When The VLM spoke with Saul Davies, multi-instrumentalist member of Manchester legends, James, it was just two weeks before the release of All The Colours Of You, the band’s sixteenth studio album, which as we reviewed, is a remarkable body of work, particularly given the longevity of the band.
Davies speaks with us from the North-West Highlands of Scotland, a place he has spent time reflecting during these whirlwind times. “There’s not a lot of people around here,” he admits referring to his rural surroundings.
Davies hasn’t remained glued to the highlands though, he managed to get some time away in rural Portugal. He understands his privilege in getting to spend these times in such rural settings, and enjoying the freedom of movement that goes with it. “You get used to a lot of movement and lot of stuff going on and then suddenly there was nothing going on and that can be very challenging. But if you live in the arse end of nowhere with no one around anyway you just get used to sitting and reading The Guardian”.
‘Recover’ from the new album details the heartbreak of Covid with the track being dedicated to frontman, Tim Booth’s, late father-in-law, who died from the disease. While Davies’ nearest and dearest have thankfully avoided any casualties from Covid, he, like the rest of us, has felt the tiring and tumultuous effects of the pandemic. “Everything was disrupted. It’s like throwing all the cards in the air and seeing where they land. We’re in the middle of a shit storm. There’s no doubt about that!”
Davies hasn’t let the chaos slow him down though, he has found himself determined to make a difference for people who have suffered from loss of income due to the pandemic. “It galvanised me to do a lot of work actually. I took the opportunity to set up the charity Everybody Belongs Here, a humanitarian initiative, fundraising to help fight food poverty”. The initiative also supports the music industry through tech and crew charity Stagehand, and artists through Help Musicians.
“We did an event at the back end of January, called Music Feeds with 56 artists from around the globe and we raised a million pounds”. The event received support from famous faces like Gary Lineker, Bob Geldof, Marcus Rashford, Sam Smith, and many others. The charity have even bigger ambitions as they look to move to a global stage, to help raise both funds and awareness concerning vaccine inequality. “We want to involve some of the biggest artists in the world,” Davies says.
As we start the recovery phase of the pandemic in the UK, it is becoming increasingly evident that there is great global disparity in the vaccination delivery. “If you think about physically where those vaccines are being produced, like Mumbai – why the fuck can’t they go to the people in Mumbai. The problem is, the world doesn’t work like that,” says Davies.
It’s hard to avoid political discussion when these problems are rooted in global politics. “A lot of it is about how human beings want to communicate with each other, and on what basis we think we move forward. Unfortunately, we don’t do that well and that spills into politics, because politics is one of the ways that we communicate with each other the most. But philosophically, I think we’re in a very difficult situation”.
Like many of us, Davies worries about the growing divide across the political spectrums. “We are in crisis because our level of communication and our level of conversation is poor and we’re being driven evermore to the bottom line. The problem is that we’ve got to have proper conversations. We can’t just hide back into our bubbles. That doesn’t get us anywhere”.
It is clear how passionate Davies is on world issues. All this discussion led from the first initial question, asking about how he has coped during lockdown.
“This was a 15 minute answer to very short question, but I think we’re in trouble”, Davies says referring back to the problems in global inequality and division. “It was partly that, through the lens of food poverty, that we decided to do Music Feeds. A bit of solidarity doesn’t go amiss”.
As Davies goes on to explain, it is important this solidarity is permeated into the music scene as well, especially when times are at their toughest. “When the music industry isn’t touring, you start to understand how many people rely on this industry, it is a pretty serious one. Rock and roll was designed to tear things up, but nevertheless, now we are here”.
The UK live music industry is worth over £1.1bn to the UK economy, but as any gig-goer will tell you, the pain hits far deeper than the financial wounds. The lack of festivals, gigs, and that shared emotional experience has seen us lose much more than an integral part of the economy. We have lost that large support network who we rely on for something far more valuable than any amount of money. “It fulfils a social need and it is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of being a human. The expression of humanity is music… and football. If you look at any indigenous population, their meetings are around campfires and they create music, it is a universal unifier.”
All The Colours Of You seems to touch on multiple universal emotions, particularly those experienced over the last months, but as well as the heartache, grief, and pain, the album also serves as a beacon of hope and optimism. “I don’t know if you can analyse what it is that you’ve been influenced by, but I think as much as the time, it is also the place”.
In terms of place, as Davies explains, the tracks from the record, “were done in three different blocks of time, one in North Yorkshire, and one in Sheffield, Yellow Arch, (famously the birthplace of Artic Monkeys’ debut) and then one up here in the North West Coast of Scotland, out of the way in the Woods Cove, surrounded by midges. We are making a load of fucking noise with no neighbours, which is great!”
“I think you are informed by what what’s around you at the time”, explains Davies about the creation of All the Colours of You. Much of the demos for the album were Pre-Covid, so we were lucky, otherwise we would have faced a lot more challenges, to write songs between the different locations, it would have been impossible”.
The opening track, ‘ZERO’ from All The Colours Of You captivates with the lyrics, “We’re all gonna die, that’s the truth, quit measuring time, by money and youth”. “It must be the best opening to any of our albums that we’ve done. You don’t expect it, it’s kind of cheeky, and it’s kind of funny”.
Previously Davies has expressed that 2001’s Pleased To Meet You was his favourite James album, citing that Brian Eno (who co-produced the record) was a dream to work with. So how does the experience of working with Garret ‘Jacknife’ Lee (U2, Bloc Party, R.E.M.) compare? “Please To Meet You, is a fucking great record. I think it’s technically the best sounding, in terms of the quality of the actual sound, if you just put the needle on the record. It was recorded onto tape and you can tell that. The new album is a digital recording, but nevertheless, I think Jacknife made us the best sounding record we ever made since, and I also think that some tracks are my favourite James songs yet”.
As we wrap up, Davies echoes our thoughts on All The Colours Of You. “Within it there are some moments that are very special, right up there with the best moments of James”. With plenty to say, and an unparalleled drive to be heard, the Manchester band stand firmly among the greats of English rock and roll, and they’ve made it clear they are not ready to sit down anytime soon.