Starsailor on 20 years since debut album, Love is Here

This feature originally appeared on the Warrington Guardian. Read the original piece here.

SINGER James Walsh described it as being ‘catapulted into a world of madness’ when Starsailor’s debut album, Love is Here, came out.

A year before the record’s release, the four-piece could easily have been written off as a ‘college band’.

But everything changed after October 8, 2001, when they reached number two in the charts, sold 150,000 copies in the first week and had interest in their music all around the globe.

Starsailor will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the album with a gig at Parr Hall.

They be playing Love is Here from start to finish exactly two decades since its release.

“To be marking the anniversary with a gig in our hometown 20 years on to the day feels very special,” said bassist James ‘Stel’ Stelfox.

Considering the concert sold out in just half an hour, fans are expecting something special too.

The platinum record featured the singles Fever, Good Souls, Alcoholic and Lullaby.

Stel, who also performs live with space rockers Spiritualized, added: “It’s going to be a great night and it’s going to be emotional for a few people as well because it’s one of those records that has stuck with people.

“It’s crazy really to think that two decades on Love is Here still resonates with music lovers.

“You get bands in fads and they’ve gone away in five years. We still get people coming up to us to say what our songs mean to them.

“I was touring with Spiritualized in America in 2018 and this guy came up to me and said: ‘Good Souls helped save my life. It helped me through’.

“It’s mad to think about that because it’s just a song we wrote in a rehearsal room and 18 years later he’s talking about how it touched him like that. That blew my head off a bit.”

Stel and best mate Ben Byrne grew up in Warrington and met James Walsh at Wigan and Leigh Music College.

They started the band – under various different names – in 1996.

Stel, a former Cardinal Newman student, said: “James had just come to the college and Ben and I were a few years older than him.

“He had a band but they weren’t great so I convinced him to come with us. He got rid of his band and we formed what would become Starsailor.”

Keyboardist Barry Westhead was the final piece of the jigsaw after Pearl Jam fans Stel and Ben originally tried to give the band more of a guitar-led sound.

Drummer Ben, who met Stel at St Oswald’s Primary School, said: “We had a lot of guitar players coming and going and when we got Barry in it completely changed the sound of the band.”

Stel added: “It really mixed things up. Having the keys gave the songs shape.”

In the 20 years since Love is Here came out, Starsailor’s line-up has never changed.

Stockton Heath resident Ben said: “It’s quite incredible that we’re one of those bands that have managed to stick together. It’s always been the four of us. Not many bands do that. They split up or there’s line-up changes.”

Stel joked: “Putting up with Ben, it feels like 50 years. You’ve got to be friends from the start I think.

“We had five years before we got signed playing really rubbish venues and getting in the back of the van going up and down the country when we were young.

“I think that really bonded us as a unit – we were like a gang really. We looked after each other and still do.

“I knew we had something special as well as something slightly different to the other bands in this area.

“A big part of it was the uniqueness of James’s voice. He is an unbelievable singer.

“But another factor was how tight we were as a group. James would come and live at my house with my mum and dad.

“He lived in Chorley but we had a rehearsal space in Warrington, We’d be rehearsing five times a week sometimes so James would just stay.”

At the time, Stel was working in accounts for BNFL (British Nuclear Fuels Ltd) and Ben managed an off licence.

Stel, who lives in Padgate, added: “We kind of knew when Barry came in that things were going to happen.

“We were working jobs as well but I knew I wouldn’t be doing that forever.

“We went on this roll of writing Fever and Lullaby. We already had Good Souls and then Tie Up My Hands came along. We just clicked.

“When you’re in a bus for two months you’ve got to be friends.

“You still have rows because every family has a row but the strength of that friendship helps you when you are on the road for sure. You’ve got to gee each other up.”

So with all the ingredients to stick it out in the music scene, success was not a complete surprise to the four-piece but the scale of it was something else.

In April 2000, an NME review of their first review at Heavenly Social led to a bidding war by record labels.

Stel said: “That changed everything for us. We must have been down to London 10 times in that period to meet different record industry people and the money kept going up and up and up.

“We chose EMI because of the Beatles connection and the amazing back catalogue they have. That was our home for something like 16 years.”

Love is Here was then recorded at Rockfield Studios – where Queen made Bohemian Rhapsody – in just six weeks.

Stel, in his early 20s at the time, added: “I think it sold 150,000 copies in the first week. We were expecting it to do quite well as there was a big buzz around us at that time.

“But artists like Liam Gallagher don’t sell albums that fast now. That’s how much it’s changed.

“It went on to sell more than a million copies. I’d never been out of Warrington really so the strangest thing for me was that this album connected with people everywhere.

“We went to Japan and the gigs were completely sold out. There were people queuing around the block and people were trying to talk to us and touch us.

“For us from Warrington to be in Tokyo or Osaka and for people to be saying our name to us was mad.

“That first 18 months was just the greatest time. We were young and it was like having the best stag do in different countries.”

Life has obviously changed over two decades. Stel is now dad to Ethan, 16, Ella, 13, and Josh, 10, while Ben has an eight-year-old son, Connor.

But Stel said that his oldest Ethan is a bit nonplussed by rockstar tales from on the road – even the day he met Paul McCartney.

But Ethan thought his dad was cool if only for a ‘brief moment’ when he discovered that Starsailor’s Way To Fall is on the end credits to Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.

Stel said: “My son Ethan is not bothered if I talk about the band but he’s a gamer so he once said: ‘My mates say you’re the last track on Metal Gear Solid 3’.

“So for that brief moment I think he thought I was pretty cool. That soon went out the window when I shouted him down for his tea.”

Starsailor at the Parr Hall, Warrington on Friday 8th October has sold out.

Syndication kind permission from Warrington Guardian

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