Sheffield Octagon Theatre on the Autumn 2005 tour
Photos and report by Boo
Saturday 5th November 2005
The pattern felt familiar. Starsailor had released an album in the autumn and hit the road to play it to people in the following weeks - a habit they'd formed over all three albums, albeit probably unconsciously. The UK tour would extend into mainland Europe and end in Ireland just before Christmas, just in time for James to pop home to Belfast in time to get the prezzies under the tree.
On the Outside was in the shops and the band were hungry to play it to fans and feel the instancy of a live reaction to their hard Californian toil in the spring. Would it be appreciated, would fans still shout out for old favourites? Yes on both counts. A testimony to the fact that the new material sat perfectly comfortably alongside earlier items in the catalogue. An endorsement also that their live sound was uncompromised and that their creative decision to try and capture that live energy in the studio was justified.
On the Outside nicely bridges the gap between the live and often beefed up versions of earlier album tracks and yet is something you can stick in your CD player and feel the gig passion in the privacy of your own home.
Starsailor were supported on the northern leg of the tour by Pioneers and David Ford and both acts, although very different from each other and Starsailor, were unprecedentedly well received as support bands, who often don't get a fair listening to while people jostle for their last beer before the main act, when only the die hards at the barrier, unwilling to give up their prime pitch, are there for the duration.
But the enthusiastic reception to both bands suggested even those at the bar had turned round and stopped nattering.
So the gauntlet was down, two great supporting performances had set the standard and Starsailor were happy to meet the challenge, their sound further augmented on the tour by guest guitarist Richard Warren (Echoboy) who plays guitar and additional vocals. But he wasn't the only additional vocalist - the eagle eyed present, probably those at the front who hadn't spent as long at the bar, would have noticed additional microphones in place - two to be precise - both Stel and Ben were 'mic'd up' for a vocal contribution.
Having heard informal and impromptu beer-fuelled vocal performances on previous occasions, I wasn't altogether sure that was a wise decision. I reached for my emergency earplugs and put them in a pocket ready, bearing in mind I was already closer than everyone else and all the rest of the staff in the pit already had them in their ears, which didn't bode well, had they heard the sound check perhaps?
The lowering of lights and a rhythmic backing track heralded the band's arrival and they came out all guns blazing with two new songs from the album; Way Back Home and progressed into Counterfeit Life. Okay, that got their attention.
The rest of the set was delivered with enormous energy and passion, a good mix of long-term crowd pleasers and what, for many, would be their first live experiences of new songs.
The set was sprinkled with tracks from all three albums; Alcoholic, Poor Misguided Fool and Fever from Love Is Here - and can you imagine the mess that would have been left in Sheffield had they tried to complete the set without Good Souls! Fidelity, Silence Is Easy and Four to the Floor were the selection from Silence Is Easy and a liberal helping of new songs; In My Blood, In The Crossfire, Keep Us Together, This Time and Faith Hope Love from On the Outside.
Faith Hope Love is where we see the additional vocalists employed - I used that term very deliberately, I think 'singing' might be pushing the legal definition of the word a little. It was interesting to see the different approaches by Ben and Stel - the latter sheepishly approaching the microphone, wearing a nervous smile, to deliver his chorus lines as though he hoped no one would notice - but we sure as hell did!
Ben, on the other hand, no doubt his confidence bolstered by thinking we couldn't see him behind the cymbals, showed less inhibitions and belted out his lines with little shame.
I'm also troubled that only one member of the band now doesn't have a microphone, despite his lips clearly being seen moving as he plays - he so wants to join in - he must feel so left out - so a microphone for Mr Westhead next time please!
There are a number of rumours and urban myths circulating, suggesting that members of the crew were encouraged to trip over the leads heading to the mixing desk, but I couldn't possibly comment . . .
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Support was provided by Pioneers and David Ford:
A more extensive gallery of photos of each of the support bands are in my personal live music photography portfolio