james tim booth

The first song I remember hearing

Val Doonican – ‘Paddy McGinty’s Goat’

“I learned to perform this for my godmother. and sang it from behind the sofa because I was too shy to sing it to her face. It’s the story of a goat that Paddy McGinty won that ate everything. [I heard] ‘Suzanne’ by Leonard Cohen about the same time. My sister put me in a room and said, ‘These are real lyrics’ and played me ‘Suzanne’. I was probably seven. You’d think there’s no link [between the two songs], but I think the link is that they both have very good lyrics. I think that’s why most of my musical loves are based around the words as much as the music. It’s a good contrast between the totally uncool Val Doonican in his mad cardigans and Leonard, the coolest of cool.”

The first song I fell in love with

Patti Smith – ‘Birdland’

“I heard that song on the night I was told my father was going to die. I was at a Victorian boys’ boarding school, and I sneaked down into the study and put headphones on. I’d heard some of it the week before, but it hadn’t clocked. The song opens with: ‘His father died and left him a little farm in New England / All the long black funeral cars left the scene / And the boy was just standing there alone… It was as if someone had spread butter on all the fine points of the stars / ‘Cause when he looked up, they started to slip’. For a 16-year-old boy to hear that song about a boy losing his father, I think it probably set me unconsciously on the road to becoming a singer. That this piece of music, written by a New York feral punk in her late 20s, could give me some solace… she reached out to a 16-year-old in a totally different environment and blew his mind with a 10-minute improvised song.”

The first album I ever bought

The Beatles – ‘Revolver’

“It’s a pretty revolutionary record. I think it went over my head at [age] seven. It cost about 22 bob: expensive for a kid, I saved up for it. I may be mixing up stories, but Virgin had one of its first flagship shops in Leeds: hippies would go in there and smoke weed, and you could listen [to records] on headphones. I remember going into this Virgin and you’d sit on beanbags on the floor, put the headphones on, listen to music and buy an album. And [listening to ‘Revolver’] was like, ‘What the fuck?!’”

My first gig

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, Leeds Town Hall, 1974

“I was probably 14. Neil Crawford, an older boy, had to take me. I was confused by everyone shouting ‘Wally’, which I later learned was the codeword for ‘we want drugs’. Cockney Rebel were like Bowie-lite, and everybody went into the night singing ‘Somebody called me Sebastian’ in the streets of Leeds. I quite enjoyed it at the time, but it didn’t blow my mind. That took Iggy Pop on the ‘Lust For Life’ tour about two years later, or The Clash on the ‘White Riot’ tour. I helped arrange the boarding school to see the ‘White Riot’ tour, because punk wasn’t known. So they took 30 of us to watch The Slits, Subway Sect, Buzzcocks, The Jam and The Clash at Wolverhampton Town Hall, and it was a fucking riot. The teachers wouldn’t let us watch The Slits because they realised the euphemism of the band’s name before we did.”

The song that reminds me of home

Brian Eno – ‘Discreet Music’

“I don’t have a home really, I’ve always been kind of a nomad. But songs that have stuck with me that I can always return to – it would be Brian Eno’s ‘Discreet Music’. I loved it when it came out, and he got panned by everybody for virtually inventing ambient music. I remember the NME said something like, ‘It’s like watching paint dry’. It just used to become this calming influence and a brilliant record to make love to because it’s so still.”

The song I wish I’d written

The Beatles – ‘A Day In The Life’

“Their attitude in making it, in being open to chance and coincidence… some of it is really well-designed. There’s that bit in the middle where they just counted out 20 bars and knew they’d fill it, so they filled it with the London Philharmonic going up, up, up the scale. Lennon wrote the first bit, McCartney wrote the second and Lennon wrote the third, and it holds together as this kind of bonkers masterpiece in a way that just shouldn’t work. It’s an impossible song, and it’s just endlessly thrilling because they were at their most ambitious with that song, I think. Also just casually believing that the universe would help them when it mattered, and George Martin steering a fucking great ship, too. They were probably off their heads on LSD.

“[With James’] journey songs, we like the long ones that go on for 10 minutes, and we sometimes purposely gravitate to that [epic feel]. I think some of Patti‘s best songs are that length [too]. It gives you time to really dig in when you do a longer song. But they’re hard to do, to hold people for that amount of time. You need a magician’s sleight of hand to make that work.”

The song I do at karaoke

The Doors – ‘People Are Strange’

“I don’t do karaoke. I’d probably do ‘Paddy McGinty’s Goat’ – it’s probably the only song I’ve ever learned the whole lyrics to. James are one of the weirdest bands in that we never covered other bands. Bands [usually] learn by covering other bands, but James had to learn how to do covers when we were asked to do the Velvet Underground tribute album and the Leonard Cohen one, and it was so difficult for us because we’d never done that.

“Something like ‘People Are Strange’, if you could find it on a karaoke machine. I can do a good Jim Morrison. He had a voice to die for.”

The song I can’t get out of my head

Black Country, New Road – ‘Sunglasses’

“My son got me into them. I’m a lyric man, and ‘I’m more than adequate, leave Kanye out of this’ is one of those lyrics that is just so brilliant. To stumble upon something as brilliant as that, because it doesn’t make any sense but it makes complete sense, that song is remarkable. That’s a journey song like ‘A Day In The Life’, [with] two separate parts. [BC, NR‘s] first two records, I think, are masterpieces; I’m totally in love with that band right now. I can’t get them out of my head. Pretty obsessed with them.”

The song I can no longer listen to

Cockney Rebel – ‘Sebastian’

“It was a moment in time. The lyrics are terrible: you get to a course and it’s, ‘Somebody called me Sebastian’. What the fuck, man? What the fuck? I’m maybe underestimating [Harley] because of that lyric where he goes, ‘Generate me limply’. And I go, ‘Is that meaning he was suffering from impotence and he had this really bold lyric?’ But no, it’s an awfully pompous, dated song; melodramatic, it hasn’t really aged well.”

The song I want played at my funeral

Sílvia Pérez Cruz and Ravid Goldschmidt – ‘Luna’

“Well, I’ve got a playlist [of funeral songs]. [Cruz] is Spanish, and it’s got this yearning, Eastern wailing. Astonishing, it’s astonishing. I can’t understand a word she’s singing, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a song that’s on the edge of death. There’s blood in the water with that song. It’s just breath-taking.”

The song that makes me want to dance

London Grammar – ‘Hell To The Liars’ (Kölsch remix)

“There’s a remix by a guy called Kölsch which is brilliant and takes you on a massive journey of emotion. There’s those strings at the end, [Hannah Reid’s] amazing voice and all that huge build-up beforehand. It’s one of the best dance remixes I’ve ever heard, and yet it also manages to be a song.”

James’ 40th anniversary double album ‘Be Opened By The Wonderful’ is out on June 9 via Virgin Music. The band are currently on a UK tour – find their live dates here.

The post Soundtrack Of My Life: Tim Booth appeared first on NME.


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