With “War Stories” The Starjets had a hit on their hands, ’til Mike Nicholls met them and it slumped. Wouldn’t ya just know it?
Do you really believe in the luck of the Irish, or do you think that notwithstanding generations of Irish jokes, they’re really quite a bright bunch after all? Look, I’m not even gonna mention Van The Man, Lizzy, The Undertones . . . Rats! – too late – yeah, but them as well, though what we’re concerned with here are The Starjets, the group who hit England too late, but who left Ireland too early.
Take it away, Liam L’Estrange: “Aye, yeah.” he begins, not unusually for a drummer. “Y’see, we never thought it could be done from Belfast, ‘cos two years ago there was nothing happening there. So we came here only to find it was all Elvis Costello and powerpop. Woodenyajustknowit?”
“Then six months later, what happens?” asks a seemingly still incredulous Paul Bowen, rhetorically, and ridden with angst, “Good Vibrations comes on the scene and The Undertones get a bloody hit!”
Which calls for a sympathetic shout of “shucks!”, especially since the Starjets seem to be full of praise for Derry’s finest even if it is tinged with a streak of envy.
“Who would have thought that five fellas that don’t look like anything could suddenly start writing and playing?” Paul wonders aloud, presumably not for the first time. “But new wave threw open the doors,” he continues, “Look at us! Top Of The Pops!” he shrieks, referring to his band’s appearance on that programme. That was a couple of weeks ago, when, reaching Number 51, “War Stories” looked set for a spell of healthy chart action. But . . . well, we won’t go into that, let’s talk about those doors instead. Starjets weren’t exactly slow to make an entrance, were they? A spot of band-wagonning, what?
“Oh no!” replies t’other guitarist, Terry Sharpe, with ingenious ingenuousness, “the other bands just moved us to write our own songs.”
Woodenyajustknowit? Whatever, bands like the Sex Pistols, The Jam and The Stranglers inspired Paul to get a group together while he was at London University. Like all good punks that used to clock the new bands Upstairs At Ronnie’s in those days, he was studying Chemistry and Philosophy at Kings’ College.
And like all good street-credible musicians, Liam and Sean were by day Civil Servants and by night players in a bar frequenting shabby and illegal drinking clubs. This they were not too keen on.
“In fact it was so bad, I used to end up doing Dylan impersonations,” admits the unabashed bassist, Sean Martin. “Must have been the rebel in me somewhere.”
Er, yes. In fact all four Starjets would quite readily answer to charges of rebelliousness. After a recent Music Machine gig, wasn’t there a bit of a barney in the dressing room?
“Sure,” replies their manager, a long-suffering Englishman who answers to the name of Hawkins, “they beat the hell out of one another. But then they often do. Quite therapeutic, really.”
Fine, fine. Anyway. Paul closed ranks with Sean the part-time rebel and his pals, and arriving in London at the wrong time didn’t prevent them securing a contract with CBS. The first company to approach them, and the last, since they signed on the spot.
“Great label,” one of them opines, “they bought us return ‘plane tickets the other week when we only needed one-way. The left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing!”
That’s as maybe, but the fact remains that it did manage to put out the band’s first album, and a tasty affair it is, too – or at least half of it. It transpires that four out of my five favourite tracks were produced by David Bachelor, or the band themselves. The contribution by Quo producer Pip Williams on the other six was not appreciated by The Starjets.
“Run With The Pack” should have sounded like 120 mph.” offers Paul by way of example. His earnestness is maintained for a brief discourse on the importance of rock in Northern Ireland, with Paul considering it as youth’s alternative to violent sectarianism.
“If there’s one thing the new wave has done, it’s that,” he reckons. “It might only have a small effect on the overall population, it’s a grass roots movement. The answer to the problems, “he continues, “does not lie in a political solution, but in youth. People ask us why we don’t write more political songs, but that’s not the answer. The answer is in the country growing up and the young replacing the old. It might sound corny, but there’s hope.” he concludes emphatically.
Indeed, and who better to express such an opinion than one, who, like the rest of the band, was brought up amidst the well-publicised turmoil of the Falls Road?
Incidentally, lads, one of my best ever friends lived round there. A chap called Kavanagh.
“Niall Kavanagh?” blusters the ever ebullient Paul, “I went to school with him!
(Record Mirror, 13/10/79)
The Starjets Discography
“It Really Doesn’t Matter” / “Schooldays” (Epic S EPC 6968) 12/78
“Run With The Pack” / “Watch Out” (Epic S EPC 7123) 3/79
“Ten Years” / “One More Word” (S EPC 7417) 6/79
“War Stories” / “Do The Push” (Epic S EPC 7770) 8/79
“Schooldays” / “What A Life” (Epic S EPC 7986) 11/79
“Shiraleo” / “Standby 19” (Epic S EPC 8276) 3/80
“Donegal” / “In Vain” (Epic S EPC 9391) 1/81 (under the name Tango Brigade)