Stornoway at O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, gig review: Not a dry eye in the house at band's farewell show

Emotional performance takes the audience along for one last ride

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It’s been ten years since Stornoway first played in London, piling into frontman Brian Briggs’ two-man car for the trip from Oxford, one band member lying on top of the cello in the back.

"It's been a long road," Briggs tells a packed Shepherd’s Bush Empire on the band’s farewell tour - a world away from the tiny Brixton venues they played at the start.

"We never expected we would come as far as we have and it means a lot that we brought this music that has somehow found its way into your lives."

Stornoway write the kinds of songs that soundtrack pivotal moments, pinning down the haplessness of human life and showing our place in the natural world.

They're big on journey metaphors, stalling on the road in "The Great Procrastinator", urging their listeners to drive on in "Fuel Up", and wondering at what’s gained and lost on the way in "The Road You Didn’t Take". There are stories of people getting Stornoway lyrics tattooed on to themselves, and a wedding where the bride and groom entered to "Zorbing". 

At the gig, people sing the refrain from "Between the Saltmarsh and the Sea", the opening track on the band’s last album Bonxie, in full voice, while the band do the harmonies. Brian encourages everyone to sing louder... to cover him when he starts welling up. 

That works during a cover of Simple Minds’ "Don’t You Forget About Me", a tongue in cheek reminder from a departing band.

But there’s nowhere to hide when Brian announces three acoustic songs and the theatre falls instantly, reverentially silent. The band gathers around a microphone for "November Song", "Get Low" and the lovely "Josephine" in four-part harmony as people wipe their eyes in the crowd. 

They are joined onstage by their original violinist Rahul Satija, now a professor at NYU, and two trumpeters, one of them Brian’s brother Adam.

Brian jokes that they’ve all eaten so many baked good from Greggs that they thought about approaching the baker for sponsorship, but worried they would have to replace the seabird on the back of the stage with the Gregg’s logo. Behind the seabird is a huge sail, turned sideways, a symbol of the different directions they are each about to go in.

Brian, a doctor of ornithology, now works as a nature reserve warden in South Wales. You can imagine him singing to the birds in his waders on a Wednesday afternoon. Meanwhile Rob Steadman, on drums, has moved to New York to study and make music.

The pressures of keeping the band going as their lives diverge has become too much. Brian chokes up again during the farewells, when he says it’s been a privilege to play with his bandmates. The mood turns jubilant with "Zorbing", their unlikely favourite, about falling in love during a thunderstorm.

Clear beach balls like tiny Zorbs fall from the sky over the punters and are still flying as bandmates hold it together for a parting rendition of the doo-wop classic, "Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite". Fuel up lads. Drive on. 

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