cocaine phase at the time, I don’t think he was in the best of states when we saw him. I loved his earlier periods with Mick Ronson, those records are probably my favourite now. Or later ones, with Brian Eno. But that Let’s Dance period leaves me scratching my head. I’ve got to say, I was as devastated as anyone else when he passed. I think he’s one of those people who, you take him for granted as your background, and then when he goes, you go, ‘Holy [expletive], the background’s just shifted.’ I think he was incredible, really.
Finally, what are the biggest plans for 2016 for the band?
Let’s see how well this record does. That will really determine it all. But at the moment it looks really promising. We’re very full of optimism.
*Tickets are on sale from ticketmaster.ae or 800-TM-UAE. Regular standing: Dh395, Golden Circle: Dh795, Fan Pit: Dh995 and VIP: Dh1,450.