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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"


Leonard Cohen – Greatest Hits
This is the album that was launched on the back of his comeback tour. I have chosen it because it covers his great early songs like 'Chelsea Hotel No. 2' through to 'I'm Your Man' and 'Hallelujah'. Some of these songs are quite lazily produced and musically not hugely exciting, but show his lyrical majesty.

A song such as 'First We Take Manhattan' is a great song, but the power of the song only works from a musical perspective, because it contains so much irony. The Euro pop of his later period was unnecessary – his writing was too soulful to be contained in that music. I think his early pieces are more balanced in terms of the music and soulfulness of the lyrics.

I don't think anyone has written about relationships as deeply, profoundly or realistically in my world. 'Chelsea Hotel No. 2' is definitely one of my favourite lyrics of all time. "You told me again you preferred handsome men/ But for me you would make an exception" is one of the greatest lines along with, "We are ugly, but we have the music."

You just know that Leonard Cohen is a lover. If people are divided into the archetypes of warrior or lover – Leonard Cohen is the ultimate lover in such a beautiful way. He writes about love and broken-heartedness and the negotiation of different relationships in the most honest way. In addition, he has the courage to use stillness and hold your attention, as if you were in a sacred ceremony.

I saw the comeback tour. It was the first time I had seen him play and I had been desperate to see a show. My sister had seen him in the '70s. I saw him in Manchester. It was about a week into the tour and he hadn't really understood how much he was loved and missed. I have never seen a whole audience weep in such a way. He got a standing ovation after every song and he got so flustered that he kept introducing the band. He didn't know what to do with the love that was coming at him. Again, that was in the top five greatest gigs I have ever seen.

At that gig, I sent him a gift of some Chinese herbs called 'Golden Voice', which is used by singers. I got a message back saying that the herbs were created by the practitioner for Leonard, who was his friend. I had no idea. I thought that was quite funny.

I have another connection. In about 1991, when he was still being slagged as a hippy relic, James were asked to do a cover version in honour of him [for the album [I'm Your Fan • The Songs Of Leonard Cohen By...]. We jumped at the chance. At that point, we had only covered one other song, and we did a rather poor job of 'So Long, Marianne'. Then, French television asked us to perform the song live and we actually nailed it, much better than we did on record. Leonard Cohen apparently saw our live performance and said he liked our version. We were very chuffed.