Possibly one of the finest things to come out of Oxford since degrees which, lets face it aren’t much use in the current economic climate, tonight Stornoway confirm that folk is on a positive come back. In front of an eclectic audience they pay homage to their hometown in a set crammed with diversity. I’ve never been a fan of violin solos yet as they open the show with just this, I am ultimately converted and as the full band arrive to bridge it into a rendition of The Cold Harbour Road things only get better.
It’s the obvious favourites which grab the audience; We Are The Battery Human and Fuel Up spawning a sea of people mouthing the words back at the band. But the addition of new tracks November Song (performed as a solo by Brian) and When You Touch Down From Out Of Space Part 1 show that there’s little chance of Stornoway being a short lived wonder. Locals will no doubt notice the references to Oxford in the latter and the subtle shift to a more rocky vibe brings the talent of the band to life.
Nevertheless not everything runs to plan and as Brian informs us that ‘It could be good. It could be…’ he invites Oxford Keyboard choir to join them on stage for a remix of Long Distance Lullaby my verdict falls firmly in the unfinished side of the sentence. An audience member behind me remarks ‘it’s simply just not as good as the original’ but this is quickly forgotten as they strike into the punchier Here Comes The Blackout…! and Watching Birds.
The delight of Stornoway is that they combine intricate folk melodies with almost naive lyrics, which juxtapose each other in a purely complimentary way and nowhere is this more apparent that in their final numbers. Nodding to the fans from the early days, they give tribute in the form of Beachcomber’s Windowsill, the inspiration for their album, which only leaves me wondering why it didn’t make the cut. Still by this point the audience is captivated, especially after an unplugged rendition of The End Of The Movie, in which the resonance is enhanced by the awareness that this is the last ever gig that Brookes will host.
All it takes then is a full scale sing-a-long in the form of Zorbing to complete the night and despite a school boy type error as Brian jumps into the second verse a few bars early, the room stays utterly transfixed. Education, it seems, may be overrated. But tonight goes to show that Stornoway are not.