Live at The Refectory on Thursday, 3rd November 2005
The Refec is bloody weird tonight. Honest. It's a right merry concoction of young Romeos snuggling up to wistful Juliettes, posh folk draped in gold drinking white wine spritzers, farmers and tonnes of beards. So what is it about Starsailor that tickles these random people's fancy?
Before that question is answered though a certain Mr Ford steps into the limelight, something which judging by his website he is getting pretty used to by now. Ford's debut album "I sincerely apologise for all the trouble I've caused" has been heralded and magnified by all and sundry from Q to the Sunday times. "Right up there alongside Dylan and Neil young" drones one such accolade... yeah yeah yeah.
On stage he launches into his 30 minute set with all the gusto and intensity you would expect from someone out to prove those tired comparisons right. His songs are angry and romantic, the said snuggled sweethearts swoon and sway to songs about life, love, death and politicians. Ford's voice is stiff and unforgiving; opener "I don't care what you call me" takes a bittersweet poke at lost loves and friendships. The gritty back bed of ugly basslines and deranged harmonica solos (Ah, that's where the Dylan comparison comes from!) nestle quiet tidily aside Ford's own acid vocals and that of b.v. Frances. The girl-next-door-with-an-exquisite-set-of-pipes who shyly shares some of the limelight with Ford.
The rest of the set bleeds the same colour. Wannabee anthemic favourite "Cheer up (you miserable fuck)" tickles the crowds' funny bone, but this is the first time most people have seen him God-damnit. What do you expect them to do, sing along? Erm well yes, frankly I think he does. And this is what I found strange about Mr Ford last night. On stage he seems to emanate an arrogance which little reflects his current status. He doesn't introduce himself; he expects a sing-along and most of all he just seems to try too hard to be uber-cool. He sits on a old wooden box while singing (Jesus man, I am sure the Refec could have found a chair for you), he is suitably outfitted in Top Man's current autumn range and he even treats us to a "70's style" protest song where the rest of the band retreat to the back of the stage to graffiti slogans onto a rather well placed plaster board, Eh? - It all smells a bit false and a bit pre-ordained. Ford isn't a dragged through the grit mercurial folk god or a hard-line peace protester as his mentors were. He is a guy who probably shops at Ikea and gets his stage set ideas from the latest issue of "Good Homes".
These wild aspersions aside the man clearly has a lot of talent and his music will definitely have struck a chord with a very appreciative audience. I know what they feel like, support bands can sometimes waste your time and make you weep. Ford engages and intrigues from his first drawl. But is it is all too clean and rosy? When you line up politician nailing rants alongside clean-cut melancholy, no matter no darn good, it just doesn't hold much clout.
Awwww. The lovers are now practically one. The farmer has his eighth pint, the beards are plotting to take over the world and the posh folk are creeping dangerously close to a position where they may get lightly jostled. Suppose it's time we find out what this fuss is about, eh.
James Walsh steps covertly up to the mic. The band erupts into "Way back home" and the divergent Leeds crowd ensemble in affectionate cheer to what you just know is going to be a magnificent gig; well I suspect everyone else already knew, didn't they.
Walsh's voice splits your spine in two, impatient and sour. It is not often I feel that tingle when someone sings, but Walsh's voice stands the hair on my neck upright. The solid, cavernous bassline implants bombs in my stomach and I get carried into the land of the Starsailor fan, darn it where is my woman when I need to clasp her to my bosom.
The set-list sparkles with new and old alike. A couple of good singalongs to old faves that even your lowly writer knew, "Poor misguided fool" causing posh folks feet to jig a little and "Alcoholic" been all to close to the bone for the farmers as they swig their by now tenth pint into the air as if to salute this disease and stick a bit dirty V sign up to it.
And plenty of new fodder too from shiny LP "On the outside". Much more dirtier and rockier than its predecessors and ultimately more handsome for it. On the glorious "In the crossfire" The bands dynamic timing and Walsh's commanding vocals nearly brought me to my knees. Am I waxing lyrical here? Probably. Do I care? Hell no. For this was simply a great band, conquering an expectant, loyal following.
All to easy to swipe at, these kids, ya know. As they maybe aren't rock enough for the in crowd, and maybe not cutting edge enough for the all-knowing hipsters. But sod the lot of you, tonight they bloody kicked ass. I should spend more time with the posh folk and the farmers round these parts, they sure know how to throw a party.