It was a joyously sad experience watching folk darlings Stornoway this evening. This lovely bunch of talented musos have made some wonderfully uplifting music in their 10 years together. So to see them play our beloved Bristol for the last time was probably just as hard for them as it was the audience. Just like their records, the stage is full to the brim with an array of instruments, and you just know you’re in for a journey that will see the band… well, we’ll get to that in a minute.
First up are friends from across the pond, Brasstronaut. Apparently, both bands bonded over a game of hacky sack, and tonight they’re more than happy to warm our bones with a jazz-infused dance vibe. They get the party started, encouraging claps from the crowd, who willing oblige. A heavy presence of trumpet and an electrical ewi (a clarinet that doesn’t look like a clarinet, basically) give the band their euphoric jazz sound, but it’s not without the work of singer and keyboard player Edo Van Breemen, and interesting rhythms, particularly Brennan Saul’s drums, that collectively take the crowd out of their comfort zone and into a new musical cosmos. Funky beats and harmonies aplenty, Vancouver’s Brasstronaut were a joy.
Now, let’s not get emotional. Brian Briggs, lead singer of Stornoway, does not want that; they’re his words, not mine. And true to his word, he doesn't bum the crowd out with such talk. For tonight we are celebrating, not mourning. We’re celebrating a well-loved band that hail from Oxford (so if you always thought they were from the Scottish Isle of Stornoway, you're probably not here tonight). But nothing screams a wealth of support than having to move a show from Colston's Lantern Room to the main hall.
The lights are low as the violin intro to "The Coldharbour Road" brings the band on stage. The crowd are pleased to see them. Colston’s main hall is now full, even the seats at the back. The delightfully uptempo "You Take Me As I Am" gets the crowd shaking their tail feathers, constantly lifting you off the ground as the piano and trumpet join the ensemble, while the grand crescendo of Brian Briggs's voice echoes around the auditorium. The quirky sounds behind "Lost Youth" are present thanks to multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Quin, while the beautifully haunting "The Road You Didn’t Take" shifts the mood allowing the band to showcase their wonderful voices in harmony.
The crowd are treated to an unplugged set, but not before fan favourite "Fuel Up" gets a huge sing-along. The stripped back set is an intimate affair (almost spoiled by a couple of drunken morons laughing loudly), but it's not long before everyone is captivated by this joyous moment. It sees Briggs on acoustic guitar and vocals while Oli Steadman caresses the double bass. They're joined by the rest of the band, who lend harmonies that carry the weight of the songs out across a sea of happy faces. This is most mesmerising on "Josephine".
The amps are switched back on for the hypnotic ballad "Farewell Appalachia". There's some musical madness here, as the crowd bear witness to an axe being banged on a piece of wood, along with sand paper blocks being rubbed together. You can't fault their creative genius tonight. The band has really pulled out all stops to ensure the songs are as rich in instrumentation live as they are on record.
As the shows draws closer to the end, the catchy, riff-driven "I Saw You Blink" and a cover of Simple Minds' "Don’t You (Forget About Me)" get a great response. Not surprisingly, set closer "Zorbing" has the crowd going wild and is the perfect finale to a great show. It’s a wonderful evening that sees the band draw from all three albums. Great songs layered in a wealth of instrumentation easily filled Colston's grand hall. Sing-alongs and some great chat with the crowd kept the mood upbeat, as Stornoway wave goodbye to a city that did them proud tonight.