Stornoway - Beachcombers Windowsill (2010)

 "Stornoway began quietly one freshers' week at Oxford University, when lead singer and principal songwriter Brian Briggs approached Jon Ouin (keys/banjo/electric guitar/cello) and asked if he happened to like Teenage Fanclub. They began playing music together soon afterwards, in the dining hall of Wolfson College and immediately set to work on their own fledgling compositions. A short while later they were emboldened enough to enter the college talent competition, where they were runners-up to a group of Norse singers, and received a consolation prize of a large bowl of fruit.

Spurred on by this success, they recorded a handful of demos on Ouin's 8-track, and placed an ad for a bass player in the local paper. The sole respondent was Ollie Steadman, then still a sixth form student, who sent Briggs and Ouin a strikingly formal application for the position of bassist, and turned up to the audition armed with a screwdriver, lest his new bandmates turned out to be dangerous thugs. The final addition was Steadman's younger brother, Rob, who was finally given an opportunity to audition after the band had endured a succession of woefully bad drummers. (Live performances are augmented by Briggs' brother Adam on trumpet and Rahul Satija on violin — both of whom also make appearances on Beachcomber's Windowsill). They practised, then, in freezing cold garages and crowded around the bed in Briggs' bedroom; they played live around the venues of Oxford, often to the smallest of audiences, and soon they caught the eye of Tim Bearder, a DJ from BBC Oxford who was so instantly smitten that he devoted an entire show to the band.

For there is something about Stornoway that inspires a quite feverish devotion; an adoration conjured by the charm of their songs, and the kind of rousing live performances that are capable of stirring even the most sceptical hearts. Their self-promoted shows in Oxford grew to the extent that last year they sold out the 800 capacity Sheldonian Theatre whilst still basically unknown outside the city.

In the last 12 months alone they have acquired the support of Radio 1's Huw Stephens, played Radio 1's Big Weekend, wooed the crowds at Glastonbury, found themselves shortlisted for the BBC's Sound of 2010 poll, played a sold-out UK tour and appeared on Later… With Jools Holland.

Earlier this year Stornoway signed to 4AD. "For a long time we thought we might release the album ourselves," says Briggs. "Because that's what we've done with our early EPs. But we realised that to do that would mean spending our lives basically running our own record label." The band's principal fear was that in signing to a record label they might lose some of their control over their material. "When we started to talk with labels most of them said 'We want you to re-record the album and do it in a studio…'" he explains. Thankfully, 4AD were keen that the majority of the songs should be left as they were, recorded on Ouin's 8-Track (affectionately known as Mrs 802) in college bedrooms, garages and community centres, at a time when as Briggs puts it, "we felt quite free and had lots of time." "If you listen closely," he adds, "you can hear stuff like various bandmembers muttering, lots of hiss and funny little details that you would normally clean up if you were in a studio. There's something about the recordings as they are which has maybe more character and more soul to them. And we're proud that actually these are things that we made ourselves without any outside help."

For two songs, the band made an exception, venturing into a proper recording studio. They worked with producer Craig Silvey, a man Ouin describes as "The love-child of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Johnny Depp. He has worked with quite a strange, wide selection of people like the Horrors, Mariah Carey and Geoff Barrow but he seemed to really connect with what we were trying to do." They credit Silvey with not only putting up with their collective fussiness, but also for "giving us a perspective on things. And a massive amount of knowledge and experience." The album has been mastered by George Merino in New York. "It's been back to him six times now," says Briggs. "And every time we send it back it's another $1000, but when you've spent five years recording an album it's gotta be right."

All of the fussiness, all of the years and the bells and the bedrooms, have been worthwhile. For from the opening zip-thunk of 'Zorbing' to the final sweet lurch of 'Long Distance Lullaby', via the plaintive call of 'Boats and Trains', these are 11 of the most pure and perfect pop songs." --4AD

Beachcombers Windowsill
Album art: 
Release date: 

1. Zorbing
2. I Saw You Blink
3. Fuel Up
4. The Coldharbour Road
5. Boats And Trains
6. We Are The Battery Human
7. Here Comes The Blackout
8. Watching Birds
9. On The Rocks
10. The End Of The Movie
11. Long Distance Lullaby

Music label: 
Oxford, United Kingdom
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