The Stars band have a professionally recorded album, a launch night with some of the city’s top acts and a designer album cover. But that’s not all that make The Stars an outstanding act, as Star reporter Rachael Clegg reports.
South Yorkshire band The Stars release their debut album this week after more than two years in the studio.
But this isn’t any band.
All the members of The Stars have learning difficulties, ranging from Asberger’s to autism.
The self-penned album, We Are Stars - We Think Differently, has been entirely written and recorded by the band, with support from producer and Hospital Records’ Chris Morris and musician Moony Wainwright.
The album hasn’t been done by halves, either.
Its beautiful, celestial album artwork was created by Sheffield design company Peter & Paul who’ve worked with everyone from Ninja Tunes to Sainsbury’s. Its cover was shot by leading photographer Johnny Carr, whose client portfolio includes MTV.
Chris Morris, who also works as a music educator at Red Tape Studios, says: “It’s great to have worked on a project like this. Music is a great leveller - everyone knows music and we’re all experts at it. We all make decisions about music so it’s a great medium for everyone.”
For The Stars, music has helped them become more confident as people.
“When we’ve worked out repetitive rhythms with them you can see the fact their attention is changing from the expressions on their faces. They are more attentive and focused. In a way this project has also been an amazing neurological exercise.”
The band does need some prompting though.
“One of the members has a very short term memory but he absolutely loves playing guitar so we build songs around him and he becomes much more interested then.”
The Stars’ music is influenced by punk and new wave, along with lyrical themes inspired by the band members’ life experiences.
The ten-track album also features cover versions of songs, including Heaven 17’s We Don’t Need No Fascist Groove Thing.
“The band’s approach to songwriting is to find two chords that really work together and just play them. There’s a wonderful joy in that and it’s only what bands like Oasis have done, where they come to be associated with ‘that’ sound,” says Chris.
The band was formed as an off-shoot of the Under the Stars monthly club night for people with learning difficulties. As many as 500 people attend the monthly event, which features DJs and bands. Ruth Parrott was one of the founding members of Under the Stars.
“I was working at Sheffield MENCAP and decided that people with learning difficulties needed a proper night out,” said Ruth. “Now we get as many as 500 people coming to the nights from all over South Yorkshire.”
Backing vocalist Michael Hambrey said: “The band came out of the club night and it’s been really good fun.”
But the next two weeks will be particularly exciting for the band because their record will soon be released.
“It will be so good to see the finished product as we have achieved that as a team and it took quite a while to do. We put loads of work into it but we really enjoyed playing on the record and doing it together.”
To mark the release of The Stars’ debut, there is a very special launch night as part of the next Under the Stars event.
And on the night they will be in great company. Some of Sheffield’s most respected musicians and bands will be sharing a bill with The Stars.
Heaven 17’s Martyn Ware will be performing a DJ set and I Monster - whose tracks have appeared in films such as Shaun of the Dead - will also be performing a set. Designer and DJ Pipes will also be gracing the stage.
“I am a bit apprehensive about the launch night,” says Michael. “But I suppose that’s what happens with these things.”
And while The Stars is comprised of adults with learning difficulties, Chris says it’s not about tokenism.
“We want the band to play because they are good on their own merit, they just need a lot of support.”
The support includes three or four volunteers - including Chris - to prompt the band during live performances.
“There are always a couple of us running around and keeping the band on track, pointing and waving. It makes it more interesting though.”
Chris is familiar with working with learning difficulties. Both his sons are on the autistic spectrum.
But, according to Chris, society isn’t always understanding.”
But, more often than not, once people understand they are usually very supportive and polite.
“It is just a case of being aware. Once it’s explained people are usually really nice. It’s just that they can’t see the disability in the first place.”