London Loves – Star Shaped Festival, London, 2019

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London.

Home of the brash, outrageous and free.

Today it is bathed in the golden glow of an Indian summer.

The sun is high.

People’s spirits are higher.

Short sleeves.

Bright smiles.

The intoxicating whiff of mild inebriation.

I am in Kentish Town.

I’m with an old friend from back when we were…younger.

Times have changed.

I’ve changed.

My friend is the same.

This is good.

We are waiting on a friend of hers before we head to the Forum for the final night of the Star Shaped Festival and all the glories that promises.

As we walk to the venue Debbie Smith passes.

Guitarist.

Icon.

Bit of a legend if we are to be honest and I don’t see why we shouldn’t be.

“That was Debbie Smith” I whisper after she has passed us.

I’m more excited by being in such close proximity to a guitarist in Echobelly than anyone approaching fifty should be.  It feels good to still feel that way.  It suggests that somewhere underneath the bruises and beatings of life a silly heart still beats.

We walk into the venue as Geneva walk onto the stage and that silly heart skips, skips, skips a beat before swelling and bursting as the purity of the voice, the power of the music and the aching beauty of the songs bursts, surges and crashes into my soul.

You can see Star Shaped as “simply” a club night or as a series of live events…the people behind it as promoters but the truth is much more complicated.  This is no nostalgia cash-in, no attempt at ringing the last few dollars from the Heaven of Britpop.

Nope.

The difference between what is going on here lies in Geneva.

Geneva were not what you would call a “big deal”…even at their peak they were a cult concern, adored and cherished by a few rather than lauded by the hordes.  They were a band for the fringe, music for the people skulking in the shadows, the heart and soul of the broken and lonely.  Big tunes, sure.  Soaring melodies, absolutely.  Hit records, a couple.  Then came the passing of time and slowly, but surely, a lot of people simply…forgot.

Star Shaped didn’t forget.

They remembered.

They reached out…made “enquiries”.

Andrew Montgomery said “yes” and appeared as a solo artist at the festival in 2018.

Then in January of this year the full band took to the stage for two intimate gigs…put their toe in the water, found that the temperature was just right and now they are back.

People remember.

The roar that greets “Into the Blue”, the wall of noise that is the crowd bellowing “LET US BE HAPPY WHILE WE’RE STILL YOUNG” and tears that roll down the cheeks of more than one person during “God of Sleep” confirm that this is a band we needed then but that we need now even more.

If you are tempted to believe that Star Shaped simply booked Geneva after drawing a random name from a bucket hat you need to think again…listening to Andrew Montgomery thank them on every night of the festival and then naming individuals at the end of the set tonight reveals that this was the culmination of a dream, of a desire and of a will to help return one of the most loved bands of the era and to introduce them to a new audience.

That is what makes Star Shaped.

The love.

The passion.

The dreamers.

My time at the festival is short lived tonight…ill health sees me head off into the balmy London night with a heavy heart, a couple of broken dreams and a certain amount of bitterness towards my own failing, flailing, immune system.  Living with a chronic health condition means such moments are not as rare as I would wish they were.

While I am there several wonderful things happen…magical moments that couldn’t happen anywhere else.

As I stand at the back of the room I see, out of the corner of my eye, a man I don’t know look at me, then turn to his friend and nod in my direction.  I wonder what I have done to possibly provoke this strangers ire.

There is no ire.

This isn’t really a stranger.

This is Stefan.

Stefan is from Belgium.

He and I have messaged on Twitter, he supports this place with his own hard earned money and when he introduces himself we both break into wide grins, shake hands, talk, laugh and feel the first flicker of real world friendship begin to spark.

Here comes a familiar face…it’s Nish.

I adore Nish.

She is so sweet and funny and honest and, frankly, great.

We hug.

She’s tipsy.

Peak Nish.

Here comes another familiar face.

It’s Nick from the Britpop Revival Show.

We have met only once before at last year’s London leg of Star Shaped.

It feels so good to see him again.

He is charming and kind and gracious.

He is here, of course, with the Hixmeister, Statto.

Statto is tall and warm and friendly and nice and genuine.

A quick hello with James from Britpop Memories…the official librarian of Britpop.

A good egg.

I spy Dave.

Dave and I are linked.

Bound together by something that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies.

He is good.

A battler.

A fighter.

Loyal.

There are more.

Strangers.

Strangers who I know.

Friends I haven’t met.

Then something utterly wonderful happens.

Walking into the back of the room comes a man I haven’t ever met.

I know who he is the moment I catch his eye.

He has the same reaction in the same instant.

The best friend I’ve never met in my life.

Nick Amies.

Author.

Journalist.

Cultural commentator.

My co-host on the Mild Mannered Army Podcast.

We crash into each others arms and, for a second, I don’t want to let go.

Hours and hours and hours of conversations about music, our families, football, life, work, miscellaneous that have always had a fear lying underneath…what if, we have both thought, we meet and don’t actually get on.

We get on.

I’ll be honest with you…again; I love him.

All the while music swirls around me, music from the bands I adore, music from the bands onstage, music from the Star Shaped cats on the decks, music inside of me.

It’s the music that binds us all together.

So yes I have to leave a little early and yes I feel broken as I lie in my hotel room wishing I was healthy but I feel something else too…

I feel love.

Rob, Hannah, Jill…thank you, from all of us but, right now, from me especially.

I love you.

 

 

 

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