Stornoway first captured my attention way back when I started Uni. The student magazine had reviewed their local show around the time of their first album release: ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’, which very quickly became the soundtrack to my student life. I’ll always associate my autumnal commute (and relatable situation) to the lyrics of I Saw You Blink: “I missed the train on my way home, because I was still daydreaming”. If the band somehow escaped you, their music is imbued with sensitivity and earthiness, cherished by all it touches. All three albums are threaded thematically by the natural world, of love and folklore.
There’s a very good chance that Stornoway have saved their best until last for us tonight, playing to their hometown’s biggest venue, New Theatre Oxford. With a heavy heart, band and audience give it their all, as though it’s their last night on earth (which it emotionally, feels nothing short of). After opening the night with a foreshadowing track: ‘Coldharbour Road’ Brian asks us to join them in making tonight “a party, not a wake” just when he begins to feel himself “welling up already” everyone abandons their seats for the rest of the night, dancing and singing along.
The setlist touches upon some of the greatest hits from their three albums with a clever play on tonight’s exit, feeling faintly metafictional. Referential ‘Fuel Up’ is tweaked to “and tonight we’re moving onto our new verse” and whilst their set is stretched to the utmost (no doubt surpassing the curfew) none of us can believe that this is it – the end.
Highlights from tonight include ‘I saw You Blink’ and the unforgettable ‘November Song’ which Brian plays alone acoustically in humble dedication to the Steadman Parents: “We never dreamed we’d achieve what we did…thanks for putting up with us over these past 10 years and in giving up your garage!”
The famous Tim Bearder was nearby and given much deserved recognition as were all the local businesses that supported their early development. I’ll never forget reading back in 2010, the anecdote about Bearder’s support. As it happened, the BBC Introducing Oxford Radio presenter locked himself in the studio, dedicating a whole hour to Stornoway, leading to a week’s suspension. What an absolute legend! Tim was dedicated a suffusion of Watching Birds moving through a transition to the (sublime) cover of Simple Minds ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’.
‘Zorbing’ arrived timely as a beautiful encore to the night. As the band took to their microphones the audience stepped in to rob them of their first verse. Moments like these epitomised how far the band had come, and tonight coming full circle, playing to the friends, family and fans that had been beside them from the beginning was a warmth that couldn’t be forged.
‘Zorbing’ personally, is one of the band’s most idiosyncratic of songs that comes to represent a joy that will never be repressed. It’s fitting that the song itself is a metaphor for feeling head over heels in love. Such was the emotion felt amongst us in the room tonight. A love so strong for a band, that will indefinitely go on to soundtrack our lives. An irrepressible love for an irreplaceable band.
Enjoy our playlist of clips taken from the eve of this Farewell Tour: