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Stornoway - Town Hall, Oxford - 14th February 2013 (Live Review)

Tuesday, 19 February 2013 Written by James Conlon
Stornoway - Town Hall, Oxford - 14th February 2013 (Live Review)

Heading out to a gig on Valentine's Day is always a risky option; on one hand you get to side-step the hefty restaurant prices and hoards of women cradling bouquets, but on the other, there's always the half chance that your beau will get an elbow to the face after one mosh motion too many. Luckily, the strums of Stornoway offered little cause for concern in terms of impromptu nosebleeds, and the Oxford Town Hall backdrop set the mood for elegance for the collective couples and folk fans gathered under the venue's lavish chandeliers.

ImageSupport act Spring Offensive took to the stage in a defiant manner, filling the large hall with tight-knit guitar hooks and enough emotive intensity to make the Damien Rice fan club sit up and listen. I saw the band perform last in London around a year ago, and it's clear that the five-piece have taken their energetic sound and added a good few layers of polish since then. Slow-burner 'I Found Myself Smiling' perked up ears with its bitter undercurrent and impressive harmonies, setting the tone for fan favourites 'Worry Fill My Heart' and 'A Stutter and a Start'. Even without a debut LP to their name, the band have made great strides and have been picking up the critical plaudits in recent months as testament to their talents. Set closer 'Not Drowning But Waving' acted as further proof of this talent, which pitted subtle acoustic strokes against pounding percussion. Fusing folk sensibilities with spiky guitar undercurrents to great avail, it's clear that the band are ready to impress further in 2013.

Stornoway were clearly pleased to be performing in front of a home crowd, launching enthusiastically into ‘Knock Me on The Head’, lead single from their anticipated second album ‘Tales From Terra Firma’. The mood was jovial throughout their set, with singer Brian Briggs full of Valentine’s-themed chat as the band prepped an impressive array of instruments including a mandolin and a saw.

The set combined favourites from their first LP with a selection of newer tracks, with the diverse sounds on display proving that the band have not been scared to experiment with their second release. While the well-known melodies of ‘Fuel Up’ were received with rapturous applause, the loudest claps were reserved for ‘November Song’, which was performed entirely unplugged, allowing Briggs’ tender vocals to echo brilliantly from the venue’s historic walls. The track has been doing the rounds in live performances since 2010, and it is easy to see why it has become a favourite with the band’s die-hards even before it is formally released on their upcoming LP this March.
‘The Bigger Picture’ then allowed the band to regroup on stage as a collective, before the members departed, only to appear with guitar, violin, and double bass on a balcony at the rear or the venue for a silence-inducing rendition of heartfelt track ‘The Ones We Hurt The Most’.

With the crowd well and truly under the band’s spell, Jon Ouin then took to the large organ at the back of the stage, pacing up to full Phantom of The Opera mode, setting up an anti-climactic start to ‘I Saw You Blink’. Energy was then fully restored for set closers ‘Watching Birds’ and ‘The Great Procrastinator’, which went further to whet appetites for what looks to be a fantastic second release from the band.


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