Starsailor : Warrington Parr Hall

Starsailor : Warrington Parr Hall

They could settle wars with this, y'know.

Starsailor have spent the last year recording, having babies and wondering quite where things went so right. While they were on sabbatical, though, rock turned back on itself and rediscovered the joys of sex and leather. Starsailor, being about love and corduroy, might risk looking like men out of time.

As if. While it helps that this is a hometown gig for charity at Christmas, we’re left in no doubt that that ‘risk’ is utter catshit. There’ll be tears of joy, air-punching, and an unnecessary cover of ‘I Am The Resurrection’ before bedtime, but first, there’s the serious business of showcasing Starsailor‘s new songs, the songs that tempted ’60s producer legend Phil Spector out of retirement.

Starting as they mean to go on, the fulsome foursome power onstage with newie ‘Music Was Saved’ – a boisterous cousin of Doves‘ ‘Pounding’ – and never really take their feet off the gas. The far-and-away standout is ‘Four To The Floor’, a Red Bull-powered ‘Good Souls’ that takes the rules of stadium rock and retells them as a call to the heavens. It takes something special to be able to drop down to drums, vocals and mass handclaps midway through a song nobody’s heard before, but if tonight’s proving anything it’s that their knack of writing instantly memorable chestbeaters is going to see them eclipse Coldplay before long.

Where before there was something of the boy in the bubble about James Walsh now there’s a new steeliness in his glare. Still effortlessly cuddly (he makes a special dedication to the people on the other end of the front row’s phones), but decked in a camo jacket and with a baby to prove he’s done sex at least once, Walsh has returned from his year off A Man. The band’s musical balls have dropped, too: ‘Lullaby’, ‘Alcoholic’, ‘Tie Up My Hands’ are still led by Walsh’s jaw-agape voice, but they’ve grown in depth and colour, sparkling with the kind of new tricks you can only learn from the Wall Of Sound Academy.

Things are just revving up. A sandblasting ‘Silence Is Easy’ fades bashfully out and the band leave the stage, for James to return solo with an acoustic guitar for ‘Coming Down’. Nothing unusual there, except for Coldplay-like elongation, turning in a medley including REM‘s ‘The One I Love’ and U2‘s ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’. A telling portent to where they’re going, you might say, but what’s actually happening is that James is buying time while tonight’s special guest hot foots it over from a show in Salford.

When Peter Kay wanders onto the stage he’s greeted like the Newborn King in Bethlehem. The man might be a predictable gig fixture right now (a week ago he introduced Doves in Manchester, the week before he did the same for Badly Drawn Boy in Leeds) but anyone who can get a laugh just by looking at people is entitled to Lifetime Membership of the Good Souls Club.

After a quick couple of one-liners (“next time someone says ‘penny for ’em’, sell”), Kay asks if he can stay to play tambourine – the answer’s yes, so we get a final, cloudbursting ‘Good Souls’ with the country’s most charming band augmented by its finest comic. They could settle wars with this, y’know.

There are people, somewhere else, who will still dismiss Starsailor as MOR wasters. Tonight, those people are proved wrong.

Dan Martin