Words by Chris Foster
Photos by Anika Oehme
I sometimes ask myself at what point defines the exact moment a band has “made it”? Is it when you’re first featured as coverstars of a major music magazine? Selling x amount of records? Touring the world to the delight of thousands of your fans? It can certainly be quite hard to define. Watching Stornoway’s gracefully intriguing frontman Brian Briggs stroll to the front of their staggering large stage at one of London’s most grandest outdoor venues, Somerset House, about to perform to their largest ever headline crowd of 3000 loyal fans – one can’t help but wonder if *this* is that exact moment for them.
Despite such a daunting mass of heads before him, neatly lined up by (previously royal-resided) Somerset House’s walls showcasing impressive neo-classical architecture, Briggs seems barely fazed by it all. That’s not to say he doesn’t appear somewhat charmingly nervous in his speaking tone, but it’s that real personality that shines through to us all here tonight. There’s no cocky rockstar-esque overconfidence that you might expect (and perhaps want…) from other popular bands with similar sized fanbases, and naturally, in addition to their broad-appealing so called “nu-folk” songs, it’s perhaps one of the reasons why tonight’s crowd is so suitable mixed.
As Stornoway open their set with an enchanting performance of ‘Boats and Trains’, I notice a group of hipsters in front of me who are behind two giddily excited teenage girls, standing next to a man alone in his 60s, clapping and singing along to every word, whilst to my left stands an elated couple with their two young sons enjoying what seemed to be their first-ever concert: their eyes lighting up in awe when Stornoway’s accomplices, the North Sea Radio Orchestra, allow their strings to loudly compliment the Oxford quartet’s luscious vocal harmonies to full effect. It’s certainly an assorted crowd to say the least, fully demonstrating the band’s mass appeal here in the UK– the only downside to this being a slight unrest amongst the clearly less gig-frequenting crowd for a certain charting single to be played, often choosing to talk, burp and joke during some of the most intimately beautiful and quieter songs. One such group sadly received an earful from this here reviewer within the first minute of their opener, and I’m happy to report to you all that they swiftly moved elsewhere….
Despite making a more than remarkable impression on me with their debut album “Beachcomber’s Windowsill”, I’ve always had my doubts as to whether Stornoway would be able to pull their sensational songwriting mastery off in a live setting, as I’ve often been left disappointed with other well-produced artists in live settings. Having witnessed the band for the first time tonight I can fully confirm they are even more impressive live than on record, often choosing to adapt their studio versions of fan favourites ever so slightly to add diversity to the mix. It’s also worth mentioning that multi-instrumentalists Oli Steadman and Jon Ouin hit every single vocal harmony to perfection, another aspect I feel many bands fail to perform as well as they do on record when being showcased in a live setting. As gorgeous as all the familiar tracks were tonight, the real highlight of the show was to hear their new material ,which is sounding more than promising for that tricky second album – in particular, a certain track performed first in their hugely demanded three track encore. This particular song was called ‘The Ones We Hurt the Most’ (watch a video of the song here)and was my personal highlight of the show, not simply due to its sentimental lyrical connotations but because it was sung using just one microphone with all four of the band huddled around. It was also the moment Briggs played a whole bar of the intro guitar riff, silencing the crowd in wonder before Steadman pointed out it was in the wrong key and the guitar capo needed to be moved elsewhere resulting in the whole audience having a light chuckle along with them.
Tonight should be seen as a resounding success for the band- not just for their perfect performance to their largest-ever headline crowd in such a prestigious venue, but for winning over a somewhat demanding crowd who may have only been expecting just the hits and instead received a decent amount of their impressive new material; it’s certainly not easy to showcase new songs to a crowd who has paid good money to hear the songs they know and love. Saying that, they of course ended their three-track encore with ‘Zorbing’ and absolutely everyone went nuts, making it the perfect way to finish a highly memorable performance and leaving us all ready to click the pre-order buttons as soon as their new album is announced.