This book includes a plain text version that is designed for high accessibility. To use this version please follow this link.
53 f Getting It Done


From Uni social sec to Womad, from MC to Arts Council and EFDSS officer and now artist management, Alan James knows a thing or two about making stuff work. Elizabeth Kinder follows his tracks.


“P


unk came to Hull in 1977,” says Alan James, who was there. One week the audience at the University Students’ Union was sit-


ting cross-legged on the floor swaying to Caravan, the next up and standing, pogo- ing to The Damned. Also, Stuart Cosgrove (who was reading drama) strolled in for the new term rocking straight-legged jeans. These two events might seem totally unconnected, if not quite to each other, then certainly to the subsequent profiles of folk and world music in the UK. But the impact they had on James set him on a path that would help positively transform the fortunes of both across the British Isles.


“You couldn’t buy straight-legged jeans in Hull; you’d have to get your mum to take your flares in,” he says. “So I moved to London.” And he cut his hair, inspired not so much by Cosgrove as by David Bowie. With the release of Fame in his Thin White Duke incarnation, “Bowie,” says James, “became a fashion icon in the way that Lemmy did not. Bowie made skinny men cool.” Thus James could step out on his continuing career as a man of the times, to play his part in shaping their accompanying soundtrack.


Before this sartorial and geographical shift James gained his degree in Politics along with the realisation of what he wanted to do in life. Handily, Hull had given him a brilliant grounding in the wherewithal to achieve it. In this the study of politics was instrumental. This had not so much to do with reading the philoso- phies of Gramski, Marx and Hegel that the course entailed, but with the time it left to do other things.


That these included smoking on the library steps and incurring short shrift from Philip Larkin is not key to subsequent developments. James taking up the post of Social Sec at a time when for most bands the university circuit was a crucial step on the ladder of success, is.


At Hull, Social Sec was not a sabbatical position even though it meant running a full-time business. It included learning how to write contracts, negotiate with


agents and managers, organise staging, and generally do everything involved in promoting gigs, from putting the towels and rider in the dressing room (Lemmy’s first question leaping out of the van and onto the stage when pitching up late with Motorhead was, “Where’s the rider?”) to printing tickets and sorting out parking. It would not have been possible, says James, if he’d been studying Law or English.


In London James found his experience and newly acquired straight-legged jeans qualified him for a paid Ents. Officer job at ULU. “It was the time of The Slits, The Raincoats and Joy Division and you were short-changing the audience if you didn’t put at least three bands on a night (for an


entrance fee of £2.50).” Under his tenure, pioneering post-punk bands like A Certain Ratio, Scritti Politti and Cabaret Voltaire ripped it up from the ULU stage along with Aswad, Misty In Roots, Jamaican dub poet Michael Smith, John Martyn with Phil Collins, Orchestre Jazira, Ekome and Cul- ture. His love of Talking Heads – shared by his friend Justin Adams, who’d taken a break from studying at the Courtauld to operate the lights for the ULU gigs – led James to Fela Kuti. “I read a piece in the NME where Brian Eno was talking about Fela Kuti when My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts came out. I went straight round to Sterns on the Tottenham Court Road and bought Kalakuta Show.”


Photo: York Tilyer


Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68  |  Page 69  |  Page 70  |  Page 71  |  Page 72  |  Page 73  |  Page 74  |  Page 75  |  Page 76  |  Page 77  |  Page 78  |  Page 79  |  Page 80  |  Page 81  |  Page 82  |  Page 83  |  Page 84  |  Page 85  |  Page 86  |  Page 87  |  Page 88  |  Page 89  |  Page 90  |  Page 91  |  Page 92  |  Page 93  |  Page 94  |  Page 95  |  Page 96  |  Page 97  |  Page 98  |  Page 99  |  Page 100  |  Page 101  |  Page 102  |  Page 103  |  Page 104  |  Page 105  |  Page 106  |  Page 107  |  Page 108  |  Page 109  |  Page 110  |  Page 111  |  Page 112  |  Page 113  |  Page 114  |  Page 115  |  Page 116  |  Page 117  |  Page 118  |  Page 119  |  Page 120  |  Page 121  |  Page 122  |  Page 123  |  Page 124  |  Page 125  |  Page 126  |  Page 127  |  Page 128  |  Page 129  |  Page 130  |  Page 131  |  Page 132  |  Page 133  |  Page 134  |  Page 135  |  Page 136  |  Page 137  |  Page 138  |  Page 139  |  Page 140  |  Page 141  |  Page 142  |  Page 143  |  Page 144  |  Page 145  |  Page 146  |  Page 147  |  Page 148