Five singles, two albums and appearances at all of Europe's top pop festivals will mean a busy year for James. And instrumentalist Saul Davies hopes it will be the year they finally earn some long overdue respect from the rest of the industry.

The band releases the compilation The Best Of.. featuring 18 tracks including the anthem Sit Down and the wonderful Come Home - the song which sold a million t-shirts.

James have had 13 Top 40 hits in an incredible 15- year career during which they've conquered America and undergone numerous line-up changes. Saul told Freebase how he came to join the band back in 1989...

It happened by mistake. I was found farting around in a club somewhere with a violin and I did my famous one-note violin solo and it impressed everybody so much they asked me to come and join James.

Were you keen on the idea of joining a band?

Not really, no. I didn't really want to be in a band at all. I thought it was going to be annoying. I was actually in a band when I was 16 with a bloke called Adrian Oxaal who is now the guitarist in James. Isn't that bizarre? I was also in a band at school where they had to throw out the drummer and replace him with me, because I played drums at the time, and he was the drummer in The Housemartins. So I replaced the guy who became the drummer in The Housemartins in a school band. Isn't that cool?

James already had an established sound when you joined. What did they bring you in to add, and what do you think you've contributed?

I think they were fed up with the sound being very spindly and very thin in a way and they were just getting into a more powerful sound. So I was added and then our keyboard player Mark Hunter and Dave our drummer joined and he was far more straight ahead rhythmically so the whole thing got a bit harder really and we all consequently started to write different kind of songs.

So were you star-struck joining a well-known band like James?

They weren't that well-known actually. Well, they were on a student thing but there had been no radio play up until then really. They were very much an underdog band. Also it was just really exciting. I'd just finished at college and I was thinking ``what the hell am I going to do?'' and then suddenly I was on stage at Manchester Free Trade Hall with New Order in the front row and Morrissey on the mixing desk on the side of the stage going ``yeah,cool!'' and it was like ``yeah, nice one''.

Did it all happpen quite quickly for you because a lot of the groundwork had already been done before you joined the band?

Well, a week after I had the audition we were on tour so I had a week trying to learn James songs, which was great fun. A lot of it was adding stuff to songs that was never there in the first place like string parts, violin parts, percussion parts, guitar parts. The thing is I play everything so I end up in a situation where I have to do everything.

So you have to work twice as hard as everybody else in the studio...

No, because it's very easy. We all have a very good attitude in the studio which is basically just throw whatever comes down in your head first and then keep it. We love it. We've found a way of making it really interesting for ourselves. A lot of people get really het up about the fact that you're under the microscope. Possibly it's taken us ages, I don't know, but we're really happy with it, we love the studio. I've got as little studio in my house and I've been writing songs. A little studio up in Scotland. I'm quite happy to sit there 18 hours a day working away. I love it. As long as I get down the pub and I get to see my woman.

There have been a good few line-up changes. How many original members are left in James?

There's one person left from the very very very original line-up of the band where Jimmy our bass player's ex-wife was the singer, Paul Gilbertson was playing guitar and that was 18 years ago.

So have you happily evolved together as a band or does it still remain ``their band'' that you've joined?

It's our band now. James has changed a lot in the last two years. We've freed ourselves of a lot of ties we had to the past and things are very much more healthy in the camp as a consequence.

So why has the name lived on through all the changes?

It's an attitude really. James has alwayas felt like something that was bigger than the people that were in it. I don't know what that it. It's very hard to quantify. But it comes from an attitude and it comes from certain processes that we more-or-less always employ, like in the writing process and stuff. There's definitely a thread as well in the music from day one I would say. Obviously the form has changed slightly, times change and sounds change but there's something almost naive about what we do, which is quite endearing.

So how does the songwriting work? Do you always go about it in the same way?

It depends really, although there's been a bit of a shift recently and we're doing things that we never have done which is a person writing a song and bringing it to the rest of the band and everybody then contributing. That's never happened before, that's just started to happen a little bit where I've been writing songs and coming to the band with them. That's quite cool because you get really scared and you think ``oh, will they like it, will they like it?'' They go ``Saul, this one's shit but this one's alright''.

Why did you decide to bring out a ``best of'' album now? Was it the record company's idea?

The idea definitely originated in our camp. We wanted to make a statement of intent really. We wanted to celebrate the fact that we'd had 16 top 40 singles. I think the best of is the first thing in a chain of things we'll do which will lead to us being respected and that's the big thing for me at the moment, to get some respect. I think we're probably consistently the best live band in Britain. I haven't seen another band that's better than us live. I know it sounds like arrogance but it's not. That's true and people have said that to us. People whose opinions I trust, other musicians, other bands, they say ``fucking hell, you're good'' and it's like ``yeah, I know we are but we don't get the respect we deserve for that''.

Why not? You've had the hits, you've made it in America...

Because a lot of the attention - almost all the attention up until now - has been on Tim and people don't like Tim and they therefore don't like the band. Our public has a love hate relationship with Tim and therefore all of us. Because Tim is perceived as such a weird fucker some people don't like that, some people are threatened by that and that's the only side they see of him. There's obviously a whole different side to him, just a warm, kind human being. When we came back from America in the summer we played probably the best show we've done in Britain for years at Reading and we got slagged for it. I knew because I was there and watched the whole day the Friday that we played and I watched these other bands that I love like Cast and Suede - Suede are a wonderful, wonderful band - and I was really hoping that I was going to really, really love them live. I hadn't had a chance to see either of those bands and they were shit. And I was really disappointed and I was really upset for them because I wanted them to be great and I wanted to see the audience going nuts like they'd gone nuts for us. And I realised what had happened. We'd blown them away. We went out and played like 10 hits and did it really well and went for it and looked like nutters with fucking gold dresses on and we gave people something to get involved in. A very un-British attitude. We came back with a very American attitude, almost a showbiz attitude, and we got slagged for it. And I know we made a difference to those 35,000 people's lives that day.

But that's just a political thing, isn't it? If your face doesn't fit at the time, that's the price you pay...

Yeah, it just hurts. So that's what I want by the end of this year. Respect. So that people don't feel they can do that.

How were the tracks for the album chosen?

It's just all the singles plus two old songs. The second-ever James single which was on Factory Records in 1984 and we needed a song that was slow so we could have a drop down in intensity from the mad silly pop so we took the first track off the album Laid which is called Out To Get You, which is just a dreamy little thing.

Will there be a few old surprises on the forthcoming tour?

There'll be some stuff. The surprise will actually be four brand new songs that even the record company hasn't heard. We're going to do another album that'll come out in September/October and we've written all the songs for that now so we just have to record them. So we're going to stick some of those into the set. The rest of it is just going to be all hits. We just want to do a bit celebration tour.

So what's coming up in the summer?

We're playing Glastonbury, V98 and T in the Park. We'll do some European Festivals and when we have time we'll record the album. We're going to do a big tour at Christmas just as the album comes out which we're all really happy about doing. This year's going to be a mad one for us. We've got five single's out this year. A second single's coming off the greatest hits, a new song called Run Aground which I think will be our biggest song since Sit Down.

Are you fed up with that song now? Some bands get an anthem and they get sick of it...

No, I love it. That's just because they're stupid and that's because they don't realise that they have a duty to their public.