Starsailor: Festivals are easy

For James Walsh of Starsailor, playing in front of an appreciative audience is its own reward
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The Independent Culture

"Let's be honest here," giggles James Walsh: "saying that you like Starsailor is never going to get you laid. In fact, saying it in some places might even get you beaten up." The band's lack of overt allure doesn't seem to bother Walsh, the lead singer and songwriter, who, along with his bandmates, James Stelfox, Ben Byrne and Barry Westhead, will be playing at one of the biggest festivals of the summer, the V Festival.

"Let's be honest here," giggles James Walsh: "saying that you like Starsailor is never going to get you laid. In fact, saying it in some places might even get you beaten up." The band's lack of overt allure doesn't seem to bother Walsh, the lead singer and songwriter, who, along with his bandmates, James Stelfox, Ben Byrne and Barry Westhead, will be playing at one of the biggest festivals of the summer, the V Festival.

Walsh believes that performing live more than makes up for any criticism of a lack of cool or the band's traditional guitar-based sound. Indeed, pushed to choose between critical acclaim and populism, he plumpsfor the latter. "We'd prefer to be popular rather than be well loved by the critics. We're just going to keep doing our thing."

Although festivals are usually the place to indulge in some of the more extremes of rock'n'roll behaviour, Starsailor will be abstaining from any pre-gig excesses. "We have a rule that nobody drinks before going on stage. It's like driving: you just lose your skills." Walsh also talks about the responsibilities he feels towards an audience: "I get annoyed if I go to a show and the band are all pissed. People have paid good money and deserve a full effort. We always try and put on a show for the fans - after the gig is a different story though."

The band made their name off the back of the plaintive and heartfelt Love Is Here album, released in 2001, which contained a couple of hit singles showcasing the doe-eyed Walsh's aching vocals and the bands winning way with melancholic melodies. The second album, Silence Is Easy, quickly earned a level of notoriety when it was announced that Phil Spector, the reclusive genius who elevated production to an artform in the early Sixties, was to come out of a 21-year retirement to produce the record. There's a lovely story about how, at their first meeting, when Spector heard the title track of the album, he jumped from his chair and said "This should be the national anthem. I'm gonna take it to No 1". It went to No 2, giving the band their biggest hit to date.

Starsailor were, briefly, the chosen ones of British music. "I think we were the next big thing for about two weeks. And then The Strokes came along," Walsh says. They are now members of the decidedly uncool wing of British music. When asked about their perceived lack of cool, Walsh answers: "I associate cool with being detached, because you can look at things and be behaving in a quite clinical way. But if you look at someone like Chris Martin of Coldplay, when he's dancing away on stage, he's not worried about how his shirt is looking or if he's looking cool. He's just lost in the music, and people respond to that."

Come August at the festival, expect the hoards of Starailor fans to be similarly unconcerned about how cool they're looking, and to be responding gleefully to Starsailor's music.

V Festival 2004, Hylands Park, Chelmsford, and Weston Park, Staffs, 21 & 22 August (0870 333 6207/ 020-7734 8932; www.gigsandtours.com)

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