Monday 19 December 2016


James Walsh has been in a nostalgic mood when it comes to his introductions to "Fever" during the Out In The Fields Of Winter Tour.

In Leamington Spa on night one, he admitted - for the first time that I've heard - that the song was about an ex-girlfriend ("Most of them are!"), while London's intro mentioned the excitement when they heard Steve Lamacq play it on Radio 1 in early 2001.

On Sunday night in Nottingham, the band's fifth show in as many days, he dedicated it to anybody who attended the band's gig in the Robin Hood city at the Social (now the Bodega) in March 2001. "A great night," he recalled.
Maybe in 15 years’ time, Walsh will recall the band’s return to Rock City, which doubles up as a gig venue and student-friendly nightclub, with similar fondness.

Playing in Nottingham’s famed venue for the first time since 2005, the power of Walsh’s voice throughout was remarkable. It didn’t sound tired or thin at any time during the show – a remarkable feat given how he never holds back in going for the difficult notes, and that this latest gig was off the back of shows in London, Cardiff, Southampton and Norwich. “I can’t drink much afterwards,” he admits. “Plenty of honey, lemon and steam help a lot, too.
“I think it was a particularly good show tonight. When you come to a venue like Rock City, one that’s over 30 years old and has a bit of history to it, the atmosphere is always good. You know coming here that the acoustics are right for a gig, Nottingham’s famous for being a good place to play, and the crowd were in to it.”

The loud audience also led to arguably the best two moments of the night. First, in the gap between “Keep Us Together” and new song “Best Of You”, most of the venue burst into an impromptu singalong of the “woah oh woah!” part from the former’s chorus. Then, during “Four To The Floor”, as he went to “scope out the crowd” during the final choruses, his mic cable came out. No need to panic, though: having already shown their willingness to join in with the songs, the crowd took over brilliantly. So good were they that, once the technical problem was rectified, Walsh’s first instruction to the band was “more choruses!”.

Speaking afterwards, he said: “We had Doggen out of Spiritualized playing guitar with us for “Tell Me It’s Not Over”, “Silence Is Easy”, “Four To The Floor” and “Good Souls” tonight.

“Admittedly, I enjoy bearing the weight of playing all the guitar parts and us being a four piece, as when we’re clicking together, that’s the origin of the sound. But having the extra person on stage gives me freedom to get out with the audience and see who’s really into it. That’s when the mic plug came out – but everybody was already singing along, so I wanted to keep that going!”

Songs like “Four To The Floor” and “Fever” have been a mainstay of the band’s set for over 10 and 15 years now; remember, the Stones continue to play “(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction” five decades on from its release, which puts to bed any debate over whether or not they should keep their place.

Of course, with two new songs in the setlist, plus an album and tour likely for 2017, Starsailor are far from a nostalgia act. If anything, it’s also clear that many of the set’s older tracks mean more than ever all these years on.
“Her Iron Hand did not understand the plight of the common man,” in “Four To The Floor” may need a slight tweak to reference Theresa May’s expensive leather trousers, but the sentiment is the same.

In the year when fear, paranoia and division won out with Brexit and Trump, the key line from “Keep Us Together” – “it should be where you’re going, not where you’re coming from” – becomes more pertinent. Heck, even the song title is as good a retort to the division that many seek to sow.

Then there are Walsh’s personal favourites: “’Thank goodness for the good souls’ and ‘silence is easy’ are still the big two lines for me,” he says. “It’s a subconscious thing; I’m never too scientific about the songwriting process, but the lyrics that have the simplest metre that people can latch onto always work well. Sil-ence is ea-sy: you don’t need to hear it too many times for it to stick in your memory.”

“I can’t leave until I can leave with a little pride,” Walsh sings during new song “Blood”, but there’s little chance he departed from Rock City last night feeling anything but satisfaction. “I’m so pleased with how the new songs have been received,” he added. “That’s good to know as we prepare to head back into the studio straight after Christmas.”

And even when the band ended their set with one of those songs played at the Social gig nearly 16 years ago, that moment still felt as new as ever for Walsh.

“It’s amazing how many times we’ve played ‘Good Souls’ now – it’s well into the hundreds,” he said. “But it’s still a massive buzz going into that opening riff, fully aware that the crowd will be into it. It’s a great feeling.”

Nick Bull, by day a sports writer, has seen over 50 Starsailor concerts. @nickbull21


"Stel and I have to be tight to form the backbone of the songs," begins drummer Ben Byrne's explanation into how Starsailor create their live sound. "Jim then plays his rhythm guitar parts over the top of that.

"At the same time, Barry 'Magic', over to my right, is adding whatever he feels like on the top with his keyboards and organ."

The wizard he is referring to, of course, is Barry Westhead. Hard to see when the band have a second guitarist on stage (as will be the case next week when Embrace's Richard McNamara joins them in Sheffield, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Aberdeen), and not somebody demands a spotlight or two to be shone in his direction during any show, it's easy to overlook his contribution.

But watching him during Friday's show in Southampton's Engine Rooms, a venue situated somewhat surprisingly on an industrial site near to a John Lewis and Ikea, but one that was far more conventional inside, not to mention packed and really hot come 10pm, was a revelation.

No more was this the case on the night's big surprise, and arguably the highlight of the evening, during "Love Is Here", the second tour premiere since show one five days ago (out went “In The Crossfire”). Stretching across to play on both his Nord keyboard and Hammond organ throughout, his right foot tapping away to the beat, Westhead's playing was stunning and perfectly complimentary of what the rest of the band were doing. The song's outro, in particular, was flawless, the lively Southampton crowd loved hearing it, as I suspect every other audience will at future shows, should it stay in the set.

His straightforward, chord-led organ parts during “In My Blood” and “Fever” are easy to pick up both on the record and during live shows, but if he repeated his more subtle keyboard work from Friday night's gig on the piano situated in the middle of London's St Pancras station, he'd probably end up being filmed by a member of the public and would go viral.

“Honestly, when the band took a break in 2009 [to 2014], my playing went to s**t,” Westhead admitted. “I wasn't playing live, I was busy at home, so I didn't practice. Over time, you lose what you've learned.

“So I've worked really hard to get back to where I thought I was at, and then go beyond that. I put the time and effort in, and I think I'm a lot better now than I was six or seven years ago. “Now we're back together, and my kids are growing up, I want to do them proud. I'm not just playing for myself. I'd say that's why the band's sounding so good at this moment; I think every member is in a good place.”

The last part of Westhead's comments also applies to Southampton, too. Lead singer James Walsh referenced how sweat-inducingly hot it was inside the Engine Rooms when he praised the crowd for “making it so energetic” despite the temperatures, before leading into “Tell Me It's Not Over” with a claim that he was going to “attempt to jump up and down and go for it during this next song".
Yet, undeterred, the crowd stayed on it all night. Santa hats were spotted in the front row, some got caught up in the moment and the music, while others snapped away on their iPhones in an attempt to get as good a photo as possible to remember the night by.

Friday's audience certainly generated the loudest singalong to “Alcoholic” that I've heard on this tour, and their “WOAH!” during each choruses of “She Just Wept” and “Keep Us Together” sounded just as good. Regardless of whether the day of the week it was, and the proximity to Christmas helped in their willingness to participate, they've raised the bar. Norwich and Nottingham, over to you.

Musically, you'd be hard-pressed to argue a claim for when the band were playing better night upon night during their entire career. It's too tough a call to split their performances in London and Southampton, but neither crowd were shortchanged. Sporting a trimmed haircut from earlier in the day, James once again led from the front, covering all parts of the stage during his singalongs and solos, but the other three members were also on form.

Drummer Ben Byrne and Barry, perhaps helped by sitting so close to each other towards the back of the stage, had a blast, and laughed away with each other after certain songs. “He missed a few beats that's why,” insisted Westhead. “And make sure you put that in the blog!”

Musicians in being human shock. But that's what it's all about, and why nearly 1,000 people left the Engine Rooms on Friday evening after a 17-song powerhouse set, after 90 minutes of joy, anger, desperation and camaraderie.

You get all these emotions just from watching Barry. He adds to the beauty of “Boy In Waiting”, the anguish of “Tell Me It's Not Over” and the drama of “Tie Up My Hands”. Watching him throughout the latter, a song crowds up and down the UK seemingly love more each year, at times he played with both his eyes closed, seemingly lost in the music, but not missing a beat. That's the Barry Magic right there.

Nick Bull, by day a sports writer, has seen over 50 Starsailor concerts. @nickbull21

Thursday 15 December 2016


When you've ticked off performances at all of London's iconic gig venues, ranging from the Royal Albert Hall to the Brixton Academy (multiple times, too), Hammersmith Odeon to the much-missed Astoria, playing at a new venue in the city must be a bit daunting.

Scene of the latest stop on this Out In The Fields Of Winter Tour, the indigo at The 02 is very much the famed arena’s more welcoming and charming sibling; possibly the Poppy Delevingne to the Cara, if you will. It’s neither awkwardly intimate nor hideously big, but how would it fare for show three? “I normally prefer the small, sweaty clubs,” admitted bassist Stel. “This isn't that. But it's a good place for a gig, the sound is always good in new venues, so that's immediately one less worry, especially as playing in London is always a little bit weird. It's a pressure show, as it's always the one the industry people come to, but tonight we just went out and got on with playing. I loved it.” After an excellent opening night in Royal Leamington Spa on Sunday, and an equally as triumphant first Brighton show in over a decade 24 hours later, Wednesday’s London outing clearly showed the band have more than hit their stride.

Of course, as the dates pass by and the four band members reignite that chemistry that has prompted rave reviews of their live shows over the years, that’s to be expected. But some groups struggle to get this well-honed after hundreds of shows together. Segues between songs were sharper, endings that little bit tighter, and the introduction of “In My Blood” at song two in the set was a welcome addition.

Stel, whose Saturday job playing with Spiritualized has kept him on the road for most of the past couple of years, was clearly in the groove throughout. Subtle but sweet freestyled bass riffs during the likes of “Alcoholic”, “Fever” and “Four To The Floor” highlighted how underrated a musician he is. “I can't say it's the best I've ever played – if I say that, that puts pressure on me for the next shows,” he joked.

Alongside him on the stage, Ben Byrne on drums and keyboard player Barry Westhead were their fine, dependable selves. That may not seem like a huge compliment, but trust me, it is. Neither are flashy, nor do they go over the top, but they both form a huge part of the band's room-filling sound. Has anyone ever heard them mess up on stage? Thought not. Standing directly in front of the speakers on Wednesday night, which prompted my ears to still ring the following morning, Barry's ad-libbed synth parts and Ben's ferocious drumming during “Way To Fall” helped create the best performance I've ever heard of that song.

Upfront, singer and guitarist James Walsh was a man on a mission. Not content with adding extracts of East 17's “Stay Another Day” and Paul McCartney's “Wonderful Christmastime” to proceedings, he was dancing around the stage like Springsteen during “Tell Me It's Not Over”, and ended up on Barry's keyboard riser for the final couple of bars. Time and time again he moved around the stage, microphone in hand, encouraging the crowd to join in with him, while his delivery of the “wipe the cobwebs away” line in “Good Souls” to end the show was sung with goosebump-creating intensity.

Stel added: “I like having a second guitarist on stage with us, as we've had in previous tours, as it really adds to the sound and allows Jim to do his frontman thing without any worries. Not that this stopped him tonight! He was really on it.”

Then there’s the London audience. At times, the crowds in the capital can be tough to please, perhaps a product of having so much entertainment on their doorsteps every night of the week. But, just as they were at Shepherd’s Bush Empire on the final night of the 2015 UK Tour (another legendary venue the band have played at), those inside the indigo were infectious.

Their level of enthusiasm was more Friday night in Liverpool as opposed to a weekday in London. One girl was repeatedly up dancing on her partner's shoulders, much to the annoyance of venue security, and once again the audience respectfully took in the two new songs in the set, “Blood” and “Best Of You”, which continue to evolve the more they're played.

“The crowd were rowdy tonight,” said Stel. “The noisier they are, the better for us.” Worry, what worry? It turns out that playing the indigo was an inspired choice.

Nick Bull, by day a sports writer, has seen over 50 Starsailor concerts.


Monday 12 December 2016



Opening night. It's when things get serious for a band.
No longer are they practising in small rooms with just their road crew for company. Time has run out for song endings to be rehearsed repeatedly in the search for perfection. The paying audience won't accept any group coming on stage under-prepared; they want to see the best show they've ever been to, period.

Yet, even after 15 or so years of playing together, and shows ranging from festival headline slots to the Letterman TV show in America, first night nerves aren't far away in the Starsailor dressing room.
“I'd be lying if I said I didn't get them,” says drummer Ben Byrne. “Only a little, mind, but I don't think you'd be human if you didn't.
“Luckily, once you play a couple of shows, you get 'gig tight' with the others and from there you're really on it.”
But there was plenty more at stake inside Leamington Spa's Assembly Rooms, a venue both pleasing on the eye and full of history, come 9pm on Sunday.

Yes, Starsailor played the crowd-pleasing hits ("Alcoholic", "Silence Is Easy", "Tell Me It's Not Over" and, of course, "Good Souls", to name just a few), but also featured in the 16-song set were the first-ever performances two new tracks. It is the season of goodwill, after all.
“Blood”, with its slow build-up, falsetto chorus and melodic guitar solo to end, wouldn't have been out of place on the Silence Is Easy album.

“Never looked so good and you didn't break a sweat, with a cruel ambition that caught me dead,” sings James Walsh in the opening verse, although by that point in the show his forehead was dripping, owing to the ever-lively front-man work he'd undertaken.

Then, played three songs before the end of the main set, “Best Of You” features a fine drum and bass backbone and several lines that will be shouted out by concert crowds in years to come. Word is, the other tracks lined up for the band's next album are even better. Sounds promising, right?
Regardless, this is one of the biggest reasons why Starsailor are such a joy to watch. Too many groups these days refuse to debut new material on the road, fearing the bootleggers or a mass exodus to the bar (possibly even both), but this band have balls and form in this area, too.

"In My Blood", with that instantly memorable guitar and bass riff, was a stand out during their 2004 festival shows, over a year before it appeared on the band's third album. "Tell Me It's Not Over" was perfected on the road in South America, while the 2015 American Tour reiterated that the band's chemistry and sound, not to mention James Walsh's knack of writing a killer line or two, was as good as ever when new song "Give Up The Ghost" got an airing at every show.

“I've been looking forward to playing the new songs, and we plan to throw a couple into the set each night,” added Byrne. “It's good to get them out there, as we all want to see how the fans respond.
“Somebody will probably have taken a video of us playing them on their phone and they'll be on YouTube in the morning, but it's all good exposure! Playing new songs live is the best way to fine-tune them ahead of recording them for a new album.”

Headlining their first UK Tour since 2015's triumphant Greatest Hits shows, fans in the likes of London, Sheffield, Nottingham and Edinburgh are in for a real treat over the next two weeks, if night one is anything to go by.

The tempos were quick, the music was flawless, the set-list pacing was spot on and lead singer James's voice whirled around the venue throughout. A minor problem when his guitar went quiet during “Poor Misguided Fool” was quickly fixed, and the big crowd inside the venue went home happy.
Walsh's on-stage banter continues to get even sharper, too. As he tuned his guitar between “Alcoholic” and “Fidelity”, barely 20 minutes into the show, he remembered he was in front of a crowd.

“I forgot about all these bits in between songs where I've got to talk,” he started. “It's been a while since we've been on the road. But it's great to get to get such a good audience for the first gig, because everybody's nervous, you don't know how it's going to go.”
Then, as the predictable cheers went up from the audience, he quickly added: “This is our last song, good night!”. Cue laughter all round, and a fist bump from bassist Stel.

A reminder that, if this is night one, those fans going to shows over the next two weeks are in for a real treat.

Nick Bull, by day a sports writer, has seen over 50 Starsailor concerts.