IMAGES BY GARETH BURROUGHS/WORDS BY KATE O’BRIEN
“As The Song Ends James Takes A Moment. ‘Nice one Sheffield! We Haven’t Played That One For Years – It Shows You Know The Album. Love You All!’
Starsailor are an English post-Britpop band, formed in 2000. The band was formed at Wigan and Leigh Music College by music students James Walsh (vocals/guitar), James Stelfox (bass), and Ben Byrne (drums). Later, keyboardist Barry Westhead joined and their position in a new indie, acoustic soundtrack was made. Starsailor burst onto the music scene in 2001 with their hugely popular single “Fever”.
A cheer rings out as the band quietly take their places, unassuming in their array of denim and t-shirt combos, a familiar look favoured by many of the audience here tonight. We are here to share in the Sheffield leg of the twentieth anniversary tour of their first album, “Love is Here”, played in order, in its entirety.
We launch into Side One of “Love is Here” with “Tie Up My Hands”. A steady, familiar intro starts and the audience hush. James’ vocals crackle with emotion, his tone comfortingly familiar with his fans. The words, ‘wipe the makeup from your face, tie your hair and gently fall from grace’ sound out with the quiet energy we have come to expect from them, a new acoustic style post-Britpop.
‘Good evening Sheffield. Great to see you all here to celebrate twenty years of ‘Love is Here’.
“Poor Misguided Fool” is a lively contrast yet still on a dark theme of loss and betrayal. The audience sing along knowing every word proving they stand together as a dedicated crowd – they’ve been here since the beginning. Occasional light pop melody bleeds through catching us quite off guard as the lyrics are anything but!
‘I don’t normally play this so early on, but this is how the album goes!’ James calls out begins as a gentle introduction to “Lullaby” plays on keyboard by Barry Whitehead. The crescendo of a heavy drum roll heightens an already brooding mood anticipated for this song and the audience are ready, moving with this change in pace. Ben Byrne takes a comfortable lead here and is given a ‘centre stage’ moment. The lilting pitter patter rhythm reminds the crowd of a time when they would sit in their bedrooms locked into this album in the belief Starsailor were singing directly to each of them. Now the crowd listen retrospectively with twenty years of life experience throwing a different light on these lyrics yet with many shared experiences no doubt. Such shared angst in these lyrics as the crowd sing ‘stop twisting my words tonight, don’t leave me behind’. The two Jameses lean into each other as they duet lightly then with more fury before giving way to melancholy lyrics once more, ‘If you get high on life don’t leave me behind.’
Sliding chords melt into each other dampening the mood with a more gentile version of “Way to Fall”. The crowd joins in with a bitter ‘I’ve got something in my throat I need to be alone while I suffer’, a heartfelt reminder of life angst-ridden times; often angry at the new adult lives they were all embarking on with varying degrees of happiness and success in all that comes with these forays into adult life.
James’s black denim jacket is cast off as we get down to the business of Side Two. “Fever”, we are told ‘was the first thing we ever released. It came out on a four track EP,’ James starts as the crowd cheer. ‘This one’s for Catherine, a long-term fan,’ who stands in the front row, nodding down at her shoes, smiling at the recognition as the crowd applauds. Starsailor’s warm relationship with the audience is clear in moments like these. A higher energy now pulses across the room with lyrics shouted out over this stark melody line.
“She Just Wept” follows “Fever” which has struck gold for all inhabiting this space tonight. While this next song is slow and brooding, the audience carry the band along as they stay true to the order of the album. They sing ‘Daddy I got nothing left, my life is good my love’s a mess’ and this audience is energised by the melancholy of this song and sing along to every word once again.
As the song ends James takes a moment. ‘Nice one Sheffield! We haven’t played that one for years – it shows you know the album. Love you all!’
The crowd cheers. ‘We love you too!’ someone yells over applause. There’s a feeling that this performance has been a long time coming for band and audience alike.
“Talk Her Down” follows, a gritty rendition, carried by the bass and drums this time much to the crowd’s delight, joining in then shouting, ‘while you talk your baby down!’ each time the chorus comes round. The drummer lays into these sections more heavily and is more animated than before. James rasps out a slowing ‘then she put me back together – didn’t even know her name’ ending to loud cheers from many who have been waiting for this favourite to be performed.
The title track, “Love Is Here” is next: ‘We’re dedicating this to anyone here who met at a Stars gig and are still together’ James smiles.
‘Twentieth anniversary over here!’ a couple call out and laugh which starts a ripple of conversations as they remember where they first saw Starsailor along with various connections made along the way.
‘You can hold hands with me, and we’ll sing these stupid songs together’ they sing, and the easy melody gives the crowd a chance to sing these shared experiences, while ‘you can’t love what you’ve not so hold on to what you’ve got.’ resonates with those fans who may not have been so lucky first time round.
Next comes Good Souls. ‘This is for all the keyworkers in Yorkshire and beyond who’ve smoothed these troubled times’ James says in introduction. This bassy dance beat brings out a livelier side to this relatively static audience supporting the singer/songwriter in James as they start to move to this heavier version than the one on the album. Words ring out ‘if it wasn’t for the good souls that make life fairer, life would not matter.’ The past two years have taught us so much and we do now share a camaraderie that runs deeply through us all.
The rest of the band leaves James to perform an acoustic, stripped back version of the next song, “Coming Down”. While James leads, the crowd join in passionately with phrases such as ‘still alive’ and ‘must I always take a back seat?’ sung with raw emotion and atmosphere.
James introduces the band back to the stage along with Richard McNamara, singer songwriter, guitarist and co-lead vocalist for the English band Embrace who is supporting EVAH on this leg of the tour.
James tells us, ‘We like to mix it up a bit at this point. Sheffield this is your song. We’re venturing a few years into the future here.’ He proceeds with ‘Some of Us’ which the audience just lap up, swaying and singing along to ‘It’s all just the way that we cope with our lives.’
‘I bet you’ve seen some right bands here at the Leadmill over the years – Shed Seven, Doves, Paul Weller, Arctic Monkeys’ James chats as fans call out their favourite gigs at this famous Sheffield landmark.
“Crossfire” follows before “Tell Me Its Not Over” giving us a much heavier indie rock beat with thumping bassline.
‘Sheffield you’ve been wonderful,’ James concludes, ‘thank you for venturing out.’
“Four to the Floor” starts to huge cheers. This version is close to the original, a slower electronic version, while many were familiar with the faster dance version too and spoke about how that version would have been a good one to end to while purists maintained this version, as the original, was the right one to play. These dedicated fans know their Starsailor music, that’s for sure! The band exits the stage.
As was tradition back then, we call for an encore (why does this not happen so much now with new bands?) and the band trek back on.
They give us a new take on “Silence is Easy”. The familiar melody line from Four to the Floor underpins the main melody and adds an interesting layer to our final song.
1/ TIE UP MY HANDS
2/ POOR MISGUIDED FOOL
4/ WAY TO FALL
5/ WAY TO FALL
7/ SHE JUST WEPT
8/ TALK HER DOWN
9/ LOVE IS HERE
10 / GOOD SOULS
11/ COMING DOWN
12/ SUM OF US
14/ TELL ME ITS NOT OVER
15/ FOUR TO THE FLOOR
16/ SILENCE IS EASY