Stornoway - Live 21/02/2013


It is a difficult thing to introduce a whole batch of new songs into a set of old ones that are hugely popular amongst fans. Old favorites will have to move aside for the new material. Having seen Stornoway about once a year for the last 5 years I was interested to see the Oxford band balance this.

To start with I feel I must mention the venue. It was not particularly suitable, or the sort of place I would expect them to play. Nor was the 10:45 stage time. For fear of sounding like a purist middle-aged grumbler I would rather a setting more akin to the brand of indie-folk that the band purvey.

Tales From Terra Firma (released by 4AD on the 11th March 2013) has a different vibe to their debut album Beachcombers Windowsill. This manifested itself in a live set of peaks and troughs – the audience rising magnificently to the old and slooshing back to the new.

They opened with Knock me on the Head - the first single from the forthcoming album. I thought the song was much better live. I didn’t instantly warm to the studio version, but it had more drive and meat to it onstage.

We were treated intermittently with doses of familiarity and then to the strumming of a few unfamiliar chords and subsequent uncertainty about the ensuing song. All this was glued together by the familiar faltering charm of lead singer, Brian Briggs.

Fuel up, with its dreamy nostalgic plod, was one of the peaks. The Great Procrastinator conjured up images of the end credits of a film – as if to accompany the curtains closing on an epic adventure. When the album comes out I encourage you to listen to this song while imagining a checked-shirted cartoon woodman walking into the sunset with an axe over his shoulder and a forest behind him. Sounds weird now, but you’ll understand!

A rockier feel was a feature of the whole performance. Briggs’ voice has beefed up and Rob Steadmans drumming was louder and more confident – crowned by a four-minute drum solo that introduced the encore. They ended with Watching Birds the heaviest song from their first album. It was a grin-inducing affair and had the whole crowd jumping and cheering – intensified by drawing out the last pre-chorus by a country swing half-time before re-doubling the tempo for a final horn infused apocalyptachorus.

The performance was fun, accomplished and typically eccentric. The incorporation of sounds from a Dulcimer and a rhythmically shredded local newspaper contributed to the sense of humor, magic and intrigue that surround Stornoway performances.

Once the new album has sunk in I think the same show would play out differently. It wasn’t that the old was incongruous with the new, more that it felt like a gathering of friends flecked with new faces yet to cement themselves in the group. I’m optimistic that those fresh faces will become firm friendships – but in true English style it may take a few meetings.