In The Middle with Stornoway

“I think the feeling at present is one of triumph and embrace, one last explosion of fun,” Oli Steadman, bassist for Stornoway, tells me when I ask about the atmosphere for their upcoming Farewell Tour. After 10 years, Stornoway’s particular brand of bird song-infused indie-folk is coming to an end, and the news has come as a devastation to many. “It’s been truly humbling to have this demonstration of how far and deep our music has travelled,” Oli says. Their inbox has been spilling over with messages from ‘Stornofans’ – an instantly endearing phrase – from California, Australia, Paraguay, all flying in to see a show. Pretty good for a small folk band from Oxford.

I ask what we can expect from these shows since Stornoway aren’t out to promote an album – an experience Oli sometimes finds awkward. “There’s that issue of knowing that it will be the first time your audience is hearing a song. Our songs tend to be growers.” Stornoway’s songs reward multiple listens, especially in terms of their poetic lyrics. “It will probably be the most fun we’ve had on a tour; most people will know all the songs and words already. We did a little bit of a poll online and we’re using that to create some of the set-list.” We can also expect some returning fan favourite stage props, and new covers of some of the band’s favourite folk songs added to the mix. “It’s our last opportunity to try something new, we’re pulling out all the stops.” Oli says. It sounds like the gigs are shaping up to be a real last-hurrah, a thank-you to the band’s most dedicated fans.

Of course with a last tour comes the end of an era, and for Stornoway, the end of 10 long years on the road. They cite shows around the laneways of Australia’s biggest cities in 2011 as particularly wild – as wild as indie-folk gets, that is. Tours in the USA are highlights thanks to the opportunities to explore between shows, and even Oli’s description is poetic: “hiking the Redwood forests or picking up ticks in the woods of Wisconsin.” But he admits, “By the time we reached Washington for the Sasquatch festival we were suffering somewhat.” It’s no surprise that the band grabbed the opportunity to get outdoors, even if it exhausted them. Anyone who has ever listened to Stornoway will know of the huge influence Mother Nature has on the band. 2010’s ‘We Are the Battery Human’ was an anti-technology anthem, pressing people to get outside and disconnect, well before the media preached the same message. But even when it was written, Oli explains: “Social networks had just come in as a means to share your music and we actually fully embraced this. Whereas our demo CDs were physically handed to pub owners.” So, even Stornoway are supportive of the digital age nowadays.

As the band goes their separate ways, the great outdoors persists, with lyricist and singer Brian following his heart into the woods to become a full time nature-reserve warden in Wales. Drummer Rob has escaped across the Atlantic to study in New York, and Jon’s around Oxford where Oli proudly tells me he’s making waves with his theatre music and film scores. As for himself? “I have my annual festival tours and afrobeat DJ adventures as Count Drachma”, inspired by the music of his home country South Africa.

Oli’s other work as the head of a London start-up for gig-lovers is exposing him to a slew of new music, and for those of us pretty sad to hear of Stornoway’s departure, he’s quick to point out some new folky talent. “Martha Bailey is a highly talented new writer with some truly captivating songs; Catgod are the band I’m most excited about for 2017 from our hometown of Oxford; and singer-songwriter FENNE LILY from Bristol’ is already playing popular shows.” So, that’s our next playlist sorted then. Thanks Oli.

In a last ditch attempt to stop them going, I ask if there’s any hope for a Stornoway re-union in the future? Maybe they want to explore a new sound? Oli’s answer is firmly tongue-in-cheek. “We couldn’t agree whether to go with psychedelic dancehall on the fourth album, or electro-maskand. I think the rest of the band truly freaked out when I bought a didgeridoo and began to insist on its inclusion in every new song.” Well it certainly might have been more interesting than Mumford & Son’s third album, that’s all I can say.

Heather Nash

(Image: The Oxford Student)

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