Wonder Women: Suzy Starlite

“I’ve fallen in love with the bass, and the bass is the language I use to serve the song.”

Suzy Starlite-Campbell

This month, we’re catching up with Suzy Starlite, bassist, musician, and songwriter. Suzy and her husband, Simon Campbell, run their own independent record label and semi-mobile studio based in Portugal. Suzy shares her story in this inspiring interview.

It was difficult to graduate and ‘not’ be in a band after studying Media & Performance at Salford University in the ’90s. It was here where Suzy Starlite met Tim Allen (of the band K), John Smith (John Lennon Songwriting Award Winner), and Alan Lowles (session musician of ‘I am Kloot’ and Airtight Studios). Together they formed folk/rock band Megiddo and released their debut EP of original songs ‘On the Outside’ in 1996. The band became regulars on the UK Folk Circuit, featuring at The Mean Fiddler, Band on the Wall, Winchester Folk Festival, Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival, and Monmouth Music Festival, to name a few. As well as their music being syndicated by one of the UK’s largest cinema chains, the band was also invited to record an original arrangement of the 60’s classic ‘Georgy Girl’ for London record label, Future Legend Records. It was released on CD and vinyl as part of their critically acclaimed cult series ‘Themes from the Sixties.’

Due to other music-related work commitments, Megiddo disbanded in 1997 and Suzy formed a new project band ‘Trade’ with Tim Allen, fusing acoustic folk/rock with electronica. Their debut gig saw them headline at Manchester’s Night & Day and then, under the moniker of ‘Starlite,’ they performed at Norfolk’s Eastern Haze Festival and across Manchester. Suzy also worked as a successful professional radio broadcaster, and in 1991 she was awarded a New York Festival International Radio Award for ‘First Time Eyes.’ This was a diary documentary about her experiences visiting Israel during the Gulf War (including scud attacks and gas masks) commissioned for Piccadilly Radio in Manchester. It been presented on Galaxy (Kiss 102), Manchester, 96.2 The Revolution, Signal Cheshire, Signal Stoke, and on Piccadilly Radio.

In 2006, Suzy became curious about the art of motorcycling. She bought a Honda 125cc motorbike from eBay; three and half months later, she passed her test and became the owner of a 1957 Ariel Colt 200cc classic motorcycle. Suzy then moved to the Isle of Man in 2009 and dabbled in sprint racing, winning both the 650cc class and the award for the “Fastest Woman” on her very first time riding a 650cc and competing in the Isle of Man TT Ramsey Sprint. During her time on the Isle of Man, Suzy started working with musician and producer Simon Campbell. After hosting his ThirtySix album launch event at The Centenary Centre, they began playing acoustic duo gigs together featuring each other’s original music; double harmonies and two acoustic guitars. Soon after, she formed Starlite, a full band with Campbell on guitar and Suzy on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, bringing a rockier edge to the music. Featuring all her own original songs, the four-piece hit the live circuit which included a dynamic and mud-filled set at Mannifest, the island’s largest outdoor three-day festival.

In 2014, Starlite moved to France with her partner Simon (and Hummock the labrador), writing songs that led to the “Electrolite” ’80s synth dance project with analog keyboard player Mark Cleator. The three-track Electrolite EP was released on a limited edition 180g 12″ vinyl, and later the outfit was signed to Ninth Wave Records in New York, USA. After seven months in the French countryside, they moved on in search of warmer climes and a different cultural experience to Valencia, Spain. That year also changed her life in many ways: Starlite married her soul mate, lover, and best friend Simon on the shores of Loch Fyne in Inveraray, Scotland… and also became completely addicted to playing the bass guitar.

After a year in Spain, and with the addition of a new labrador family member (“Fearsome Bob”), they moved north of Valencia to the small mountain village of Estivella, where they opened a vintage residential recording studio. From there, they worked with Grammy-winning international artists and musicians from across the genres of Bluegrass, folk, blues, jazz, classical, Americana, singer-songwriter and rock music. The couple continued to write and record, releasing their ambient piece ‘Happiness in Halos’, plus a return to the studio in the UK to record Simon’s 2014 album, ‘The Knife’, co-writing the track “Do You Want Me” featuring Starlite on vocals and Mellotron. Following a UK tour in 2015 playing bass guitar in Simon’s solo band, the time was right to collaborate on a new joint project and the Starlite Campbell Band was formed in late 2016.

Along with Simon, Suzy co-wrote a healthy catalog of songs that could fill up the next three albums and went on to record their debut album, Blueberry Pie in November 2016. It was released in February 2017 to staggering critical acclaim and was nominated for Best Album in the 2017 European Blues Awards. With the success of the album, the couple decided to move back to the Isle of Man in 2017 temporarily, while they searched for a suitable place to relocate their recording studio.

Starlite and Campbell kept their playing chops up and were a regular feature on the island under “The Devil Note” moniker; a power trio playing late ’60s/early ’70s British rock and played 17 gigs in 16 days at the Isle of Man TT Festival including headlining the Hooded Ram Festival Big Tent on the legendary promenade! In mid-2018, Starlite and Campbell moved to Lower Saxony, Germany to begin work on their second studio album The Language of Curiosity. They toured Europe with the Starlite Campbell Band performing at Flirting With The Blues Festival, The Netherlands, the main stage at The Great British Rock & Blues Festival, The Half Moon Putney, and the Urania Theatre to name a few. 2018 saw the Starlite Campbell Band headline the Saturday night in the Blues Big Top at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues, near Melbourne, Australia.

In late 2020, Suzy and Simon relocated their semi-mobile recording studio to the north of Lisbon in Portugal and released their critically acclaimed second album The Language of Curiosity on November 5, 2021. The album was supported by a six-week European & UK tour. They are currently mixing a new Starlite Campbell Band Live! album plus working on a new album, The Coat… along with other exciting projects to be announced.

The Starlite Campbell Band will be touring Europe and the UK in 2022 with a USA Tour planned for 2023.

What are you woodshedding right now?

We’ve just started a new “Starlite & Campbell Streaming Live!” concert series every Wednesday at 2030GMT from the Supertone Studio here in Portugal. This is streamed on the band’s YouTube channel, Facebook band page, Twitter, Instagram, and Twitch. I’m having to relearn every song we’ve ever recorded or written, plus every week we have challenged ourselves to learn and play a new song that we love and interpret/arrange it in our own style. It’s not just about the bass either, as I’m also playing Studiologic bass pedals triggering a Moog Minitaur bass synthesizer, acoustic piano, drums, the Cajon with a foot pedal, and our 1974 Wurlitzer EP200 electric piano; it’s a real musical multi-gym workout.

We usually hear about the downsides of being a female in the music industry. Let’s flip the script; do you see any benefits?

If you’re a talented artist, being sexy and looking great is a tremendous advantage. It’s a little different for me being an older woman (55), but sometimes, women come up to me at the end of a gig and have been so full of love and inspired to see a woman on stage playing bass and kicking ass…which is incredibly humbling! I am just a big kid on a trampoline when we start playing, and if being a woman inspires other women to start playing bass, guitar, or doing something new, then that’s brilliant!!

How are you handling working through the pandemic? How has technology helped (or hindered) you? Any tips to share?

Simon and I were living in Germany at the time the pandemic hit and had just returned from a UK tour playing The Great British Rock & Blues Festival when the world closed down.

When we fell in love, we decided to go on a musical adventure together, romantically running away to France and then Spain. When we settled in Spain, we decided to open a world-class residential vintage analog recording studio, selling everything we had that wasn’t a musical instrument (including a house) to buy the gear. When we released our debut album ‘Blueberry Pie’ and subsequently received such amazing reviews worldwide, we were faced with a big decision; do we keep on running the studio commercially and record other people’s music or go on the road and pursue our own musical path. We chose the latter and have been carting around Europe a full studio for the last few years which has enabled us to work all the way through the pandemic, including recording our new album ‘The Language of Curiosity’ plus taking on external mixing work.

I’d like to say that at the top of our list of essentials when we were looking to move was a super-fast internet connection. We currently have a fantastic fibre connection where we are based in Portugal, which allows us to stream reliably in high quality plus transfer massive files without fuss. In terms of streaming, technology has really come on and we are using a combination of OBS and Pro Tools 12 linked with Source Nexus. It has really opened up the world to us!

Suzy Starlite

Any current projects that you can tell us about?

We have just released our second album The Language of Curiosity, which has received fantastic reviews. We released the 180g vinyl edition in May 2022. As with all our recordings, we engineered, mixed, and produced the record passing it over to our guru Jon Astley (Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney) for mastering. Lacquers were cut by Miles Showell at Abbey Road, using I believe, the power of the Force.

We have a few new albums in the pipeline; one of which we have just announced as a special limited edition crowdfunded album, ‘Starlite Campbell Band Live!’ featuring a trio of outstanding organists; Josh Phillips (Procol Harum), Jonny Henderson (Matt Schofield, Otis Rush, Kirk Fletcher) and Christian Madden (Liam Gallagher Band). It was recorded live over a series of UK tour dates and the funds from the crowdfunded edition will be used towards setting up our 2023 USA tour. We are releasing our new album on Friday, July 22nd. It’s available to pre-order on CD and digital.

On Friday June 24th, we are releasing “A Whiter Shade of Pale” from the upcoming album as a single, featuring Josh on Hammond Organ. It’s the only cover. the rest of the album is all original material.

We have three other projects in various stages of completion…experimenting and exploring a variety of instrumentation and genres… as Bowie said “If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you are capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting!”

What would you want to change about the music industry?

The revenue model is broken! Before the advent of streaming (and certainly before the internet), ‘nirvana’ was to sign a good record deal as this was the only real way to have the money for recording and marketing/tour support. This was hugely difficult (and you were extremely lucky)…but to be a full-time musician you had to rely on live gigs to make money…which in those days, the gigs did pay better. Now streaming is the main game, and it can be made much fairer.

Spotify, as we now know, gives the vast majority of its revenue to the record companies, when really it should be divided equally amongst all the artists on the platform based on the number of plays. There are systems in place now – in the UK PPL and PRS – to collect royalties for labels, composers, and performers that work for radio plays, background music, film, TV, and physical sales. The playlists are sewn up too!! It’s the same old game, but with different technology! Record companies are making more money nowadays than ever, but they are sadly investing less in artist development than they ever have!! We wrote ‘Bad Sign’ on our new album ‘The Language of Curiosity’ about the bouncers on the doors of the music industry! Money first! Money second! Money last!

One positive thing that I am loving is the resurgence of vinyl! I’ve always played it!! Always bought it! Always loved the ritual. We release all our music on vinyl and mix with that in mind with separate masters run specifically for this medium. Vinyl is really the medium we prefer! It feels alive!!

Any new artists that we should all know about?

When it comes to new artists, I think the joy is in self-discovery. I’m always keen on finding a local music venue and supporting the artists that play there as part of your social life! Invite your friends, make a night of it and be open to making new musical discoveries and friends… and buy the band’s vinyl, buy their CDs, buy their badges, hoodies, and t-shirts and preorder their new music! Supporting artists directly makes a huge difference, and you may just find an artist whose music becomes the soundtrack to your life! If pushed to name names, we recently bought American Head on vinyl by The Flaming Lips! The timing was right, the feel, the sentiment, the stories. During the lockdown, it connected deeply to how I was feeling…heart-melting. I also totally loved Wayne Coyne’s adaptive bubble-concert concept and wearing of bright colours – even though I usually wear all black. Ironic!

An early experience that shaped you as an artist now?

In my teens I used to love hanging out in ‘Ross Records’ my local record shop, checking out the amazing world of vinyl and listening to new music on the shop’s turntable…the days when you found out about new music through music magazines and word of mouth. That is here where I met my friend Julian Knight, who to this day is an inspiration with his unending thirst and love of discovering new music that is off the beaten track.

Julian introduced me to so many unknown musicians at the time, and used to make me mixtapes on cassette that included artists such as Virginia Astley’s “From Gardens Where We Feel Secure” to the more well-known ‘Hey Good Lookin’ by Hank Williams and the Drive-By Truckers! (In a surreal connection Virginia Astley – Jon’s sister does – all our mastering!) Small world! Julian also used to run a mobile disco called ‘Negative Earth’ with his friend Roy Westley and we all used to hang out! We were spinning Prince’s 1999 before it made it big on its re-release the following year!! They took me to see my first ever concert at age 17 which was Stevie Wonder at the Birmingham NEC arena! Mind-blowing and life-changing…it showed me how incredible a live music concert could be and set the bar high!! Great memories with great friends!

You know bassists are all about the gear. And I’m definitely a gear nerd. So I have to ask…any recent game-changing acquisitions to your toolkit?

I kept things simple for a while and now my setup is constantly evolving; the current state of play can always be found on my website.

Firstly, I have moved back to Thomastik-Infeld flat wound strings. Having tried a fair few other brands I always come back to these as the gauges just feel perfect and they have a fabulous tone. And I occasionally play with a pick!!!

On the amp front, I have been exclusively using our custom-designed Supertone ‘Matamp’ 200W valve (tube for our American friends) matched with the Bergantino 6×10 live. It’s very similar to the very first Matamp’s which then became Orange Matamp. It has a modified guitar preamp as opposed to one dedicated to bass so I suppose it’s similar to my 1974 vintage HiWatt DR201 in that it could be described as ‘general purpose’. The transformers are enormous and hence fiendishly heavy, but that iron really allows the amp to bloom. I am seriously considering taking both the HiWatt and Supertone ‘Matamp’ on the road and am currently looking at an 8 x 10 by the British company ‘Barefaced’ for the HiWatt.
Up to now, I have only used a Fuzz live but recently bought an Electro-Harmonix POG 2 and a Q-Tron plus unit which are really fun. We like to keep our weekly duo live streams fresh and varied which gives us plenty of opportunities to experiment and widen the sonic palette and keep things a bit more interesting.

I am saving up (they are expensive) for a Grace Designs Felix 2 preamp for use with my Fylde King John acoustic bass – which I do DI – and as a general ‘hub’ for my board as it is very flexible, has excellent EQ, great FX loops and transformer isolated which to me is essential. This will replace the Lehle RMI Basswitch IQ.

Finally, an essential piece of gear when touring are my two Scott Dixon flight cases; the ultimate protection when flying and traveling anywhere. They are made of aluminum and built like a tank, but also light, which is essential for flying. They are even water and fire-proof, not that I want to test that out. One case is specially made to fit my Fylde King John acoustic bass plus an electric and the other holds three electric basses. You can see them in the studio on our live streams! Simply brilliant!! The ultimate travel insurance!

What drew you to the music industry?

The music! It’s my creative oxygen! The world doesn’t feel right without it! I’m more interested in the artists and what they have to say than business people; as an independent, the industry feels totally money orientated, hard and brutal. I am reminded of the famous quote by Hunter S Thompson: “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

What’s your favorite part about this line of work? Your least favorite part? Why?

Music is my language and a true deep-soul calling. It brings a sense of meaning to my life and work; the gift it gives and brings as a match-maker of kindred spirits and the wonderful people we meet along the way is priceless.

The least favorite part is the business side, especially with all the marketing and social media, it can consume you and we have had to be disciplined to make sure we maintain a creative balance whenever possible. But that’s the price you pay when you are an independent artist! 24/7, seven days a week, like every other self-employed person!

Suzy Starlight-Campbell

Where can we find you on the interwebs?

My website and Starlite Campbell Band website.

Brittany Frompovich is a highly regarded educator, clinician, blogger, and bassist who currently resides in the Washington DC/NOVA region. For more content from Brittany, check out her blog, her YouTube channel, and her Bandcamp site. She also offers handmade unisex music-themed jewelry through her Etsy store. Get a Wonder Woman Tee!

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