Starsailor. The Academy, Liverpool.
My beloved band, venue I’ve not been to in a City I have.
Starsailor just are my band. This was the 46th time I’d seen them live. The first time I saw them was V2002 and I’ve seen them play in 3 countries, a dozen Cities and in venues ranging in capacity from 300 to thousands strong at festivals. Their music got into my heart and my head in all those years ago and has never let go. It’s under my skin and understands and explains me in a way nothing else can. On record they are good, but live they are exceptional. They always give you their best live. Its magic, its alchemy, it just is the greatest experience to see them play live. I love them as much now, no more, than when I first started to see them play. One of the first times I saw them live was in Liverpool, at the Barfly, a teeny venue that was as hot and sweaty as gigs come. I’d also seen them in Liverpool headline a gig where Amy Winehouse was lower down the bill and I fell asleep during her set.
Due to the history I have with Starsailor and as my most beloved band I felt ending 40 gigs with them was appropriate. It also seemed right to end in Liverpool, a City steeped in musical history and that virtually sings from its pores.
The 40th gig. 40 of 40. 40 for being 40. I was emotional going into this gig. It was to be the end of the most amazing adventure. I was sharing it with my fellow musketeers, Nick & Mandie (who have seen Starailor slightly more than I have. Each) and our D’artanian, Lou.I have laughed more in the past few days with them than I have in months. Old friends, united in love of music, with decades long friendships, sharing hotel rooms and giggling like kids. It has been wonderful.Glorious. Three of us had been in Sheffield the night before, and we journeyed across the Pennines together and when we arrived in Liverpool, Lou was waiting to join us. The four of us got ready in the hotel, me in my special 40th gig dress, and enjoyed the camaraderie that can only come of being as close as family.
I can’t say I was impressed with the venue. A big space, with no original features (or, well, any features at all), 2 steep flights of steps just to get in and staff who did a very good job of making me feel less than welcome. My first impressions were of an intimidating space. I was also nervous, this was the first time I was there as an official photographer to the group and had permission to shoot from the crowd after my 3 songs in the press pit. I started to pace the pit as the tension rose within me.
After what seemed an eternity Up Down Go Machine came on. I had enjoyed them in Bristol, so was looking forward to hearing them again. They were joined by a keyboard player at this gig, which added to and rounded out the sound, giving them a fullness that I liked. I’d be very happy to see (and photograph) them again if they play a headline show near me. As I explained to them afterwards, I can only photograph well when I like the music.
Second support was Alex Francis, as it had been in Sheffield. Like Paves, they are a joy to photograph with lots of action and interplay between the band, and some charismatic individuals who are lit beautifully. I’ve not yet ploughed through the shots of them from either night (I had 2400 images to work through!) but it looks good from both nights.
The crowd had filled up by the time Starsailor came on, and Liverpool crowds are usually well up for a good time, and tonight was no exception. Although I can proudly say that the tracks from the new album went down best in Bristol (yes, go South West) and it has been brave of the lads to include so many from All This Life on this tour. It is their most complete album, and as die-hard fan I adored being able to hear so many of the new tracks played live. My only regret is ‘missing’ Listen To Your Heart while I’m photographing so that I have been unable to dance to it. Otherwise it has been pure pleasure. They showcase so many styles on All This Life, some tracks are very pop, others get their groove on and funk out, one even sounds a little 90’s new jack swing for a moment. The overarching themes of relationship breakdown, loss and coming to terms with a new life are both heartbreaking and life affirming. This is the album I needed them to have made 7 years ago when my marriage broke down. It is a poignant, moving album that also makes me sing along loudly and dance my arse off. Live its been that to the power of 10.
In the pit, the rumble of the bass thumped me right in the chest and I knew at that moment that it would be a special gig. Starsailor are the loudest band live, they always turn everything up to 11. Tie Up My Hands is a prime example, on record its a fairly unremarkable sounding song, but live it is a heavy and pleading and emotionally tense song. It remains a fan favourite live for that reason.
As I had permission to continue shooting from the crowd I spent a few songs wandering around the venue, finding a way to take different shots, using my zoom lens and feeling the creativity of the music through the camera. My relationship with photography started at Starsailor gigs, and they have been gracious enough to let me nurture that by photographing them over the years. It is a symbiotic relationship, my way of reacting and relating to the creativity I see and hear on stage. I cannot sing and until very recently couldn’t play either (and even now, I have a very basic grasp of the bass), but I can photograph. I remain grateful to any band who lets me take photographs and humbled when anyone likes the results.
I wound up back where I started, next to my friends at the end of the front row and from there I got some smashing pictures of James and Stel and I was intermittently putting the camera down and picking it up again as the lighting changed. Until we got to Sunday Best and I put the camera down. My desire to be a fan overrode my desire to be a photographer at that point. This track wasn’t on the set list at the start of the tour, but has been added as fans clamoured to hear it. Me included. Its one of the standout tracks on the album and very emotional. I let go and danced, sang and emoted my little heart out for the rest of the gig. I had to. Who knows when I’ll get the chance to see/feel/hear all this again? I took the moments while I could. It is those moments, these gigs, these emotions, that I live for. I’m a medical secretary, a single Mum, my health isn’t the best. My life is pretty ordinary and boring mostly. So when I can grab the opportunity to feel so vibrant and alive and shining, it is everything. For those moments my life is extraordinary and brilliant. And I get to share it with special people, ones who have been my friends and companions through so much. This gig I got to share it with the most special people, the band. Their music makes my heart soar. The relationship I’ve had with Starsailor’s music has been one of the most formative and special of my life. For all the amazing adventures, it has been the music and always the music, that has bound me to these four good souls.
I had been fighting emotions all night and finally let them go during the encore, which was again the brilliant pairing of FIA and Good Souls. Tears just fell and kept pouring down my face. I was lost, gone and all the emotions I’d been fighting to contain came out in one huge swell. Both are very special songs, different and contrasting in tone and mood but they ended the show so perfectly. They ended 40 gigs so perfectly. It was imense.
I did get to thank you the boys afterwards, and shared a very special moment with Kelly (Barry’s wife) that makes me cry every time I think about it.
Thank you Ben, Barry, Stel, James, Steve, Chris, Kelly, Kate, Nick, Mandie, Lou and everyone else involved with Starsailor. You have helped me to complete what has been the most positive experience of my life. 40 gigs was inspired partly by seeing you play live last year, and by your music helping to keep me alive. I wouldn’t be here without Good Souls like you.
These next words make me sad, proud and overwhelmed all at once;
40 down. 0 to go.