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Star Circus Q&A

After a number of years playing in bands such as Bordello Rose, Renegade Playboys and Trophies Of Man, and as a sideman to a number of established artists, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Dave Winkler has put together his own outfit - Star Circus - and recently released the debut album 'Separate Sides'; a fine album of well-crafted melodic rock and pop that fans of the likes of Def Leppard, Cheap Trick and Queen will do well to give a spin. Dave took some time out to answer a few questions for BBMATB on putting the band and album together, playing live and has some tips for some other bands to check out after you've given 'Separate Sides' a listen.

Star Circus are currently Dave Winkler (guitar / vocals), Jon Crampton (guitar / backing vocals), William Robertson (keyboards), Sophie Aurelia Young (bass) and Alex McArov (drums)

'Separate Sides' is available on all the major digital sites and CD versions can be picked up from Singles 'Love Is The Enemy', 'Before The Song Is Over' and 'Just Like In A Movie' can also be found on the digital sites.

Hello Dave, thanks for taking some time to answer a few questions for 'Ballroom Blitz's Man At The Back'. First off for those readers who might not be familiar with Star Circus, could you give a short history of the band?

Hey, no problem! Star Circus started out as a vehicle for me to release an album of songs I had written over the years which hadn’t found their place or reached their full potential in previous bands.

About 5 years ago I was working as a touring guitarist with some more established acts and singing and playing in a couple of tribute bands, but none of the creative projects I was in were doing much. As a songwriter and guitarist first, I’d finally gained the confidence to sing my own songs from doing the tribute stuff, so I compiled a bunch of demos and sent them to Radio 1/TotalRock legend Tony Wilson and a couple of other industry and musician friends. The enthusiasm I got back from Tony made it very clear that we needed to make an album!

The name Star Circus came out of the idea that there would be a revolving cast of great musicians and my reluctance to just call it a solo project, I didn’t want to be wearing a t-shirt that said ‘Dave Winkler’! But once we started doing the songs live it was clear it needed to be a real band. So I put one together with some of the guys who would feature on the album and we did an awesome single launch for ‘Love is the Enemy’ in February 2020. Then obviously the whole Covid thing happened, so we worked on the remaining tracks on the album and managed to make a couple more videos during the various lockdowns, notably ‘Just Like in a Movie’ which got a lot of attention.

Also during lockdown, my girlfriend Sophie Aurélia Young, who has been a musician since childhood and plays piano on some of the album, started learning to play the bass and joined the band in Spring 2021 and we finally got back onstage that July when the live restrictions ended. Since then we have played loads of shows around the UK, band members emigrated or became Freddie Mercury impersonators, our keyboardist William Robertson left and rejoined the band again! So here we are at the end of 2022 with hopefully our definitive lineup featuring myself, Sophie, William, Jon Crampton on guitar and drummer Alex McArov. We have just released ‘Separate Sides’ - an album we are very proud of but half the current lineup didn’t actually play on!

And who would you say were the main influences in Star Circus?

First and foremost I really wanted this band to be about great songs, which I’m really grateful you guys have picked up on in your review of the album. Flawless production and musicianship have become very important nowadays, but to my taste, it’s great melodies, interesting lyrics, chords and structures that really count.

As a live band we are very much a hard rock beast, but the songs are really influenced by anything and everything that has excited and moved me over the years from pop through to metal. Queen, Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Cheap Trick, Thunder, The Wildhearts, Bon Jovi, Rick Springfield, Fleetwood Mac, Thin Lizzy, Nik Kershaw… anyone who knew how to write an anthem!

You've recently released your debut album 'Separate Sides'; where did you record the album, somewhere you've recorded before?

I should apologise, there’s no short answer to any of these questions!

We started out with Moyano El Buffalo recording the drum tracks at Unit 2 in Acton, London so long ago that that studio no longer exists, another casualty of the Covid 19/Brexit nightmare! I had recorded an album there with my previous band Bordello Rose and really liked the drum sound.

Then we moved to Camden Records to record guitars for 3 songs. This was a brand new studio at the time, I believe I was the second person ever to book it! Not long after that we were all stuck at home for a year, so a lot of the remaining instrumentation was recorded on my laptop and guitars were re-amped in one day at Camden Records once we were allowed back in there!

The bulk of the vocals were done in Tony’s home studio, and the backing vocals in the massive office room in Kings Cross where we made the videos to ‘Save Your Life’ and ‘Just Like in a Movie’, due to social distancing restrictions at the time. Tekin Irengun’s percussion was recorded in Spain, Tom Draper played his solos at home in California, so it’s a bit of a Frankenstein’s Monster of an album!

Do you have any favourite tracks on the album and if so why?

That’s a difficult question. Certainly there are some tracks that came out particularly well. ‘Just Like in a Movie’ and ‘Love is the Enemy’ sound really great. Sophie’s favourite is ‘Save Your Life’, it’s the reason she joined the band and it really kicked things into gear when I wrote it.

I would say the album’s closing track ‘Before the Song Is Over’ is one of my favourite songs I’ve ever written. I wrote it when I was 21, after reading a really moving poem called ‘Slow Dance’ that was sent to me in a chain email. I was moved to tears and the song basically wrote itself in about 15 minutes! it’s been through a lot of incarnations and I’m glad there’s finally a definitive version.

Were there any tracks that didn't make the cut for the album that we might hear at a later date?

There was a quirky cover version of ‘More Than Words’, totally different to the original, that didn’t quite work out in the drum sessions. I think we’ve moved on from the idea since, but you never know, if nothing else I might put the demo out one day!

There are a few guest appearances on the album - Dan Stevens (Inglorious), Tom Draper (Carcass, Angel Witch) and Ben Christo (Sisters Of Mercy, Ricky Warwick). How did you come to know these guys to appear on the album with you?

I’m really lucky, the whole album is full of great players who I’ve worked with in previous bands and live shows in and around London.

Tom and I met when we were teenagers back in the 90s. He’s a couple of years younger than me and was already a good indie rock guitarist at 15. I actually got him into metal by playing him Live and Loud by Ozzy Osbourne one afternoon on my bedroom stereo! So we put a band together called ‘The Cardboard Jon Idea’ with my friend Dom Green, who plays bass on 3 tracks on ‘Separate Sides’. Tom plays the solo on ‘Something’, which was one of the songs from that band nearly 25 years ago, so it’s a beautiful thing! Tom’s one of my best and oldest friends. He’s no longer in Carcass and Angel Witch, but check out Spirit Adrift, his current band, they’re awesome.

Dan and I met at a weekly covers night in Camden called Metalworks, famous for breaking Richie Faulkner (Judas Priest) and Davey Rimmer (Uriah Heep). We were in an Ozzy tribute band together for a few years which also featured his dad! Dan is a phenomenal guitarist, but he played me some demos where his bass playing was outstanding, and we have a mutual admiration of each others songwriting. So I asked him to play bass on a few songs on the album when we started working on it 4 years ago, just before he joined Inglorious I think!

I met Ben in a club in central London about 15 years ago and we had a lot of mutual friends. I got the night bus back home with my then-girlfriend, and we noticed he was sitting a few rows behind us. Then he got off at the same bus stop and appeared to be following us for a while! Anyway, we were relieved to find out he wasn’t our stalker and in fact lived in the next road to mine! We briefly played in a band together and I often guest at his 80s covers night, Shot Through The Heart. As well as being a gifted guitarist he’s great at vocal harmony arrangements, so it was an honour to have him sing on the album.

What live shows do you have coming up where people can catch you?

After taking a break to recharge over the holidays, our next show will be on Friday 13th January, a great date to kick off the year! It’s a Trashville club night at the Camden Assembly in London. We can also now announce that we will be playing Call Of The Wild Festival in Lincolnshire on 27th May and we will be back at the Camden Underworld, where we hosted our album launch, on 3rd June with Tigertailz and Kickin’ Valentina, which is a great bill.

Beyond that, we are looking to do a short UK tour in late March and some more national dates throughout June are booked but yet to be announced, so keep an eye on the socials for more information!

And what are your favourite parts and least favourite parts of playing live?

I love it when you’re on tour and you hit your stride as a band around 3 or 4 shows in, you just become this rock n’ roll machine and playing becomes like second nature. There’s no feeling quite like it, especially if the crowd is also great. Hearing the audience sing your songs back at you is really awesome too.

I remember a few years back, when I was on tour with my friend Menno Verbaten, probably the best bass player in California, if not the world. The two of us were carrying this enormous back-breaking bass cabinet down 3 flights of stairs on a grim night in Birmingham (UK), and he grins and says to me “Man, this is the best part, this is what we do it for!”. Yeah, loading in and out of venues usually sucks balls, especially when the elevator is broken.

Do you feel there is a good rock scene at the moment? Any bands you'd recommend to readers?

There are loads of great new bands out there to discover, I wish I had more time to just listen to music! There are so many great shows in London too, a few weeks ago we went to see Skid Row on a Monday night! There’s so much going on, I always feel like I’m missing out on something.

I have our friends Trident Waters on the CD player in the car at the moment, a great blues-rock trio. Cool songs and great musicianship. Teiger are another great 3 piece, I went to their single launch recently. They sound like nothing else at the moment. Kind of like a female-fronted Rush crossed with Jeff Buckley!

We’ve played with a lot of fantastic bands this year, and I’m lucky to have a lot of friends who are great musicians. So I’ll stop there rather than listing anyone else, just in case I miss anyone out and they read this!

And finally what plans for Star Circus in 2023?

Now the album is finally out, we plan to start writing as a band in January, hopefully towards an EP to be released later in the year. It’s important to me, now that I’ve found people who are excited about doing this, that it feels like a band and not a glorified solo project.

I’d like to do some shows around other parts of Europe as well as the tours we have planned in the UK, as strangely I’ve never really done this in previous bands. I’ve played in the States but European shows and tours always seem to fall through. So if anyone would like to see us out in the continent, please get in touch and we'll hopefully see you at a show next year!

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