Yesterday, in the post about Fred Neil’s “Other Side Of This Life“, I wrote about how I’ve recently bought tickets to events and not turned up because I couldn’t face the travel. As I was driving up to North London this morning, to see my 103 year old aunt, I was thinking about how I’m looking forward to seeing Martin and Kevin on 21st June for beers and a cricket match in London. As I was driving home this evening, I heard that there’s likely to be a national rail strike on June 21st which will scupper all our plans. Maybe the Prime Minister will intervene and offer the railway workers the pay, conditions and contracts that they deserve. On the other hand, after 41% of his own party tried to vote him out of office yesterday, he probably couldn’t care less. Oh well. More cancelled plans. It’s getting to be a way of life.
On 16th June 2001, I wasn’t worried about travelling to North London. Roo and I drove to Finsbury Park to a “Fleadh”. I always think that to pronounce fleadh correctly, I have to imagine a posh person baking a cake. “One cup of sugar, two large eggs, half a cup of milk, a teaspoon of baking powder and a cup of fleadh“.
At this fleadh, the lineup was unmissable. Neil Young, The Waterboys, Gipsy Kings, Afro Celt Sound System, Richard Hawley, Billy Bragg, Evan Dando, Teenage Fanclub, Victoria Williams & Mark Olson, Clem Snide and John Martyn. The traffic was bad so we missed Clem Snide but we arrived in time to see Starsailor. The programme states that “Starsailor are this year’s hip new find. They are a mellow guitar quartet from Chorley, named after an album by one of their musical heroes, Tim Buckley. The band is centred around the extraordinary songwriting talent of 20 year old James Walsh.”
What the programme doesn’t mention is that James Walsh’s voice is also extraordinary and not a million miles from Tim Buckley or Jeff Buckley.
James Stelfox, the bass player with Starsailor, was working in accounts for BNFL (British Nuclear Fuels Ltd) and drummer Ben Byrne managed an off licence when they got together to form a band called Waterface. When their regular singer fell ill, they recruited James Walsh from a school choir. Within a few weeks a friend called Barry Westhead who had been teaching judo and playing organ for a church, completed the band on keyboards.
In 2000, they played a gig that was reviewed by the New Musical Express. “One live encounter was enough to convince many sceptics that here was a band who were genuinely special, blessed with a singer whose voice thrummed like an emotional telegraph wire, that swerved the pitfalls of indie melancholia and were clearly in love with rock ‘n’ roll and all its possibilities.” They were booked to play at Glastonbury and subsequently signed by EMI. James Stelfox said “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”, their debut album, sold 150 000 copies in its first week of release in October 2001 and eventually sold more than 1 million copies. Four singles were released, “Fever”, “Good Souls”, “Alcoholic” and “Lullaby”, all of which reached the UK Top 40 with “Alcoholic” peaking at Number 10.
The lyrics to “Fever” include the lines “Man, I must have been blind to carry a torch for most of my life. These days I’m hanging around. You’re out of my heart and out of my town”. One of the standout tracks of Tim Buckley’s complex and astonishing musical career is the song “I Must Have Been Blind” from “Blue Afternoon“.
James Stelfox has toured with Spiritualized and when he was playing in America in 2018, a guy approached him and said “‘Good Souls’ helped save my life. It helped me through” James Stelfox reflected on this by saying “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.” The lyrics include: “I turn to you and I say ‘Thank goodness for the good souls that make life better’. I turn to you and I say ‘If it wasn’t for the good souls, life would not matter'”
James Walsh tweeted in 2020 “‘Alcoholic’ always makes me think of Barry. We’d been kicking around with various guitarists for a while & it wasn’t quite working & Ben invited him down to rehearsal. Then he did that & the band as we know it was born.”
“Lullaby” was written when James Walsh saw a headline in UNCUT magazine, “The Quite American”. The opening lines are “Get back on your feet again. So insincere. Quiet American.
I held you so dear.“
Starsailor went on to release five albums. Their second album, “Silence Is Easy” was the last album produced by Phil Spector.