Gig Review: Stornoway’s Farewell Tour @ The Colston Hall 28/2/17

by Polly Hember

After over a decade of writing, playing, touring and performing with each other, the four-strong, bird-loving, Cowley-born indie-folk outfit Stornoway are disbanding. Whilst very sad for their strong following, this decision could not have been announced with more dignity or care, or executed with such warm feelings and finesse. Embarking on a Farewell Tour across the UK, they came to Bristol – moved from the modest Lantern to the impressively big Colston Hall – with raw emotions, phenomenal musicianship, genuine sentiments, fantastic songs spanning their extensive and varied back catalogue and the perfect goodbye.

Stornoway brought a well thought through and substantial set list, offering the adoring audience ‘Between the Saltmarsh and the Sea’, they dipped in and out of their four studio albums, balancing the night between upbeat and invigorating numbers such as ‘Battery Human Race’ and ‘Watching Birds’ and slower, calmer songs like the beautiful ‘(A Belated) Invite to Eternity’ and the intensely emotional ‘Fuel Up’. Performing together with three accompanying musicians who enriched Stornoway’s soundscape with instruments from brass trumpets, violins and various percussion including polystyrene (to mimic the crunching of leaves, naturally) and more, creating a full and fierce sound. However, the most magical moments and highlight of the night came when the band unplugged their instruments to perform three songs unplugged, unadulterated and acoustically. 

Led by frontman Brian Briggs, the four men crowded round a single microphone to give us beautifully raw renditions of ‘Get Low’ and ‘Josephine’ that will stay with me, lodged in my heart for the rest of my life. Without the big sounds and guitars to stand behind, the emotions of each song came through and filled the huge and echoing Colston Hall.

Briggs charmed the crowd, invoking laughs from the audience as he recounted random facts about pancakes (did I mention they performed on Pancake Day?) to conveying the genuine gratitude of the band for the support and love from the audience over the years. Their cover of Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ was a delightful and unexpected addition to the night, funny and pointed in a Farewell Tour, asking the audience to, indeed, remember them. The encore of ‘The Great Procrastinator’ and ‘The End of the Movie’ was bittersweet and poignant, attesting to the difficulty of such a decision to disband, and full of ruminations of closure, of endings and rolling credits. Of course, crowd favourite ‘Zorbing’ was saved right till the end and was met with unabashed singing along, and swaying to the summery hit, immediately bringing back memories of walking down Cowley Road in my university days with their brilliant debut album Beachcomber’s Windowsill blaring in my headphones.

Much like their musical oeuvre, Stornoway’s goodbye was evocative, stirring and heartfelt. Their live performances is where their music can be appreciated best, but their unique and catchy albums will be played for years to come, I am sure.

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Follow Stornoway, listen to their back catalogue and catch the last dates of their Farewell tour in London and Oxford! 

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