Stornoway (Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms, 19/03/13)

The untruthfully-titled Oxford band STORNOWAY decided to pop by Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms on 19th March 2013, and I was asked by CRITICAL WAVE to have a nose around and review the night’s performances.

“I have a theory that no one comes to see the support do spoken word poetry…” He is probably right, but opener Rex Domino is remorseless. “… so gutted!” A capella rap number one closes on a crowd pleasing line – “fuck the Olympics”. Whether there were other quotes to provoke such cheers is difficult to tell. Spluttering at such a speed, he was difficult to follow. He is then joined by a flautist, who is his polar opposite. She doesn’t look or sound as though she wants to be there, and seems mildly irritated that Rex is roaring and spitting about ‘pissing in the wind’, all over her calm.

Dream folkers* Pale Seas are next, standing deadly still, hunched over their instruments in deep concentration. Stornoway’s Brian Briggs later explains and expresses his respect for the quartet who had been touring despite them all catching a bug and that their heads were halfway down the backstage toilets, minutes before the show. Despite this, Pale Seas’ Jacob Scott found the energy to take a stab at public enemies of the moment One Direction, much to everybody’s delight.

And finally, there’s Stornoway, entering in darkness to lone guest violinist Suzie Attwood’s solemn strings, an attitude which doesn’t last for long.

‘Here Comes the Blackout…!’ justifies its title, as it appears that the percussionist has grabbed the nearest object in pitch-blackness – sawing wood to the beat. The rhythmic anomalies continue where drummer Rob Steadman ditches his drum kit in favour of tearing up paper.

The audience is even treated to facts from Brian about Portsmouth, endearingly addressed as ‘Pompey’, and (of course) armadillos. How much truth was in his statements, such as whether they are the only animals aside from humans who can catch leprosy, is anybody’s guess, but there was a sick cackle from the crowd.**

Despite everybody being responsive to the onstage banter, whether about that, pie or old ladies (really) it takes until their biggest hit, ‘Zorbing’ late in the set for a song to get a big cheer. Even the most energetic tracks, such as the chaotic ‘(A Belated) Invite to Eternity’, littered with strobe lights induces little more than rhythmic nodding.

Twice the band perform entirely unplugged, first of which is ‘Novembersong’. Everybody feels pressured to be silent so not to blot out Brian’s lone vocals and acoustic guitar. Every whisper, footstep, door squeak, and inevitable smartphone bleeps can be heard. And so, it can be determined that at least seven people are filming his heartstring tugging lament.

And finally, the plugs are pulled for closer ‘Watching Birds’ as all band members stand in a line and sing in perfect harmony, before one last thank you and goodnight.

As whole, it’s a mish mash of indie folk, with the odd delve into experimental territory, remaining interesting and intriguing, without being plain odd. Seeing this mildly peculiar band translate their music almost flawlessly into live performance is well worth checking out.

* Also interchangeable with ‘folkists’. I’m pretty sure that I just made up those words. If I can get ‘oblongular’ into a university essay, I think it might just work. You get the idea…

**Is the image of an armadillo falling apart really that funny, Portsmouth? OK, maybe it is.

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