James: Halifax Piece Hall, Friday 7 July 2023 - review and photos

Review and photos by Gareth John

FORMED in Manchester in 1982, and having supported or headlined for the likes of New Order, The Smiths and the Stone Roses, James have performed hundreds of shows, radio sessions and summer festivals throughout their four decades. Heralded by many as ‘the pride of Manchester’, their career is littered with critically acclaimed albums and a longstanding ‘best live act’ reputation.

Now established as a nine-piece themselves, James consists of founder member and bassist Jim Glennie after whom the band is named, vocalist Tim Booth, guitarist and cellist Adrian Oxaal, drummer David Baynton-Powers, guitarist and violinist Saul Davies, pianist Mark Hunter as well as Andy Diagram on trumpet and Deborah Knox-Hewson and Chloe Alper both on drums, percussion and vocals. Having honed their craft for over 40 years, James remain as relevant and popular as ever.

York Press: James on stage at HalifaxJames on stage at Halifax (Image: Gareth John)

Tonight, supported by the hugely talented Tom A Smith and the charismatic unofficial Liverpool FC songsmith Jamie Webster, James headlines the first of two sold-out shows in the wonderful Halifax Piece Hall, a Yorkshire landmark now established as one of the UK's favourite music venues.

Home to the recent and stunning BBC dramas Happy Valley and The Gallows Pole, Halifax is now firmly on the map for film crews and bands alike, the Piece Hall’s summer season hosting the likes of Boygenius, War on Drugs, The Cult, Sting, Madness and George Ezra.

As evening drops magenta, James takes to the stage with their substantial portfolio of B-wings, rarely played classics and well-known hits to draw from.

Booth welcomes the adoring crowd to what he describes as ‘an Italian piazza in Halifax’ before acknowledging the different desires and wants of those present tonight, some fans wanting songs from the 80’s, others preferring the 90’s and a section demanding hits from the noughties. He jokes that with 300 songs to choose from, and a setlist differs at every show, ‘everyone will be disappointed’.

James open with the stirring early release Johnny Yen before the catchy What For settles the crowd. The band moves effortlessly through the excellent Waltzing Along, the trance-like All the Colours of You and the anthemic classic Born of Frustration. Delirious with the weather, the setting and the songs, and joined by the eight-piece Manchester Inspirational Voices Choir, the crowd is captivated by the standout Just Like Fred Astaire, serenading to Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) and swaying in unison to Nothing but Love.

Tonight’s show feels timeless, the rising sounds carried beautifully by Booth’s distinctive and textured voice, the agile and energetic frontman leading the band in rounding off their set with the hauntingly beautiful Sit Down, the somewhat spiritual Sometimes and the quirky yet wonderful Laid.

As the triumphant evening draws to the close, no one leaves disappointed.