Starsailor 3.12.2021 Portsmouth Guildhall
A miserable dark rainy evening but hey the weekend’s here and we are off to Portsmouth’s Guildhall to gig 40 of my gig year of two halves. I’m sporting a new ailment – gig goers neck crick 🙄.
(We are meeting up for this one with friends Dawn and Steve on the way stay at their place for the weekend in Chichester so this is handy gig stop off.)
Portsmouth Guildhall has a very grand exterior. It was built in 1890 but it was bombed heavily in WW2 and only the outer walls survived, with the interior being rebuilt and completed in 1959. Inside there is that 60s civic building feel which doesn’t match the grandeur of outside. Perfectly good for a gig though.
It’s just a couple of hundred metres from Portsmouth and Southsea train station and plenty of parking nearby – I’ve ended up in the Isambard Brunel car park where I’ve parked before – I don’t think he built this concrete multi-storey, just 150 metres from the Guildhall. Brunel was born here and the nearby Wetherspoons on the edge of the Guildhall square also bears his name.
After logging in to yet another car parking app (it’s Ringo here) and fumbling with cards and passwords, it’s up some steps and across the square to fumble with the NHS app, declare my jab status and get in… with a real paper ticket.
A pint in the bar first and we skip the support act Joe Hicks, sorry Joe. It’s a big bright and unremarkable bar with framed photos of visiting acts all down one side. We are sat near one of Jean-Jacques Burnel of The Stranglers on stage here in 2015 – we were there.
That 2015 Stranglers gig was my last visit here, supported by The Rezillos. The three other gigs I’ve been to here are Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye (2013), The Last Shadow Puppets (2008) and Muse (2001).
The capacity here is 2,500 with downstairs standing and the seated balcony. There is also a small bank of unreserved seating to the rear of the main standing area which is quite novel.
Upstairs, the seated balcony extends down each side. It’s not open tonight though. The standing crowd is around a third of capacity at most – lots of room on the fully carpeted floor. The room is wider than it is deep and view and sound are good.
Starsailor released their first album, the one this 20th anniversary tour is marking, Love is Here, in, you guessed it, 2001. I bought it on cassette but it’s gone, presumed unravelled, to be recently replaced with a CD version. This was the first of five studio albums, the others coming in 2003, 2005, 2009 and 2017.
The band are songwriter James Walsh, frontman on vocals and guitar; James Stelfox (bass); Barry Westhead (Keyboards) and Ben Byrne (Drums). That’s how they were in 2001 and that’s still how they are now.
I don’t remember seeing them back in the noughties. I’ve been at festivals they’ve played at but any clear memories have stretched and unravelled like that first album on cassette probably did.
In 2019 they popped up at the nearby Victorious Festival and I was down the front for that with my camera. That was enough to make me want to see them on tour again. Another opportunity cropped up during the heavier Covid restrictions and friends had booked us tickets to see a James Walsh solo gig in a café in Southsea – alas it was a last minute casualty of increased fear.
One noticeable thing this evening was that in the last two years James Walsh appears to have had a slick haircut, a good shave, lost a few pounds and looks ten years younger.
The crowd may be modest in size but they make up for that with noise to greet Starsailor onto the stage.
It’s the first album 20th anniversary tour and they take us through the Love is Here album, in the running order of the album. This means, as Walsh remarks, they get to one of the best songs of their set, indeed their entire catalogue, by song three: Alcoholic. You could even pick up a t-shirt at the merch stand with ‘Alcoholic’ emblazoned across the front. An odd choice of t-shirt but a great song.
Don’t you know you’ve got your Daddy’s eyes;
Daddy was an alcoholic;
But your mother kept it all inside;
Threw it all away.Alcoholic Starsailor
Good Souls is my other favourite from this excellent album, near the end.
The vocal is all James Walsh with no one else backing up at all – no voice mic for anyone else in the band. The sound is really good and Walsh’s voice really clear – quite a sorrowful voice and the featured album does have an air of depression about it, not that you’d think so as a happy Friday night crowd sang along, some dancing more ‘elaborately’ than others.
The band go off after playing the album and return with some more hsnd picked songs for another half hour or so. This includes the cover of the Small Faces song All or Nothing which they did for an interesting looking Warchild charity compilation of covers. (There’s also The Prodigy doing Ghost Town on this.)
Best of Me is introduced with a smile as being from ‘a lesser known album’, the 2017 release All This Life.
After they disappear again the crowd continues to roar their approval and they return once more with what’s their most successful single, Silence is Easy. (Starsailor official YouTube link to recording at this gig.) The set seemed to fly by but it was a good 90mins. I suppose we came straight in as it started and there was no hanging about and we skipped the support act.
Pleased I caught up with them on a tour after all this time.