What better way to really get to know Beachcomber’s Windowsill, and its diligent composers, than to follow Stornoway’s rise to success and to follow them on the road to gigs in Swindon, London, Dublin, Galway, Brighton and Bangor.
AWAL is home to many success stories, with acts including the Artic Monkeys and Editors independently releasing material through AWAL prior to being signed. Stornoway follow in the footsteps of these established indie artists and whilst at initial glance it may appear that these are indeed large shoes to fill, the debut album from the now 4AD-signed Oxfordshire quartet is quite frankly a scintillating piece of songcraft and musical mastery that would not be out of place in end of year polls or the Mercury Music Prize shortlist.
Stornoway are not dissimilar to a lightening bolt, ‘zorbing’ through the official charts that are more often than not replete with vacuous synths and autotune. Yet it’s a misconception to think that bands appear from out of nowhere. Beachcomber’s Windowsill is the product of at least five years’ work and songcraft. Predominantly bedroom and garaged produced, with the exception of two studio produced tracks including album standout I Saw You Blink, in Beachcomber’s Windowsill Stornoway have managed to retain the idiosyncratic charm that underpins their music – a quality that can often be lost in the production of the most polished pieces of music.
In spite of not actually originating from their Hebridean namesake, Brian Briggs, Jon Ouin and brothers Oliver and Robert Steadman delicately capture the sound of the sea, rolling landscapes and natural beauty in their almanac album. Reflecting our individual journeys through life, Beachcomber’s Widowsill has a sense of progression – whether it is a train or car journey, the Thames flowing between Oxford and London or a drunken stumble home. Interpreting the world around them and their place within it, the outside world is brought into Stornoway’s music. This is also demonstrated in their live shows, as seen in the two bouys that are often incorporated into drummer Rob’s drum kit and were originally found on a Scottish beach (photo 13).
Stornoway’s debut album harbours an eclectic range of styles (and not to mention instruments). From the foot-tappingly catchy album openers I Saw You Blink and Zorbing, to the heartstring-tugging Fuel Up and Long Distance Lullaby, Stornoway are experimental pioneers in their own right. Clearly revelling in the creative process of making music, the sound of chopping carrots forms the basis of Here Comes The blackout…! Stornoway have even been known to experiment with a Morse code drum-beat, literally spelling ‘I Saw U Blink’, in their early practices and performances of previous single I Saw You Blink. This creativity truly comes into its own when the album is performed live. If you are fortunate enough to catch Stornoway at a succession of live shows – I’ve seen them perform over ten times in just over a month – you will notice that the compositional arrangement for each track differs from show to show. A noisy, raucous, foot stomping drum-led performance of Watching Birds at Dublin’s The Crawdaddy on April 16th became an acoustic and slowed down performance at aTower Records in-store record the following morning.
Beachcomber’s Windowsill finds Stornoway poetically approach the overarching grand themes of modernity (We Are The Battery Human), love (Long Distance Lullaby) and the transience of life (Fuel Up). Yet Stornoway simultaneously counterbalance these metanarratives with the often overlooked fonder details of life – moths on windows (Boats and Trains) and birds sitting on wires (Watching Birds).It is this lyrical juxtaposition that could be said to also bear semblance to Stornoway’s overall position within the music industry. An indie band of sorts, Stornoway are now signed to independent label 4AD and are mainstream enough to grace Jo Whiley’s Live Lounge and to currently reside on the Radio 1 B List. In this vein, Stornoway’s secret to further mainstream success (if they want it) in my humble opinion lies in track 8, Watching Birds. A standout live track, it would certainly work as a future single release. It screams radio airplay and contains one of the finest Kazoo interludes I’ve heard since Feeder’s Just A Day.
With previous single Unfaithful and the album’s titular track Beachcomber’s Windowsill not making the final album cut, it’s clear that there is plenty more material where this impressive debut album came from. Live renditions of Blackbox’s Ride on Time and the edgy Wearing My Casio, A Live Lounge cover of Wiley’s Wearing My Rolex, indicate that the future of Stornoway’s sound will continue to be as eclectic as the objects that make up their album title’s subject, a beachcomber’s windowsill.
So what’s next for Stornoway? The last few weeks have found them completing their Highlands and Islands tour, The Great Escape, a sold-out gig at ULU and Radio 1’s The Big Weekend. Their album is currently sitting comfortably in the Top Five of the ITunes album chart.
An advert for Beachcomber’s Windowsill has just graced my TV screen as I type….
Beachcomber’s Windowsill is available to buy on iTunes now