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Baker's Dozen

How Was It For You? Tim Booth Of James' Favourite Albums
John Freeman , March 31st, 2016 08:03

After the release of James' Girl At The End Of The World, lead singer Tim Booth tells John Freeman about clandestine childhood listening and the redemptive powers of Iggy Pop in choosing the LPs that "saved his life"

Tim Booth is talking to me over the phone from his home in California about one of the artists on his Baker's Dozen list. As the James frontman describes his love of Nina Simone, he begins to weep. "I don't mind crying," he tells me, reassuringly. "It's not a problem for me. I am very proud of my tears."

"Music saved my life," he continues, as if by way of explanation. "As a child, I inherited a liver condition, which became manifest at about the age of 11. It wasn't properly diagnosed until I was 21, when I 'died' in hospital and had to be revived. All through my teens, I was bright yellow as I was jaundiced the entire time. I was in a state of constant hallucination, with very little sleep. Therefore, I lived in quite a hellish place for about ten years. I always thought I would end up in a psychiatric hospital, because of the way my mind was working."

"Music became was my saviour. I had been sent away to a prison-like [boarding] school and I would listen to John Peel on my headphones in bed. I realised that there was a world out there of other people expressing something from their pain. I felt very alone and music was the thing that made me feel not alone. This is why I get emotional talking about some of these albums."

If this seems a little intense for a Baker's Dozen interview, jetlag may partially explain Booth's emotional state. He's operating on three hours' sleep after a long-haul flight the day before and is chatting from his deck in Topanga Canyon, just north of Los Angeles. Tim tells me that a few days previously, a neighbour spotted a mountain lion in their garden. We agree that if the cougar returns, we will abort the Baker's Dozen and conduct tQ's first ever Big Cat Diary spin-off.

Aside from the tears and childhood revelations, Tim is on wonderful form. His album choices evoke warm memories and some wonderful anecdotes that span his torrid schooling (Iggy Pop, Patti Smith and Wire), through the great friendships of his life (Regina Spektor and Brian Eno) and on to the songs that have inspired James' 14th album, the Max Dingel-produced, Girl At The End Of The World. It's a record of shimmering, euphoric electronica and the sound of a band who, even after 34 years, are still crackling with wit and wisdom.

As the interview draws to a close (he ends with one final cracking story about being threatened by Nick Cave), I ask Tim my standard Baker's question about the connecting themes within his choices. "These people had to make these records to express themselves," he explains. "For me, this list is full of people on the edge. I think artists go into the subconscious and they bring back the fire. They are people who are digging deep into their psyche and bringing out magic – and that magic is healing for our culture. They had to do what they did and they did it with total commitment, passion and love."

Girl At The End Of The World is out on March 18 via BMG. James begin a UK tour on May 2 at Colston Hall in Bristol; for full details and tickets, head here. Click on the image below to begin scrolling through Tim's choices, which run in no particular order