An open letter to Stornoway (or our review of Beachcomber’s Windowsill)

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Dear Stornoway,

I feel we owe you an apology of sorts. You see, I have been tasked with writing a review of your wonderful debut album Beachcomber’s Windowsill for a certain folk music website. It sort of makes sense, I suppose – Beachcomber’s Windowsill is one of the folkiest albums released yet this year. It is beautifully written, filled with absolutely lovely instrumentation and terrific not-quite harmonies. And yet I must still apologise, because you have made it quite clear to us all that you are very much not folk.

And so we owe you an apology. Or rather that the system of genre categorisation owes you an apology, because, dear Stornoway, you very much are folk. You see, there’s this new sub-genre of folk emerging at the moment. The newspapers and magazines are calling it nu-folk, but that’s just silly. We don’t go to folk gigs wearing neon t-shirts or anything. In fact, we all just tend to call it ‘folk’ still. But this is definitely a time of change in the folk scene right now, and your album is entirely representative of it. We don’t have to wear terrible clunky woolly jumpers any more! And men can be folk fans without beards, which is a terrible relief to those of us with rebellious chins.

No, folk music has gone back to its roots – which ironically means that it’s become a lot more contemporary. Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons are singing songs about the here and now, the world we live in. Just like you are really – like in ‘We Are The Battery Human’, which sings about freeing us all from the modern screen-hooked tendencies. It’s very good, by the way. And folk isn’t as angry as it used to be. You can sing about more fun things now, about enjoying life and all that sort of thing, like you do in the opener ‘Zorbing’, which isn’t quite about the practice of climbing into a giant inflatable hamster ball and rolling around fields, but sort of kinda is at the same time.

Here’s the thing, Stornoway: you seem to have accidentally created one of the best folk albums of the year so far, and at the moment you’re acting a little as if it’s a bad thing. It really isn’t, though – folk is one of the most credible, fulfilling genres about these days, and without even trying you’ve made a fantastic example of it. So, I’m really sorry that you’re going to be designated folk from now on, but I beg you to reconsider your response to it – don’t alienate your fans by insisting you aren’t one of them, and we’ll all be here to welcome you with open arms into the (not so beardy) world of folk.

Yours sincerely,

For Folk’s Sake

PS. We all really love the kazoo on ‘Watching Birds’. Bring that back for the second album, please.

9 comments for “An open letter to Stornoway (or our review of Beachcomber’s Windowsill)

  1. Jurgen11
    9 June 2010 at 8:45 pm

    Agree. Genre categorisations don’t do it for me. Stornoway are utterly brilliant whatever you want to call them. They have brightened up the music scene this year.

  2. Norman
    10 June 2010 at 12:18 am

    Coming from the town from which they took their name, I was mightily excited by them coming “home”. The gig was amazing and they sounded like no other band I have ever seen before. Even friends of mine found it hard to compare them as they have a wonderful fresh sound. With my other hat on, as a volunteer presenter on our local radio I have had the pleasure of interviewing and getting live sessions from Pete Roe, Dry the River and Johnny Flynn amongst others lately. From all this I have come to the conclusion that the emerging “folk” scene is reminiscent of Greenwich Village in 1962. Whereas in 1962 folk was becoming pop, this time pop is becoming folk.
    Beachcomber’s Windowsill is an album which will be lauded in the future as a groundbreaking album in the formation of a new genre which floats between folk and pop, I still don’t feel as if I have unearthed its beauty and full potential yet.
    Finally they took with them a wonderful female songstress from Carrbridge called Rachel Sermanni, check her out if you can a has a sweet intoxicating charm that you cannot help but fall in love with.

  3. Sam
    10 June 2010 at 1:41 am

    Whilst we don’t have to I do hope that we can still wear woolly jumpers and have beards.
    I like my woolly jumper, and I’m currently growing my first proper beard. It would be a shame for it to be a fruitless effort. Although it would be weird if it did bear fruit.

  4. Joe Skrebels
    10 June 2010 at 1:36 pm

    I’m really starting to feel bad for not liking this album. I just don’t get it, and I really, really want to.

    Although ‘We Are The Battery Human’ is brilliant.

  5. Lynn
    Lynn Roberts
    11 June 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Stornoway got their fans to vote about their folki-or-not-ness on their facebook page:

  6. James Dowlibg
    13 June 2010 at 4:19 pm

    I don’t like Folk but I like Stornoway, so it isn’t folk.

    It’s sort of soft rock by classically trained musicians with a Bristol accent singer!

  7. Neil Duggan
    14 June 2010 at 8:56 am

    It’s obviously folk.
    Its an OK album with a couple of stand out tracks but there’s nothing that new here – in fact it sounds a lot like Haircut 100 – especially “I saw you blink”!

  8. David Steel
    16 June 2010 at 7:38 pm

    Don’t change a working formula – that’s for sure.

  9. 13 September 2010 at 8:45 pm

    hello stephen,

    first of all, thanks for taking the time to review. i meant to respond to your open letter much sooner, but things got in the way! as i made the “we’re not folk” comments to 6music, i feel like i ought to reply.

    firstly, i want to explain that I am not remotely uncomfortable or embarrassed by the idea of stornoway being labeled “folk” (or “nu-folk” – whatever it may mean) – i just happen to think it’s a bit skewed.

    for years I’ve loved listening to (and am slightly obsessed with) a lot of “british folk revival” people like martin carthy, ewan macoll, anne briggs, dave swarbrick, bert jansch, and more psych-folk stuff like c.o.b. or i.s.b. perhaps I’m mistaken and/or pedantic, but to my ears there’s no real correlation between these types of folk artists and the sort of music stornoway make, besides a possible cosmetic similarity (as in the use of acoustic instruments). there’s not really any lyrical connection, as none of the words are traditional or in the public domain…in my humble opinion, it’s just representative of an ongoing, widespread conflation of the terms “folk” and “acoustic” (or maybe it’s me confusing the terms “folk” and “traditional”?!)…

    the point is i know that it’s just genre-labeling and, happily for everyone, musical genres bend and mutate over time…and it’s not overly significant anyway: we’re very fortunate that people are listening to us at all. that 6music interview possibly came over like a rant when it wasn’t meant to!

    folk or not folk, thanks for listening.


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