Starsailor – Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

Thursday 29th November, 2018

Somehow it has been 15 years since Silence Is Easy was released. I was there, buying my copy in HMV on the day of release and getting it signed, I still have the HMV wristband from the instore gig!  To mark the anniversary Starsailor played 3 gigs, of which I could only make this one, the last one, in London. There was no way I would have missed it. Or seeing old mates Lou, Mandie and Nick again.

Shepherd’s Bush Empire is a beautiful venue with a great history but I’ve never really enjoyed a gig there, the crowds have been pretty awful whenever I’ve been. Other than the last time I saw Starsailor there, in 2009. Now that was a memorable night.

There are altogether too many Starsailor stories to share, so many wonderful memories of music, friendship and laughter. Of loss, of love, of support, of feeling like a large, weird dysfunctional family, united in a love of music. 10 years ago, almost to the day, we lost one of our number at a criminally young age. Julia, you were and always are with us in spirit at every Starsailor gig. The love the music engendered endures.

Once we were finally at the venue (rush hour, broken down tubes, long bus journey), I left Tom up in the balcony and went down to photograph the support acts. There were to be 2, Tom Speight and Chris Helme. I liked Tom, he has a good voice and came down into the crowd to sing a number acoustic among the crowd, illuminated by phone lights. It was a sweet and touching thing to do, he seems like a nice chap, perhaps a bit mainstream for my tastes (take no offence Tom, I like Late Junction on Radio 3!) but is worth a listen. I really didn’t get to hear Chris’ set as after I’d taken my photos the officious security wouldn’t allow me to stay nearby so I was kicked out into a corridor backstage to await Starsailor. Oh the glamour!

Being an album anniversary show I knew the running order of course, and what the 3 tracks I would be photographing were. I’ve not heard Music Was Saved or Fidelity live in a long time, and possibly never Some Of Us. Being down in the photo pit during those was, as it always is, thrilling. I am concentrating on what I’m doing (plus trying not to fall over/get in the other photographers way) so some of the magic of the live performance is lost. It is amazing to stand at the feet of artists you love, nothing between you and them on the stage and I do take moments to savour while I am there.

There was no way I would get through the packed crowd, so went out the back route and in the front door, at which point security refused to let me take my camera back in. This I have never experienced before photographing anywhere. I was forced to make a choice between leaving my camera bag (also my handbag) with security or leaving the gig. I’ve no idea why SBE security team decided to take this approach, I have honestly not had a problem with any team at any venue like this in all the gigs I’ve gone too.

By the time all this was resolved (I left the camera bag at the stage door praying it would be ok) I’d missed a whole song. I did get back to Tom in the balcony and had a stunning view of the gig from there. James was in fine voice and on fine form and when he is it makes for a great show. Ben, Barry and Stel are always brilliant, they are the heart of this band and why I’ve loved them for so many years. The addition of the string section was fantastic. The last, and only time, I’d seen them play with strings was the first time I ever saw them at V2002. Given how much I have come to fall in love with orchestral music in the last couple of years I was overjoyed to hear the string section live and only wish there had been more of them! The resonance of a string instrument live is just something special every time you hear it.

There were songs played tonight I’d never heard live, or have heard only once, or haven’t heard live in a long time. As a super fan I can’t really express what that meant. The emotional honesty of this album, made when we were all in our 20’s, holds up. Shark Food, long used as their coming onstage music, has always been one of my favs and so to finally hear it in full was special. The tenderness of Telling Them, the hopefulness of beginnings was beautiful. Silence Is Easy (title track and Four To The Floor aside) is a gentler and quieter album than their others. It had a difficult conception (Phil Spector in full mad as a box of frogs mode started as it’s producer, the band then fired him and finished it themselves. That takes balls and I’ve always admired them for it) and wasn’t as commercially successful as Love Is Here had been, but as an album on the Starsailor journey it’s an important one. Well it always has been for me.

The place exploded during Four To The Floor, I could see almost the whole crowd from where I was and the joint was rocking I can tell you. It was like the old days of Starsailor gigs, a huge crowd all singing along and joining in. I could see and feel the energy being passed back and forth like a wave between stage and crowd. The album finishes with 2 tracks I have long loved. Born Again, which they rarely play live and does things to my emotions I can’t explain and Restless Heart which I have heard only once, at Brixton Academy in 2003 (and never played by James on piano, what a treat!) A more heartfelt, yearning pair of album closers I don’t think you will find. I was a very, very happy lady now. I’d even been singing along! I never do that as my voice is terrible, but when you have an 1800 strong choir to join in with its ok.

I had to laugh at the segway from Restless Heart into Tell Me It’s Not Over, the hope and longing of a young man giving way to the desperate and jaded older one. We were also treated to some of the other great songs they’ve made from all their albums. I’ve heard Poor Misguided Fool so many times before that I’m almost past it now, but something about it tonight simply hit home and Stel absolutely owned Tie Up My Hands (he always does). Now that’s a song they need to re-record. Live, now, it is so heavy.

There was only one way this gig could end, with Good Souls. It really does not matter how many time I’ve heard this, it remains an incredible song. The power of its simple message and melody moves me every time I hear it. Live more so. It was one of 2 songs that kept me alive while I battled sepsis. To be lying in the semi darkness, drips in both arms, floating somewhere between consciousness and not, I heard Good Souls and I knew I had to stay here. For the Good Souls. To the Good Souls who saved my life, to the friends I have known, loved and lost, to the band, thank you. This song, this music means more to me than I can ever express. So many emotions and memories are connected to this band, to this song in particular that of course there were tears. Of loss, of longing, of hope, of redemption, of survival.

To end on a happy note, I was reunited with my camera bag and all its contents and spent the rest of the evening with friends sharing stories and laughter.



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