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It’s been an incredible few years since Starsailor reformed in 2014 after a break from the band.
In the early noughties, Starsailor scored ten Top 40 hit singles in the UK, and had four successful studio albums, with their first two albums reaching No. 2 in the UK charts.
The band – made up of James Walsh (vocals/guitar), Ben Byrne (drums), James Stelfox (bass) and Barry Westhead (keyboards) – had played gigs across the world, touring with the likes of The Rolling Stones and U2.
Since their return to the band after a five year hiatus, Starsailor’s popularity has not waned. The release of their compilation album Good Souls: The Greatest Hits, and their critically-acclaimed fifth studio album All This Life (which reached No.23 in the UK charts) has led to the band playing again at venues across the world such as South Korea, Mexico, Chile and Argentina.
They have also toured the UK, including marking the 15th anniversary of Silence is Easy with some special shows and have also once again enjoyed playing their huge hits such as Alcoholic, Four to the Floor and Poor Misguided Fool, to festival crowds across the country.
Starsailor are now set to start writing new material for another album once this year’s festival season draws to a close.
We spoke to drummer Ben Byrne ahead of the band’s appearance at the Cool Britannia Festival at Knebworth on September 1:
Are you looking forward to playing the Cool Britannia Festival at Knebworth?
Yes, I really am, I’ve never played Knebworth in my life. Some great bands have played there; Led Zeppelin have played there, Oasis….It’s a bit of a throwback to some of the bands I used to love when I was younger as well. I’ve met the Coral a couple of times over the years, I was a big fan of their first couple of albums, and we’ve played with the Fun Lovin’ Criminals before. We’re also good friends with Embrace – we did a big tour with them in America, and Rick (Richard McNamara) produced our last record.We’ve got a couple of big shows coming up with Embrace next year in March, including one at the VictoriaWarehouse in Manchester, I’ve never played that venue, I’m looking forward to that. Then we’re doing a big show at the First Direct Arena in Leeds which should be good.
Since you reformed, you’ve been busy on the road, touring your latest album All This Life , and marking the 15th anniversary of Silence is Easy. Has it been fun?
We had a great year last year. We went everywhere, we went back over to South America which was just incredible.We did a mini tour of Chile, Argentina and Mexico. We’d never played Mexico before, it was like a 2,000 capacity venue and it was sold out, it was amazing. They knew all the words.
How was your latest album received on the road?
It came out in September two years ago, I can’t believe it’s two years now, and it’s gone down really well. We’re hoping to start doing some more writing later in the year, so we’ll get something new out soon.
What made you all get back together after your five year gap (2009-2014)?
I think we took some time apart as we’d done the album tour cycle for the best part of 10 years, and I think everyone just wanted to explore different avenues. James had started writing with other artists, Stel got the opportunity to play with Spirtualised, and I had my little lad (son Connor) straight after and then started teaching music in schools and from home. Then basically we got a few offers on the table, like the Isle of Wight Festival, V Festival, we went to South Korea as well. We’d had five years off, and it just felt like the right time. It was like we’d never been away, and we’d all improved as players. I thought it was really good for the band.
It must have been good working again with the rest of the band?
We all get on really well so it makes life a lot easier when you’re on the road. I met James and Barry when I went to college to study music. I have gone right through school with Stel the bass player since we were about seven years old!
Has the music industry changed much from when you were first on the scene?
Massively. Well no-one sells records anymore, do they? Basically a lot of bands have to make albums just so they can go out on tour, and that’s how a lot of bands make their money these days. It’s just the way things have gone these days, all the downloading side, it’s made it very accessible. I like Spotify as you can check out new artists, and then decide if you want to buy it on vinyl which is what I usually do. I’ve got a record player set up in my drumming studio , I just love the sound of the needle going on to the record, I sound like a right geek!
In Starsailor’s early days, you became the focus of a bidding war when you played at Glastonbury, and you also sold out your first tour. Was it like a dream come true?
It was just a rollercoaster ride really because when we first started out, all I wanted to do really was make a living. I wanted to get an album out and make a living, doing something I loved. We’d been working at it for three or four years before we got signed. And then all of a sudden, we’re travelling around all these countries. We travelled the world in the first two years, it was just amazing. I never expected it to be as mental as it was. It’s still great now, that we get to travel a bit – not as much as we used to, but that’s nice, as we’ve got family now.
You found yourself playing on shows like Top of the Pops, playing with music legends and playing at venues across the world. What has been a career highlight so far?
We did Fever on Top of the Pops, it’s just such a massive institution isn’t it. I was dead surprised we didn’t have to mime so we got to play live which was cool. I think that was one of the first TV programmes we did, we also did Jools Holland.
There’s been loads of highlights but I think, the first time I played the Manchester Academy was amazing, just because I’d seen so many bands play there over the years. To play it, and to sell it out as well, was amazing for me. Also when we played the V Festival for the same reason really, as I’d been to so many festivals there over the years, and playing Glastonbury in front of 40,000 fans was also incredible.
Another highlight was when we played the Stade de France supporting U2, and Four to the Floor had been at number one. Basically the whole Stade de France were singing the song back to us, and it wasn’t even our show!
Obviously playing with the Rolling Stones was incredible too. We’ve played with them about seven or eight times. They were great.
You teamed up with legendary record producer Phil Spector for your second album Silence is Easy. How was that?
It was amazing, he’s such a legend with his wall of sound production, and the amazing aritsts he’s produced for. It was a great experience. His daughter came to watch us in New York, and she said her dad might be interested in working with us so we went for a little meeting at his chateau in LA and that was that. We ended up doing a couple of tracks with him. He was a bit strange in that he didn’t really conform from LA time to UK time. We started work at 7 in the evening, working through to 4/5 in the morning. It was a bit strange really but great.
You’ve been playing drums since you were 10 years old. Is there anyone you’d personally like to work with in the future?
I’ve always been a massive Led Zepplin fan so I suppose I’d love to work with Robert Plant.
Any other ambitions?
I just want to carry on making music and playing in different places. I’m very happy with what I’ve done so far.
Starsailor play the Cool Britannia Festival on Sunday 1st September 2019.
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