Gig Review by Simon Saynor with Photography by Gunnar Mallon

Some time ago I saw four quiet, nervous lads support The Beautiful South at Sheffield Arena. Stage presence was at a minimum. What stood out was the craft in the song writing and the frankly astounding, almost angelic, voice of singer James Walsh. 16 years and five studio albums later Starsailor roll back into the Steel City 6 dates into the UK leg of the ‘All This Life’ tour. The nervousness is now replaced with a confident maturity of a band who know just how good they are and don’t feel the need to shout about it. They remind me of the kid who always gets picked last at football then turns out to be the next Lionel Messi.

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Like several headline acts they search around for deserving up and coming, in some cases unsigned, acts as support. This tour sees Alex Francis, Paradisia, Paves, Tom Speight and Up Down Go Machine sharing support duties. Tonight it’s Paves and Alex Francis.

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Paves hail from London and have been one of the most popular bands on the This Feeling circuit for some time partly for being genuinely nice guys, partly for being so supportive of other bands (go to any This Feeling gig in London and at least one Pave will be there) but mostly for being one of the most exciting new bands out there. A mix of blues, indie, psychedelia and good honest pop all played with passion and class. Frontman Luke Shield may well be the most charismatic singer I’ve ever witnessed. Tikz Whitaker effortlessly throws licks round Lukes vocals and guitar while the rhythm section of (Tom Triggs (drums) and Perry Read (bass) are a constant blur. New single ‘Baby’ got a record number of responses when it debuted on Radio X last week. It’s a hook filled blues/pop gem and worthy of anyone’s money. For set closer, ‘Take Me While I’m Here’ they are joined on stage by Starsailor’s Barry Westhead, his keys fleshing out what was already a powerful, emotive beast of a song. Paves are ones to watch. And then watch again.

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Alex Francis and his band are next up. New EP ‘A Stronger Love’ comes out on December 1st, produced by Gus Pirelli and mastered by Chris Kimsey. That’s quite an addition to any musician’s CV. There’s a kind of folk/rock meets Fleetwood Mac feel to his music, played with consummate professionalism and quite obviously a huge amount of pleasure. I always love to see a band enjoying what they do. My only criticism would be it’s all a bit too safe and, for me, can easily drift into background music. But that’s only this reviewer’s opinion. The massively responsive crowd lapped it up and my girlfriend much preferred Alex to Paves. We can’t all like the same thing etc. etc. It’s the beauty of music.

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Starsailor walk purposefully on stage, long gone the nervous shuffling of a band just starting out, and launch straight into ‘Listen To Your Heart’, the first single lifted from new album ‘All This Life’. Two minutes in and we already know we’re in for a treat. I had the pleasure of reviewing the album on release and as I mentioned then Starsailor may not be prolific but it does mean quality control is at a premium. They are faultless.

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Barry Westhead tinkles the opening chords to ‘Alcoholic’ and the crowd are off into the first of many singalongs, almost drowning out James Walsh’s vocals. Almost. It’s too powerful a voice to be overshadowed. When lists are published of greatest British male vocalists Walsh should always, ALWAYS, be up there. It’s an effortless, immaculate delivery. And such range!!! ‘Poor Misguided Fool’ follows, another singalong before new album title track ‘All This Life’. The new tracks get the same rapturous reception as the old favourites, in the case of ‘Sunday Best’, ‘Blood’ and ‘FIA’ more so. It’s testament to the quality of the album that when speaking to some of The Leadmill crowd we all had a different stand out track. We were all correct. As stunning as ‘All This Life’ and the previous four albums are it is live that Starsailor show their true worth. A band who always seem to be truly on the top of their game. Their longevity has led to four people so at ease with each other on that stage, so sure of where each member is taking any of the 19 songs on tonight’s set list. It’s a masterclass.

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Mid-set James plays an emotionally charged acoustic ‘American Girl’ for Tom Petty before debut single ‘Fever’ fills the packed Leadmill. Released in 2001 time hasn’t diminished it at all. The Sheffield crowd are all over it, so much so that after it’s finished an obviously impressed James insists we get to do the chorus again but just us this time. It’s deafening.

We get an all eras set list (2009’s ‘Tell Me It’s Not Over’ was a personal highlight) before ‘Four To The Floor’ and the triumphant ‘Silence Is Easy’ wrap things up. The latter performed live is simply one of the most joyous things that music has to offer.

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The pre encore interlude and I’m wondering if I have time for a toilet break. I don’t risk it. They might play ‘FIA’ next and I can’t miss that. They stroll back on stage to the loudest of ovations. James thanks the Sheffield crowd and goes into ‘FIA’. Correct decision made. In the conversation about stand out tracks this was my choice. It’s an achingly beautiful song. Walsh’s falsetto is perfect and whereas with ‘Silence Is Easy’ his voice powers the song through with ‘FIA’ his voice draws you in fills every fibre of your soul. As the song draws to its climactic close the plaintive cry of ‘nothing’s impossible when you say fuck it all’ is both joyous and heart breaking. It is a staggering song.

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‘Good Souls’ ends the night. ‘I need to be loved’ beg the band. They are. It’s crescendo is the ideal end to what has been a very special gig. My girlfriend pronounced it the greatest night of her adult life. I’m hoping she only means in a musical context. It was, as Starsailor always are, truly memorable though.

See the complete photoset here.

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