mon 23/07/2018

Reissue CDs Weekly: Brian James | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Brian James

Reissue CDs Weekly: Brian James

First solo album from the former Damned and Lords of the New Church man is a blast

Without gloss: Brian James in 1990Ian Dickson

Brian James’ opening cut is “The Twist”. Not the Sixties dance-craze song, but a melodic guitar-driven rocker simpatico with what Australian bands The Hoodoo Gurus, The New Christs and The Screaming Tribesman were dealing in during the late 1980s. Detroit’s slash-and-burn is in there, as is a pop sensibility. “Slow it Down”, Side Ones third cut, sounds like an alternate-universe hit single: one where edgy pop-rock ruled. Side Two opens with “Ain't That a Shame”, a mid-tempo, moody outing with the feel of the Johnny Thunders of “Subway Train” and “It’s Not Enough”.

Back in the Britain of 1990 there was little chance an album with such an approach could break through into the mainstream. The similarly minded Godfathers had been popular, but were a cult band. No surprise then that Brian James was issued by a French label.

Brian James 2018 reissue coverThe first solo album from former Damned founder member – he split the band in early 1978 and moved on, after which they serially reformed – Brian James was issued in 1990, the year after Lords of the New Church, his most recent band, had folded. They played their last show on 2 May 1989. The label which originally released it was New Rose, a French imprint named after the Damned’s debut single; British punk rock’s first record. Yet Brian James is not a punk album. Instead it is, as James has always described his original version of The Damned, rock ‘n’ roll. And with the album’s cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Cut Across Shorty”, there was no doubt how James saw his music.

It was also clear James was feeling his way. A month after Lords of the New Church bowed out, he was on stage with a reunited Damned at the shows which became the Final Damnation live release. In September 1991, though James’ involvement with the tour was cut short, there were more Damned shows in America. Brian James was issued between each reunion. It seemed the past was of more interest to audiences than James’ then-current activities. Even so, around this time, James was also playing with The Dammed’s Rat Scabies in the jazz-influenced duo Stink Insects.

Brian James 1990 solo album coverFor James in 1990, the solo album represented an acknowledgment of particular strands of his own past. “Ain't That a Shame” was a re-recording of a post-Damned, pre-Lords of the New Church solo single he had issued in June 1979, after his 1978 band Tanz Der Youth had split. This first solo foray featured Alan Lee Shaw joining him on guitar (Shaw was also playing with Scabies in the early Nineties). For live shows after “Ain't That a Shame”, James was joined by drummer Malcolm Mortimor. Like James, both musicians had pasts. Each also played on Brian James (Shaw was the album’s bassist).

Alan Lee Shaw had released a glam-style single in 1974 and was the guitarist in successive punk-era band The Rings and The Maniacs, both of which played on bills with The Damned in 1977. Mortimor was the drummer for Gentle Giant and (briefly) Kilburn & The High Roads. Earlier, he was in James’ 1969/1970 band Train who issued a single as Taiconderoga. Brian James, then, recognises James’ past and represented unfinished business. It could have followed on from the “Ain't That a Shame” single. But next there were his short-lived bands The Brains and The Hellions. After them, Lords of the New Church.

Despite being released so soon after the demise of Lords of the New Church, Brian James is spikier, lacks the gloss of their American-focussed recordings and is more spontaneous than they ever were on record. This new reissue is on vinyl only in an edition of 500 and has a new sleeve (pictured above left: the original 1990 sleeve). More than an important reminder that there is much more to James than The Damned or Lords of the New Church, Brian James is also a blast.

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