I first got wind of Stornoway back in 2011 when Izzy Westbury was president of the Oxford Union during the Michaelmas term of 2011 at Oxford University while studying abroad. The group of Oxford natives were Izzy’s favorite band at the time, and she made sure to give them a chance to play that I regretfully passed up to grab a pint with some friends.
So when the opportunity arose to see Stornoway in Washington, D.C., envelope myself in Oxford nostalgia, and enjoy some good tunes, I couldn’t pass it up.
And Stornoway delivered with hopeful, honest songs about life, love, and everything in between. Delightful is probably the best word to describe their music and the experience of seeing them live. It’s like taking a deep, refreshing breath. The British quartet mix elements of Beach Boys-esque pop with Fleet Foxes’ harmonies and a low-fi, organic feel.
“Fuel Up,” a tune from their first album, Beachcomber’s Windowsill, is a personal favorite about growing up, dealing with changes, and driving on despite the hardships and brevity of life.
The newer “November Song” off of their second album, Tales from Terra Firma, which lead singer and guitarist Brian Briggs performed alone and unplugged at the show, covers similar themes with a more hopeful bent to the tune of a slower waltz:
There’s a clock on my wall
Sometimes I hear it in my dreams
But I won’t be afraid of the changes a comin’
While I know a love that is sure as the morning
Indeed, the more poignant moments of life, according to Briggs, are made worthwhile and also endured with loved ones. He continues on “You Take Me as I Am:”
You take me as I am, for all my faults and problems
and you build me to withstand every gust and every gale
and if I knew I was going to die, well I'd be satisfied
'cos we shared this moment
But the uplifting lyrics are also punctuated by songs that are darker and fueled more by emotion to balance Stornoway’s catalogue, particularly on songs like “The Ones we hurt the Most,” where Briggs belts about a friend or relative “fighting to hang on” after “you put so much in for nothing in return” to the backdrop of wailing strings and slide guitar.
All in all, I’m definitely a fan.
Brandon Hook is the Online Assistant at Sojourners.