The idea of reviewing of Stornoway’s last gig of their farewell tour, in the town where they built their career strikes me as inappropriate. It’s like trying to review any sort of local, natural, beautiful, beloved phenomenon in Oxford. One might as well be writing a dispassionate account of swans gliding through the Castle Mill stream or critiquing the way that fog bends the sunlight over Christchurch meadow on a cool, bright morning in October. The concert felt natural. It clearly had great meaning for the performers, as well as the 1,800 attendees in the sold-out New Theatre. I am merely grateful to have been there.
Unequivocally, Stornoway performed like it was their last show. Rob Steadman’s earthquake drumming early in the set on ‘You take me as I am’ compelled the crowd to get moving. His brother Oli’s dancing, particularly on ‘I saw you blink’, ensured that it felt like a celebration of a decade of good times together. Jon Ouin’s keys, backing vocals, and cello provided all the right accents and depth for a memorable show. The room could barely contain Brian Briggs’ powerful vocals. The full extended family of the band – Susie Attwood, Adam Briggs, Tom Hodgson, and Rahul Satija – were all on hand and on form. They whole band was not unlike a well-built steel stringed guitar: powerful and resonant; capable to a full range of emotions; sturdy enough to weather bends, pulls, and a great many creative forms of percussion; and organized in a way that one can quickly and happily get lost in a moment.
Stornoway went on a journey through many joyous past shows with thoughtful determination, humility, light hearts, and a sliver of melancholy. The squalling swells of the opener ‘The Cold Harbour Road’ surely gave many chills. The mid-set acoustic, unplugged version of ‘Get Low’ reminded us of their roots and their musical range. Their lone cover, ‘Don’t you forget about me’, fit surprisingly well alongside all their indie folk triumphs. As the concert neared its end, the songs drifted back to their early days with high-energy classics like ‘Watching Birds’, ‘Zorbing’, and ‘We are the Battery Human’.
Though the closing moments felt understandably sentimental, the lasting impression of concert will be the scale of gratitude that the band expressed throughout the night. Every song had a dedication and seemingly every person who had helped them since 2007 was mentioned. The love and care in the room was overwhelming. The members of Stornoway and their community will surely carry forward this feeling of mutuality to help them drive on into the unknown.
Words: Paul Kellner