Stornoway are effortlessly precise, lyrically nuanced, and, when they took to the stage in Black Box on the 4th of November, they were good-mannered, sharply-dressed and out to please a packed audience.
Taking an impatiently long time to come onstage and with people flocking to the bar or engaged in increasingly raucous chit-chat, I had my doubts about whether the softly-sung Stornoway could hold the audience’s attention. But their bold stage presence proved me wrong from the get-go.
Cutting up a newspaper, rubbing two polystyrene blocks together and tapping an axe helped to provide a beat for their opening number, “Farewell Appalachia”; this alone proved enough to intrigue the members of the audience who had previously seemed more interested in finding out what was at the bottom of pint glass than what was going on on-stage. Equally intriguing is “Clockwatching”; a racing, haunting song from their recent mini-album You Don’t Know Anything. Brian Briggs’ unique voice echoes and drifts into the ears. It’s two songs in and I already love it.
The band meet roaring applause when they mash one of their older hits “I Saw You Blink” with some of the Northern Irish songs that have given them inspiration – cue Van’s “Moondance”, The Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks”, Divine Comedy’s “National Express” and, wait for it, “I’ll Tell Me Ma”. Their varied and peculiar influences are apparent throughout the concert with the beautiful, elegant vignettes of Beachcombers’ Window blending with some of the more uplifting, jazzier songs of Terra Firma (these folks could well and truly give Van the Man a run for his money, they’ve got soul and they’re classy as hell).
Towards the final act of the concert, Briggs – polite as always – asks us if we want to hear some stripped back acoustic songs. We respond warmly and remain hushed as the band illustrate their vocal capacities and are allowed to flesh out their lyrical expertise. Songs about childish innocence typified in the experience of driving and songs about how humans should be more like monkeys get given their place; each one is framed with a timid but affectionate justification of its meaning that intimately draws you in.
For their encore, they play a heartening rendition of the opening track of Terra Firma, “You Take Me As I Am”, then “The Great Procrastinator” and finish with “Zorbing” (my personal favourite and, if the cheers and standing ovations are anything to go by, everyone else’s too).
Giving life to beautiful lyrics, instrumentally diverse and with a perfect stage presence – Stornoway well and truly nailed it.