JAMES singer Tim Booth has not forgotten the last time he played Scarborough Open Air Theatre in 2015, when he could not find a way to do his usual walkabout among the crowd that May night. A moat left the Manchester band marooned on their island stage.

"My walking-on-the-water training wasn’t going so well!" jokes the Boston Spa-born frontman. "But we’re looking forward to playing this lovely venue again and we're very happy that there is no longer a moat to cross.

"Last time, the police stopped us trying to get round the 'lake' as they were worried about the reaction of the lesser spotted newts that reside in there apparently, but it still ended up a great gig, even though we were divided from the crowd by the water, but we thought, 'we had such a lovely time, we should come back'."

Their return to the East Coast comes on August 18, in support of their August 3 album Living In Extraordinary Times, their 15th studio set in a career stretching back to 1982, when James formed in Whalley Range, Manchester.

The days of hits such as Sit Down, Come Home, Laid, Seven, She's A Star, Born Of Frustration and Just Like Fred Astaire may be behind them, but their

2016 album Girl At The End Of The World entered the charts at number two and Living In Extraordinary Times is expected to rise high in this week's listings.

"We can't get played on Radio 1 and we were told we were 'too raucous' for Radio 2, so we can't have mainstream hits in the same way we did in the 1980s and 1990s, but we sell tickets more quickly than we did in the Nineties and we're having a great time," says Booth, now 58.

"I think people see this new album and the last two [Girl At The End Of The World and 2014's La Petite Mort] as a real transformation. We keep following our noses; that's what we always do. We're not about pop music and we never were. Yes, we had pop hits, but we just wrote songs through improvisation and if some of them were hits, then fine."

Who needs hits anyway when a song such as Moving On from La Petite Mort has acquired a resonance for so many anyway, not least on account of Ainslie Henderson's stop-motion animated video that so memorably illustrated Booth's response to the loss of his mother. "That was the first video where we knew we had made something that would cross over, and the video is now being played to children in hospices when they ask about death," says Booth.

"Birth and death are the two things we go through where we'll never know what the experience involves. But I kind of died once and was revived and it felt incredibly peaceful, like a release, because I'd been sick for quite a long time and felt quite resentful when they revived me. I was 21 at the time; I'd only been in James for eight months but sick for eight years and was pretty sick of living."

Booth was to have a close shave with death in more recent times too."I nearly drowned in Havana five or six years ago, and that was pretty beautiful too," he says

Nevertheless, he, we and James are indeed Living In Extraordinary Times, a title with both positive and negative implications. "Hence the album sleeve," says Booth, commenting on former Vivienne Westwood designer Magnus Gjoen's artwork of flowers bursting out of a grenade; a juxtaposition of power and fragility in keeping with an album that explores the chasm between politics and tranquility. "Beautiful things can grow out of things that appear to be ugly, and that's what the sleeve represents.

"Crazy things happen in life; no-one can avoid that, but it's how we react to them that defines us. What happened with my illness is that it led me to alternative medicine, alternative healing, as Western medicine did nothing for me, and I couldn't take drugs or drink, so I realised that the illness kept me alive as I couldn't follow the usual rock musician's path."

Not only does Booth embrace alternative medicines, but he writes songs from the unconscious. "Ninety-five per cent of what I write comes through access to dreams and meditation. There are many ways to get to that state and I do it through dreaming, through trance, and then words form," he says. "Sometimes they have overlaps with what's going on in my brain and my conscious life, but often they don't, so I like writing from the unconscious. It's mysterious and deep and doesn't have the confines of the conscious mind....and in the unconscious mind you're always 26, so I don't think my writing has changed at all over the years."

Nevertheless, Living In Extraordinary Times combines personal reflection with social commentary. Witness the opening Hank, born of frustration at the toxic political climate in the United States, with its reference to "White fascists in the white house". "I didn't set out to write 'Trump songs'; they just came out that way," says Booth. "I'm basically following the words, rather than thinking, 'I want to write about Trump; political songs; songs about his racism', but then you think, 'oh no, I seem to be writing about Trump', but it comes down to trusting your creative impulses.

"Hopefully these songs become timeless; it's great that songs you put out as a message in a bottle reach a destination and then have an impact."

James play Scarborough Open Air Theatre, August 18; doors open at 6pm. James and The Charlatans play Leeds First Direct Arena, December 9. Box office: Scarborough, scarboroughopenairtheatre.com; Leeds, firstdirectarena.com/events/.

Charles Hutchinson