Saul Davies doesn’t hold back when talking about James’ headline performance at the Lytham Festival next month.

“For us to take what is emerging as a really cool way for a band to show itself at what has become an iconic festival is amazing,” said the band’s guitarist. “Really it’s going to be one of the highlights of our summer.”

Saul Davies of James (Picture: Mariano Regidor/Redferns)

The Lytham date will be one of just two shows in which James will be performing with an orchestra and choir, providing an added dimension to a back catalogue which has been part of the soundtrack of many people’s lives.

“To be given the opportunity to play outdoors with our orchestra - they’re not really ours but we like to think that they are - is something we jumped at,” he said.

“We did it once last year at Latitude and we weren’t even sure if it would work technically but I think everyone was shocked at how well it went.”

Pairing up a rock band at the peak of its powers - James’ album Yummy released in April went straight in at the top of the album chart - with an orchestra is not an obvious combination. But Saul loves the result, or at least he does now.

“To be honest I’d always fought against the idea,” he said. “When it was first mooted that we do something like this around 2010-2011 I didn’t want to do it. I just felt there was something weak for us as a band to bring all these extra players on stage.

“But we did some shows and they were very good.

“It’s all about learning to trust the people around you and we trust Joe Duddell who has put the orchestra together implicitly.

“He’s done all the scores and conducts and is very much in control of it all. You have to be comfortable to give that amount of control to somebody else otherwise it just become a dog’s dinner which would short changing ourselves and the audience.

“But he’s never put a foot wrong. And because Joe picks the songs it stops us arguing like cats in a bag about what we’re going to play.

“That can be a big problem for us when you think we’ve just released our 18th studio album. That’s a big back catalogue to choose from.”

Although many of James’ biggest hits will feature in the Lytham show, fans can expect a few surprises.

Lytham Festival in 2023

“Joe will pick one or two really unexpected songs and he’ll do magical arrangements of them,” said Saul. “There’s one song called The Lake which we worked on with Brian Eno around the time of the Laid album. It didn’t appear on the album but was the B-side of the single. Joe’s done an arrangement of that and it’s majestic.”

Classical musicians working with a rock band might seem like unlikely bedfellows but Saul is full of prise for his new ‘bandmates’.

“It’s an unbelievable privilege to be sat with these great players,” he said. “You do have to be much more disciplined as there are so many more musicians working together but that doesn’t mean we can’t go off on one on stage.

“Joe knows we will inevitably go ‘off piste’ during a show and there’s a leeway to do that.

“All the players have earpieces and he can talk to them during a show. I have heard him say ‘the idiots are going off again’ and the musicians will just follow our lead.

“That ability grew when we did some theatre shows with an orchestra last year. We all learned that we could still explore things in the way that we do as a live band which is really special. Normally when there is an orchestra everything is so tightly drawn you can’t do that but Joe has found a way to do it.”

No matter how they are presented, the show wouldn’t work if the songs themselves weren’t good enough.

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“People often forget how deep and wide our catalogue is,” said Saul. “Sometimes they know the songs but not know it’s us, so it’s nice to remind people.

“Fortunately we won an icon award at Ivor Novellos (the ultimate songwriting accolade) and they don’t throw that award at just anybody. Well obviously they did in in our case but no-one’s come round to my house to claim the award back yet.”

During the show, Saul will occasionally set his guitar down and pick up the violin - the instrument he was initially brought into the band to play.

“It’s been fun to watch the musicians in the orchestra loosen up during the time we’ve worked with them,” he said. “The lead violinist is brilliant, she’s far more gifted than me but on one or two songs I have a violin solo and she would say ‘how do you know what to do without reading it?’

“I’d say I just made it up and at first she’d look at me as though that wasn’t possible. But over time she realised I was making it up on the hoof - that’s what a band does and she came to appreciate and understand that.

“It’s actually a tradition in classical music too. Composers such as Bach would write passages into piece where the soloist would be told to improvise, so it’s just harking back to that idea.”

Playing in front of a festival crowd at Lytham is something Saul is particularly looking forward to.

“There’s nothing better than getting together backstage before you go on and saying ‘right, let’s do this’,” he said. “Not everyone at a festival will be a fan so it’s our job to go and win them over which is something we love to do.

“I’m so proud that after almost 43 years as a band, having had a number one album this year and picked up an Ivor Novello Award we have these incredible show coming up this summer. It honestly feels like we have never been in better shape.”

James Orchestral headline the final night of the Lytham Festival on Sunday, July 7. Supporting them will be Johnny Marr and Inspiral Carpets. The festival runs from Wednesday, July 3 and headliners are Hozier, Shania Twain, Courteeners and Madness. Details from