Starsailor mark 20 years of debut Love is Here with tour which comes to Portsmouth Guildhall | Interview

Starsailor were one of the breakout success stories of 2001.

Friday, 26th November 2021, 4:00 pm
Updated Friday, 26th November 2021, 4:01 pm
Starsailor in 2001, when debut album Love is Here was released. They play Portsmouth Guildhall on December 3, 2021 as part of the tour marking its 20th anniversary

Bolstered by a trio of top 20 singles, and blessed with frontman James Walsh’s distinctive voice, the indie band’s debut album Love is Here went platinum.

It’s not all been plain – ahem – sailing since then. There have been highs and lows, and there was also a five year hiatus for the boys from Warrington, Cheshire.

But they’ve been back since 2014, and now they are rereleasing their debut album and playing it in full on the accompanying tour, which comes to Portsmouth on its second night.

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They had a trial run for the tour when they played a show in their hometown on October 8 – the anniversary of the album’s release.

‘It was amazing,’ says James of the Warrington gig. ‘It was a good taster for what's to come, and also a massive relief that it went well, because we've already booked and started selling tickets for the tour, so if the Warrington gig hadn't translated well, then we'd have been in trouble!

‘Thankfully we were well rehearsed, excited for it, in a good place, and it was a really amazing night.

James Walsh, frontman of Starsailor and solo artist

‘It's the first time we've done it like this. Obviously on early tours we played most of the album, but that was just out of necessity of not having any other songs!’

While some songs have become staples of the set, like Alcoholic or Good Souls, others haven’t been played live for years, if ever. What’s it been like revisiting those songs when you know you’re playing the full album?

‘There's songs like She Just Wept that just fell by the wayside, it's such an intimate and emotional song, and we've already go so many of those,’ he laughs, ‘so it wasn't played in a lot of the shows.

‘But it's part of the album and people have affection for it.’

‘I've been pleasantly surprised by how that song has stood the test of time, and it is one of the strong moments on the record which people really enjoy when we play it now.

The song’s popularity has been given a boost by its recent appearance in the Netflix drama Generation 56k. James adds: ‘Seeing it in that setting always gives you confidence that it's a good song and it's got an emotional depth to it.

‘(Album closer) Coming Down is another one which isn't one of the better known songs, but people who love it, really love it and are happy that it's come back.’

Looking back on the band’s early days, James recalls that they weren't the overnight success they might have appeared to have been.

‘Once the ball started rolling then it accelerated from there, but there was a lot of work before that.

‘I met the rest of the band when I was 16, Barry (Westhead, keys) joined the band when I was 18, and then we got signed when I turned 20, so there was four years of being at college, playing around the pubs and cutting our teeth.

‘We didn't get signed and then have a few years honing our craft – we got signed and then the next thing we knew the album was out and everything happened incredibly fast.

‘We were on the cover of NME and on Top of The Pops fairly swiftly. It was a crazy time.’

He recalls one place in particular from those times.

‘We used to stay in this hotel called The Columbia Hotel and it was really cheap, so a lot of labels would put their young bands in there.

‘We’d go back to the hotel and there'd be all different bands hanging out there if they were down doing gigs or radio stuff, like Elbow, Doves, and Charlatans. It was a great time.

‘And the bar was really rough and ready – spit and sawdust – but it never shut, as long as there was people wanting a drink, they'd keep serving.’

The rereleased album comes with a bonus disc of recently ‘reimagined’ versions of songs from Love is Here, as well as cover versions recorded for B-sides and radio session tracks from the time.’

What was it like getting back in the studio to do the reworked tracks?

‘That was brilliant. We did them during that little break we had from lockdown late last year.

‘It was nice during that period to be able to get together and record these in our little Covid-safe bubble and have something ready to go to be part of this new package.

‘We wanted to make sure there was something new and unique to go along with the old album because it feels like short-changing fans, just rereleasing an album with a few tweaks.

‘Hopefully people enjoy it and feel that we've put the effort in.’

These days James also has a solo career – his most recent album Everything Will Be Ok came out in September, and fans may have seen him play in Southsea at The Gaiety back in June.

‘That's going really well, it feels a bit less pressured than the stuff I do with the band. The band obviously reached a certain level of success so there's an expectation to maintain that, whereas the solo stuff is more in its infancy, so it feels like there's more room to grow.’

So can we expect any new material from Starsailor?

‘We've already got enough material to make another album, it's just finding the right home for it, really.

‘Things seem to be moving in the right direction so hopefully that will happen sooner rather than later.’

Starsailor are at Portsmouth Guildhall on Friday, December 3. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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