Starlings… one for the road?

Neil Mason — Neil Mason @ 14:18

Chris_Sheehan

Post number 101 for MNFB then. Seems fitting somehow. In my Room 101 would go the stuff that stops you in your tracks, makes the blood drain from you face, the things in life that no matter how you look at them don’t seem fair. Top of my list is what’s happening to Chris Sheehan and his lovely wife Claire. Chris is a singer, songwriter, session musician of no mean ability. You may know him as Starlings (see below).

I discovered recently that Chris has Stage 4 metastatic nodular melanoma. Not only that, but Claire has pulmonary hypertension. Both conditions are terminal. For that to happen to one of them is devastating enough. Both? That’s plain cruel. They moved to Spain an age ago with their two boys and, from what I hear, they now have a small zoo worth of rescue animals. More about animals in a bit.

Thing is, Chris has recently set up a fundrazr page to fund one last album. In eight days he’s almost hit his €5,000 target. Tells you much about the man. I’ve no idea who reads this stuff, but if you can offer any help along the way, that would be great. Make a donation, spread the word, whatever… I can’t do much other than write things down, so that’s what I’m going to do until this album gets made.

I first met Chris through my friend James who was working as Starlings’ tour manager. I’d tag along to gigs and whatever, hang about at Dave Stewart’s Crouch End studio when he was recording. He wasn’t ever the slightest bit starry despite having every right to be so. He was also in demand for session work what with him being a stonkingly good guitarist, playing most notably with the likes of Curve, Sisters Of Mercy and best of all Babylon Zoo, who he might or might not have appeared on TOTP with when Number One singles meant something.

In a real stroke of luck, when me and James needed somewhere to live, Chris and Claire were relocating from Muswell Hill to LA to record a new Starlings album. Did we want to rent their gorgeous flat and look after the cat? We did.

It was a great place to live, I don’t think we fully appreciated at the time what a beautiful place it was. And it was made all the more lively by their tomcat called… Tom. He was the feistiest animal I have ever met. Sounds daft, but me and Tom really got on. James was away much of the time, touring, so it was often just me and the boy. In the house, he was lovable old Tom, outside it was a whole different kettle. He was a complete male and complete males have urges. You’d often hear him outside making that noise cats make when they need a shag. The downstairs neighbours complained repeatedly about catching him in their flat spraying everywhere and trying to knock up their little princess. I’d apologise. Regularly.

On one occasion Tom appeared through the third floor catflap from the fire escape looking like he was soaking wet. I grabbed a towel only to discover it was much worse. He was covered in cooking oil. No idea how it happened, but he needed a bath. You’ve heard the expression about herding cats? Try bathing one. I had to enlist the help of my friends from round the corner and it took all three of us several hours before he was clean. And then there was the time he returned one morning looking very sorry for himself with a swollen face. I rushed him to the vets, where an air gun pellet was removed from his head. Someone had shot him, right between the eyes. Nine lives? Tom had a hundred.

Although I’ve not seen Chris in a million years, he remains one of my favourite people. He’s the best company, a true gentle soul… despite appearances. Claire is doubly great, always warm and welcoming… except when she returned from LA to discover that boys in their early 20s don’t do cleaning very well, despite their best intentions. I learnt to clean a house properly after that Claire will be pleased to know. To this day I still feel guilty about that.

I clearly remember going to a show at The Water Rats in King’s Cross, must have been for a resurfacing of Starlings following the release of ‘Too Many Dogs’ in 1994 I guess. I hadn’t seen either of them for an age. Being the insecure wreck I was, for some reason I didn’t think they’d remember me. Fat chance, Claire was so pleased to see me, as was Chris.

Starlings were nothing if not critically acclaimed and so the music press were there en masse. I was working in a pub at the time, still a year or so away from my own lucky break that led to a job at NME working alongside the very same people who were there that night. Funny old world. Thing was, Chris and Claire always made me feel so welcome. No matter what or where or with who, I was part of their little world. They are the loveliest people. I can’t imagine what they must be going through. Please do what you can to help. It’ll be worth it.

You can read more about Chris and Starlings on Wikipedia … there’s a nice love letter on songomatic.com. there’s also recent pieces on louderthanwar.com, The Quietus and one particularly touching piece from Chris’ home turf of New Zealand on stuff.co.nz. I’m sure there’ll be more, if you find anything, or write something, please let me know.

1 Comment »

  1. Neil, this is a really amazing story. The writing makes you feel like you know them. They sound like wonderful people.

    Comment by Colin Orthmann — 23 July 2013 @ 08:03

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