TIM Booth made his name with the rock band James, clocking up a handful of top 10 hits — including festival stalwart Sit Down. Preferring meditation and yoga to drugs and alcohol, Booth has survived musical stardom relatively unscathed. With cars, it’s a different story. Since moving to California with his wife and family nine years ago, he has been in three crashes, the last one of which was a close call.
“We were driving on an LA highway when a vehicle spun out of control and hit our Lexus from the side, knocking us across three lanes,” says Booth, 58, originally from Bradford. “Everything went into slow motion, but thankfully we glided onto the hard shoulder. We had some whiplash but were otherwise unharmed.
“A policeman told me that 50% of the road accidents in the US are caused by people being on their mobiles — everyone does it because they [the authorities] don’t seem to do anything about it. There’s just a really relaxed attitude to road safety.
“I once saw a guy in a convertible on a freeway with his feet on the dashboard, playing a harmonica with one hand, with his dog on his lap, steering with his one free hand. They aren’t much better at parking either. A lot of people need a space the size of a truck to park a Mini.”
Booth joined James in 1982, while a student at Manchester University. Having suffered with a liver condition from the age of 10, he began to take an interest in eastern medicine, yoga and meditation as ways of coping with his illness. He developed a hypnotic dance style, which became his hallmark, and joined James originally as a dancer, before being quickly promoted to lead singer.
He was 20 when he had his first close shave in a car. “I borrowed my mother’s, hit ice and did an emergency stop … and the car rolled into a ditch and turned over,” he recalls. “My friends and I were OK but the car was a write-off — thankfully my mother took it surprisingly well. It was only the second time I’d borrowed her car.”
A policeman told me that 50% of the road accidents in the US are caused by people being on their mobiles. There’s just a really relaxed attitude to road safety.
The first car he owned was an orange Volkswagen Beetle that his granny gave him in 1980. “It was brilliant,” he says. “I’ve always regretted selling it [for £400] but I was broke at the time. Plus, I was living on a Manchester council estate that had the UK’s highest crime rate, so the odds were it was going to get nicked or smashed up.”
The Beetle was also too small to carry the band’s equipment, so they used a friend’s butcher’s van in their early days of touring. “It stank of blood but the good thing about it was the drummer could set up his drum kit in the back and practise while we were on the motorway,” he says.
In the late 1980s, when the band were developing a strong fan base but had yet to have a top 10 hit, Booth bought his “favourite ever car”: a distinctive-looking Saab 96, second-hand. “It looked like a hat but I loved it,” he says, although he admits: “I wouldn’t know the difference between a gasket and a spark plug.”
Come the new millennium, with James a household name, Booth splashed out on a BMW 3-series convertible — though he didn’t get much mileage out of it. “It got stolen four months later,” he says. “That’s what happens when you have a posh car.”
Nowadays, he drives a Chrysler PT Cruiser that he bought for $10,000 eight years ago. “Most of the cars on the road these days seem to have been developed with the same aerodynamics in mind, which is fine, but they all look the same to me. I’ve always liked idiosyncratic cars.” The Chrysler, however, is now on its last legs: “Every now and then we need to pull over when something goes wrong.”
His dream car is an electric Tesla Model 3 — and he’s put down a deposit on one. “It will do a good couple of hundred miles between battery charges, plus I think Elon Musk [the co-founder of Tesla] is a genius. It’s the most affordable Tesla yet, ecologically advanced and — crucially — very safe.”
Living in Extraordinary Times, the new album by James, is out now. The band are touring with the Charlatans later this year ()
Tim Booth: my life in cars
- 1980 Volkswagen Beetle
- 1988 Saab 96
- 2000 BMW 3-Series Convertible
- 2010 Chrysler PT Cruiser
- My dream car Tesla Model 3