There are three Stornoways on this planet. The first – presumably – is a Scottish island of the Inner Hebrides, the second is a house in Ottawa where the leader of the official opposition party of Canada resides (currently Thomas Mulcair, leader of the New Democratic Party or NDP). Finally, the third is a British indie rock band from Oxford who named themselves after the aforementioned Scottish Island of the Inner Hebrides. To be fair though, lead singer and guitarist Brian Briggs was knowledgeable enough to know the Canadian Stornoway as well. (To be even more fair, there are actually more than three Stornoways – there is also Stornoway, Saskatchewan, a tiny hamlet of ten people. Plus, there is the world-renowned Stornoway black pudding from the Western Isles of Scotland – specifically the Isle of Lewis – which is made with beef suet, onion, oatmeal and blood). But we are here to talk about the band.
And what a band they are. In addition to the traditional guitar, bass, keyboard and drums, Stornoway contains many layers of sounds. Other instruments that made an appearance during the set were a violin, trumpet, zither, saxophone, mandolin, and synthesizers. There was even drumming on microphone and shaking of gourds – very reminiscent of Benoit Charest (another Canadian connection!). Yet, in spite of all the extraneous noises they still come across as your quintessential British indie rock band. Brian Briggs even looks like a British folk singer. Take your average, regular sounding British band (not quite the Beatles) and colour in shades of R.E.M and The Verve and you will probably end up with something quite similar to Stornoway. Multifaceted and multi-layered, yet still relatively simple. And just to prove how simple great music, Briggs asked the audience for quiet and proceeded to do a song unplugged – just him and his guitar – and brought the show to a whole new level, as well as garnered the biggest applause of the night.
There are signs that these guys are on the verge on breaking out. They had move their show from the Media Club to the larger Electric Owl, due to demand and ticket sales. Much of the audience knew the words to many of the songs they played. They have their audiences’ respect – as was demonstrated by the unplugged performance. They are also very polite. I spoke with and John Ouin and they were British musicians who didn’t swear in an interview in quite a while. (Oddly enough, most of the profanity has been by lady rockers).
Their newest album is Tales From Terra Firma. Like their previous work, it took a while to make, due to band’s well thought out and drawn out creative process. Terra Firma took three years to release while 2010’s Beachcomber’s Windowsill took five. I think the extra time pays off as the aesthetic quality of the music is of a much higher standard than we might normally see. Yet, throughout it all, Stornoway remains your lovely, quintessential British rock group.
Tales From Terra Firma was released March 11, 2013 on 4AD Records.
RIYL: REM, The Verve, Metric, The Joy Formdidable