When you mention Manchester music, James normally get overlooked in the bigger scheme of things in favour of the likes of the Stone Roses, Oasis, Happy Mondays, New Order and the Fall. Formed literally down the road in Whalley Range in 1982, they are now on the road with their 14th studio album and tour, 'The Girl at the End of the World'.

Tonight’s first support slot has been handed to a band that have worked tirelessly to build a fanbase and an infectious sound. The Slow Readers Club took to the stage to put on a performance that revealed the potential they possess, establishing themselves as genuine contenders to be future stars. 'Plant the Seed', 'I Saw a Ghost' and 'Start Again' showed there is a real substance to the Slow Readers Club .

Up next was the excellent Jack Savoretti, a nice little warm-up from the husky-voiced singer, who easily seduced the crowd with his rich and soulful vocal tones. He described the chance to do his first arena gig in Manchester as "like being invited to join the family." 'Written in Scars', 'Fight 'til the End' and the emotional 'Catapult' were distinct highlights of his set.

Our hosts for the evening are about to come onstage. There is a real buzz and anticipation amongst the 12,500 sell-out crowd. James quickly assemble, then launch straight into 'Out to Get You', a regular live track since it was introduced back on the 'Laid' album. Instantly there is a rapport between frontman Tim Booth and the adoring audience, a spiritual connection forged from mutual respect.

Booth has the presence of a farmer checking his flock, explaining to the crowd he wants to come and see them, he wants to meet them, before exposing his neck and telling them that in Llanduduno the night before over-exuberant fans had scratched his neck, back and arms: “If I do come to see you, please treat me like a china doll - handle me with care.”

Right on cue, 'Move Down South' sees Booth off the stage and stood high on the barrier, before gently falling forward. His first foray into the audience is an intimate affair, with one male fan sharing a special moment with our host.

That personal touch was to be a big part of the evening. The band still have the same energy and drive they had when they started out over three decades ago. There is a real carnival atmosphere in full flow, every song delivered seamlessly. It would have been easy for a group with such an accomplished back catalogue to sit back and make it a greatest hits tour. That’s not the James way, ten of the twenty two-song set coming from the latest album. They have always kept moving forward - is this the secret to their longevity?

'Come Home' and 'Ring the Bells' see camera phones thrust into the air and a mass singalong, combined with the usual dad bopping, 'Girl at the End of the World' along with 'Bitch' brought things right up to date. It’s not difficult to see that these will be future tour crowd pleasers, as they were tonight.

'She's a Star' coupled with 'Just like Fred Astaire' were given the acoustic treatment, once again adding an intimate feel to the evening. 'Dear John' is introduced as a song for all those people who have been dumped; it turned out to be a very poignant and intimate rendition that really did pull at the heartstrings.

'Sound' and 'Attention' brought to an end what had simply been a triumphant homecoming, the band leaving the stage to a backdrop of fans still singing and chanting.

Five or six minutes go by and things are still buzzing in anticipation of an encore. A single spotlight goes on at the top of the stairs at the back of the arena, a few trumpet notes are played and another spotlight appears at the bottom end of the arena floor. A guitar joins in, heads are turned en masse watching this advance into the crowd as a third spotlight appears virtually in the middle of the arena: one unmistakable note is played and Booth appears, to start a walk to the stage singing an acoustic version of 'Sit Down', accompanied by a crowd that was in its element. As the trio reach the stage the rest of the band break into the full instrumental version, Booth sitting on the front singing along with the ardent masses.

'Nothing but Love' from the latest album brings to an end the first encore, yet another triumphant track that is already a fans' favourite. An acoustic version of 'What For' settles everything down before the final song of the evening, 'Tomorrow', which once again has the arena in a euphoric state. It is quite clear that James are a band that have had a wonderful past and built a family of followers, who have turned up today to support a band that have given them something for tomorrow.

There is something special about how James deliver their carefully crafted melodies and lyrics: heartfelt lines, steadily built up throughout a track, as only the enigmatic Tim Booth can deliver. At times, along with the power emanating from the stage and the trance-like state of a crowd under the band's spell, there was a real feeling of being at a rave back in the day. James are quite simply a band that keeps on giving.

Photos by Billy Seagrave

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