After the hype, it's time for the delivery. Starsailor might have started the year as one of the most talked about new groups in the country, but they've handled the pressures admirably - and in the last few months their raw and emotionally confrontational music has begun to strike a chord on a far wider scale.
Already this year they've enjoyed two Top 20 hits (with a demo-version of 'Fever' and the epic 'Good Souls'), been on Top Of The Pops, played their first British headline tour, been invited to play with the Manic Street Preachers and recorded a magnificent debut album (about which more later). The speed of their success has been startling - but hardly unexpected. They've just got the skill of connecting with people.
And it's not hard to see why. The first time you hear them, it's an intense experience. Their songs have a directness and melodic power that belies their youthfulness. The impact of their music is as bruising as hearing Nirvana for the first time - just stripped of the volume. Their songs - tales of love, hope and redemption given focus by singer James Walsh's acrobatic vocals - combine naivety with a shattered worldliness reminiscent of an early '70s Neil Young.
A four-piece from Britain's North-West (Chorley, to be precise) and named after an LP by the wondrous Tim Buckley, they're centred around the extraordinary songwriting talent of the 20 year old Walsh. At a time when it's become a cliché to be termed a post-Buckley artist of any sort, he's gone right back to the original source and matched it with at least a dozen songs of burning emotional clarity.
"About two years ago, I remember reading an interview with some band who admitted that Jeff Buckley was an influence," he recalls, "so I just went out and bought his album and I realised it was miles better than anything else I'd been listening to. From there, I started listening to Tim Buckley, Neil Young and Van Morrison. Our music isn't really about him, he was just a catalyst. When I heard him I found someone who genuinely touched me, and I knew that's what I wanted to do."
For Walsh, it was an epiphany that was long overdue. A music obsessive and something of a loner, he had grown up feeling disconnected from the more overtly male posturing of his school friends and immediate social group. He was always searching for something more.
"At school, I was considered a bit of a misfit," he confides. "People thought I was too sensitive, but I was just questioning things. There was a cynicism running through everyone else that I never really seemed to have, and that I still don't."
As an outlet for his feelings, he started playing piano at the age of 12, and was writing songs by 14 - all the time avidly absorbing everything he could from the music press. It wasn't until he arrived at music college in Wigan, though, and met up with James Stelfox (bass) and Ben Byrne (drums) that his songs finally gained shape and focus.
"I just wanted to do something that was really natural and says something about who you are and how you're feeling rather than just making a noise. Some people go down the pub and get drunk, some people write books, this is just the best way I have of expressing myself."
The final piece of the Starsailor jigsaw was the arrival of keyboardist Barry Westhead at the start of 2000. With a more restrained sound and a clear vision of where they were heading, it was to signal the start of a meteoric rise. Starsailor played their first gig at London's Heavenly Social in April 2000. By the time, they returned at the start of July - a few days after Glastonbury - record companies had already began to gather at their door. Within three months, the band had signed to EMI : Chrysalis - and then the madness really began. As we've already mentioned the start of 2001 was a frantic cavalcade of tours and hit records and magazine front covers. The band were relieved when it was finally time to start recording their debut album. They began working on it in May, spending six weeks in Rockfield Studios with producer Steve Osborne (who'd previously worked with them on 'Good Souls'). The whole experience reminded them why they'd formed the band in the first place.
"We were in a cocoon really," smiles Walsh, thinking back. "It's the same now as it was when we used to play together in Warrington, we haven't been tainted at all by everything that's happened. Being at Rockfield was a bit like The Band recording in Woodstock. They isolated themselves from modern music and came up with something you can tell they all really enjoyed playing on. It's the same for us..."
The result of their endeavours is 'Love Is Here', a stunning debut album that truly defines the Starsailor sound ."As far as the whole vision of the record is concerned," explains Walsh, "we wanted it to be somewhere between Jeff Buckley's 'Grace' and Neil Young's 'Harvest' - a really live sounding album, but with subtle bits of sonics over the top. We've done some quite odd things on it - there are strange sounding guitars and Portishead-esque atmospherics on some tracks. We didn't want to do anything too retro."
And the title?
"Well, 'Love Is Here' is the theme of the album. It's meant to be uplifting and positive, because everything around at the moment seems to have quite a cynical edge. We wanted to do something that could be perceived as hippyish. It's the way we feel about things."
It's this honesty and directness that sets Starsailor apart from their peers. 'Love Is Here' will be the pinnacle of what's already been a wonderful year for them. Preceded by the release of a third single, 'Alcoholic' (one of their most emotionally turbulent songs, another sign they're determined to follow their own path), it's the sound a band delivering on their promises. They're not going to disappoint anyone.
Thanks to Starsailor.Net