The Scotsman Sessions #401: Starless featuring Phil Campbell

Welcome to the Scotsman Sessions, a series of short video performances from artists all around the country introduced by our critics. Here, in his Starless guise, former Friends Again/Love and Money keyboard player Paul McGeechan performs the track You’re Beautiful with rock vocalist Phil Campbell

Former Friends Again/Love and Money keyboard player Paul McGeechan has been releasing luscious, cinematic music in semi-solo form as Starless for the past eight years and is set to complete what he sees as a natural trilogy with the release of new album Returning Home.

McGeechan helms the songs and arrangements but he is joined on all three Starless albums by an impressive array of Scottish singers, from his sleek Scotpop contemporaries Chris Thomson of The Bathers, Steven Lindsay of The Big Dish and Hipsway frontman Grahame Skinner to distinctive voices such as Emma Pollock and Phil Campbell and an enviable complement of the nation’s most acclaimed folk vocalists such as Karen Matheson, Julie Fowlis, Kathleen MacInnes and Maeve Mackinnon, often embellished with strings from the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.

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The roots of the project lie in Love and Money’s 2011 reformation and subsequent fifth album The Devil’s Debt, which awoke McGeechan’s dormant songwriting instincts after almost 20 years working in production. He clearly had a creative itch to scratch and began seeking vocalists for songs he had yet to find a home for. Top of the wishlist were Blue Nile frontman Paul Buchanan and Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser. Buchanan sang on title track Starless; Fraser remains elusive.

“When working on the first album I wanted to abandon anything I had done before and didn’t want to reference my musical past, even down to the choice of instrumentation,” says McGeechan. “With the second album Earthbound I wanted to continue with the themes introduced on the first album but meeting it halfway with song choices and instrumentation. I love mixing up the repertoire – instrumentals, new interpretations of Gaelic song and some of my collaborators’ existing material.

“Returning Home concludes the journey in a sense. The album starts off where Earthbound ended and moves back to the way I used to write and how my records sounded in my past. It has helped me reconcile some of my past in a way I could control and enjoy.”

Key to that journey is his Scotsman Session selection of You’re Beautiful, recorded with righteous rock vocalist (and Scotsman Sessions alumnus) Phil Campbell at McGeechan’s home, “which seems fitting as I live a few hundred metres from where I wrote the music – a barn in Bothwell which we converted into a place to practice.”

The roots of You’re Beautiful date back to the early Eighties, with the music written as fresh-faced Glasgow contenders Friends Again split and reconvened as Love and Money. “I picked this song as it helps illustrate the journey of the third Starless album,” says McGeechan. “It takes me back to my musical roots and early career and I love Phil’s vocals on this. I always liked the song and was disappointed it wasn’t released as a single.”

Starless featuring Phil CampbellStarless featuring Phil Campbell
Starless featuring Phil Campbell

McGeechan’s Starless trilogy may now be complete but he promises “music, more music and some more music” for the future.

Returning Home is released by Last Night From Glasgow on 15 March. Starless play GUU, Glasgow on 12 April