‘Return to ULU’, exclusive Starsailor gigStarsailor at the University of London Union on Monday 11th August 2003
Photos and personal report by 'Boo.
Starsailor 'Returned to ULU' as established stars, on the dawn of the release of their second studio album, rather a different band than played the modestly sized venue on consecutive nights in March 2001, before they even recorded their first.
The only thing hotter than the recent record breaking heatwave, was the anticipation. It felt like it had been a very long time since fans had heard any new material and the world seemed to be holding its breath to see if Silence is Easy could match the huge success and acclaim of debut album Love is Here.
Starsailor's outing to ULU was a curtain raiser for their two forthcoming dates in support of the Rolling Stones at Twickenham, a mere matter of days later and their own full UK tour in September to promote the release of Silence is Easy on the 15th.
As the Soulsavers DJ set progressed, the room filled to bursting with hot and eager fans, the tangible, frenzied atmosphere building as 9pm came and passed.
Starsailor took the stage to a deafening roar of applause and cheering and launched into the thundering opening track of their forthcoming second album; Music Was Saved. The astute, with the ability to count, won't have failed to notice that more than four musicians took the stage, Starsailor were to be assisted tonight and on the forthcoming tour dates by Charlatans' guitarist Mark Collins, on loan for the duration, while Tim Burgess pursues solo adventures.
The additional guitarist provided a rounder, fuller sound and visually balanced the stage in a progression that was later acknowledged as a change they were all very happy with. Mark had expressed reservations earlier as to how prepared he felt with limited time to rehearse with the band, but it was a testimony to his skill and professionalism that he fitted seemlessly into the sound.
Although the stage area, as with all of the venue, was rather smaller than they might expect to be playing at this stage in their careers and for the usual size of their show, the lighting and visuals made it look huge, with stunning changes of colour and look for each song, against a backdrop of fabric panels with the band's logo shapes interspersed with channels of coloured lights, with stage lighting seemingly coming from all directions to fill the hall.
The set involved a mix of old favourites (Alcoholic, Lullaby, Poor Misguided Fool and Tie Up My Hands) and new material, with one song from Silence is Easy being given it's first ever live outing; Fidelity, the unknown start of which was met with hushed anticipation from the crowd, but they made up for it at the end as it received an obviously approving sea of skyward stretched, clapping hands.
All of the Love is Here tracks were loudly accompanied, vocally and with significant sections of the crowd bouncing up and down and James commented "if this is how it is received in London, it's going to be awesome when we get home, up north".
New tracks (Fidelity, Born Again, Telling Them, Some of Us, Four to the Floor and Silence Is Easy) were rapturously appreciated and James introduced Four to the Floor as "the only Starsailor track you can probably dance to" and encouraged the crowd to do just that and the obligingly bobbing heads could be clearly seen from the balcony.
In a stunning rendition of the powerful Tie Up My Hands, the extra guitar provided by Mark enhanced the track into an even bigger spine-tingling sound, despite James's customary confusion over some lyrics.
The show appeared to finish with an energetic and most enthusastically accepted Silence Is Easy, the first single to come from the album of the same name, with James acknowledging its production by the 'legendary' Phil Spector. Starsailor left the stage amidst a significant roar of approval for both old and new. But we knew, as one, that they weren't yet done.
Some quick guitar adjustments and they returned to the stage to deliver relative new track Some of Us and the Love is Here anthemic hit Good Souls. The finale track always goes down a storm, but tonight the five strong version, to a crowd that wanted it so much it ached, from a band with everything going for them, on a night when they all found the vibe as one, was probably as good as you'll ever see and hear it performed . . . and received.
I'll tell you how good it was . . . so good that I dropped the camera from my eye in a moment of personal indulgence, just because I wanted to savour and enjoy the moment, as a fan. I wanted to drink it all in and for it to last forever. It was stunning, every factor coming together as one when it mattered, a moment of perfection in Starsailor's career. I've never been more proud of 'my boys' than I was at that moment, their earlier work had developed and still thrilled and the reaction from the crowd to the new material bodes well for the imminent release of Silence Is Easy. I don't mind admitting that I was overcome with emotion and pride.
I've now attended several gigs and spoken to band and crew after the performance and there's usually some post-mortem, self-critical examination of what might have worked better, what needs attention and things they didn't like, even on one occasion "we stunk tonight" - when patently they didn't. But not tonight, every member of the band, management, crew and technicians felt that their 'Return to ULU' was about as good as it gets. Sound engineer Trevor commented; "nothing broke, nothing went wrong, it doesn't get any better than that and I really enjoyed it". Ben's assessment; "did we all have the vibe together tonight or what!?" and James rated the crowd of long-term and faithful fans' hunger for it, as a very significant factor in making it work so well and so enjoyable for the band.
The tiny Union theatre tonight witnessed something very special and has thrown down the gauntlet for the rest of the tour and I have no idea how they can possibly beat what I saw tonight. But I'm looking forward to finding out!
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