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Review: James at Dreamland, Margate, romp through the hits

It was almost exactly 30 years ago I first saw the band James.

When they took to the stage at Folkestone's Leas Cliff Hall in October 1991, they were riding a wave after Sit Down delivered them their first major mainstream hit a few months earlier.

Tim Booth may be 61 - but you'd never know it by his dance moves
Tim Booth may be 61 - but you'd never know it by his dance moves

Lead singer Tim Booth had lots of hair, mobile phones were something owned only by the elite, and the world wide web was unknown to all but a handful of Tim Berners-Lee's closest chums.

Last night, performing at the open air stage in Margate's Dreamland, the passing of time, in many ways was evident.

Both Booth and I have become follically challenged, the demographic of the audience has changed from teens to 40 and 50-somethings, and, in an era so reliant on Google searches, the band's name is something of a challenge to put it mildly.

But what hasn't changed is James' ability to pen a devilishly catchy, sophisticated song; or Booth's ability to bounce about the stage in a manner which completely defies his 61 years. Yes, 61.

Emerging on a pleasantly mild evening - the show was originally scheduled for the end of July but got bumped into the tail end of September - the set-list is designed to be a reminder that, yes, they have an enviable back catalogue of sing-a-long classics, but that they are still a working, recording band.

Tim Booth performs with James at Dreamland
Tim Booth performs with James at Dreamland

Thus, there's a healthy dose of songs from the triumphant All The Colours of You album, released earlier this year - the stand out being Beautiful Beaches; a wondrous radio-friendly song with its up-beat tone obscuring the lyrics being about those in the States seeking refuge from wild fires destroying their homes. In short, it's very James.

The crowd, however take a little time to warm up - at one point Booth urges those "on the edge of joining in" to take the leap, and it's only when 'the hits' start coming thick and fast that the atmosphere really picks up. And we're treated to plenty. From Ring the Bells to Born of Frustration, She's A Star to Laid, Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) to Say Something. Arguably, though, the biggest and best response is to Come Home and Sit Down - songs from that breakthrough Gold Mother album that are anthems for not so much a doomed youth back in the early 1990s, as a soon-to-be technically challenged one.

Booth is an engaging frontman - he's chatty and apologises for not being able to hit all the high notes after being unwell during the day - but in truth, you'd never notice as he does admirably well. And he dances just like he did back in the day - all bendy body and waggly head.

Mind you, despite being treated to songs from a band which have shifted north of 25 million albums since they first emerged into the big time - and who are due to play an arena tour later this year, taking in the likes of Wembley Arena - the crowd is surprisingly sparse. This is, after all, a band which headlined a night of the Isle of Wight Festival less than a week ago.

Now, for the older gig-goer this is something of a blessing - you can comfortably position yourself down the front and you don't emerge covered in the bruises, once a guarantee from entering a swirling mosh pit. But for an open-air show, the lack of people - I would say, comfortably, less than half full - is a shame.

James were playing at Dreamland - or should that be 'Amland'?
James were playing at Dreamland - or should that be 'Amland'?

But then it's a delayed outdoor show a week away from October, on a 'school night', and there's a pandemic on.

It's disappointing, because not only are James well worth the entrance ticket, but because the live music set-up at Dreamland is really one that deserves big audiences.

It gives you a big show experience, with remarkably crisp, quality sound, in a relatively compact space with plenty of bars and the twinkling lights of the thrill rides helping create a unique arena for the county. In short, we need to support these sort of destinations. Especially one which has been hit hard by the recent era of closures and social distancing.

Let us, however, not dwell on the very few negatives. And, frankly, the fact it takes about two minutes to exit the venue and be back driving along the road towards home is one my ageing bones welcome.

As for James, well the reality is they have provided the background music to the lives of so many of us over those intervening three decades.

It's a sign of the times - but it's not very rock n roll is it?
It's a sign of the times - but it's not very rock n roll is it?

We may not have all been following them religiously and, in truth there were years where many forgot about them, but when you hear them play you are reminded of just how good they have been and, most significantly, still are.

None of us are any younger, but James are a timely reminder that with age comes a grace and maturity - so I raise my £5 pint to that.

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