Stornoway are a four-piece band from Oxford who, with two extra live players tonight, make uplifting folky-indie - although taking their name from a remote Scottish isle is apt given their evident love nature, of the most wind-swept, moon-lit variety.
The gig opens with a series of projections of glowing moons, and they'll be frothing waves, sea-birds, starry skies and other predictable pastoral delights behind them throughout.
They released their first album, the lovesick Beachcomber's Windowsill, in 2010 – and even when its bubbling pop ditties were fresh, bright and pretty as daises, there was somehow an immediate, built-in nostalgia to their sound: opening track 'Zorbing' begins “Conkers shining on the ground/The air is cooler/And I feel like I just started uni.” So, suddenly, did their listeners – and hearing it live now, three years on, there's a extra emotional undertow, a genuine nostalgia.
The crowd laps it up; another track from that record, 'Fuel Up', sees the girl in front of me put her head on her boyfriend's shoulder dreamily and leave it there for quite some time. During new number 'November Song' - played apprehensively unplugged in such a large venue - singer and acoustic guitar player Brian Briggs gives a performance of touching intimacy. The crowd turns reverentially silent; they hold each other, and sway. You'd have to be miserly of spirit not to be won over.
Briggs' voice is like aural Ovaltine, warm and thick and somehow wholesome; their music is milkily comforting too. For Stornoway are a wholly, unabashedly, heartfelt group, six hairy, slightly weedy looking chaps who clearly really /mean/ it. The danger is that all this can veer into twee territory – certainly 'The Bigger Picture', the catchiest track from new album Tales from Terra Firma, risks eye-rolls, with lyrics about a snowdrop shivering in a graveyard, “no less fragile than the soul to which you cling.” The also unplugged 'Farewell Appalachia', with close harmonies and over-earnest intensity, loses its on-record witchiness and veers dangerously close to boy band balladeering.
At their best, however, Stornoway's idealistic, jaunty music raises a smile: the encore features 'I Saw You Blink', a slice of pitch-perfect, feel-good nu-folk, as well as the similarly upbeat 'Watching Birds', all rippling organ-style keys, lively guitars and twitching cymbals. It ends with a blast of trumpet – and confetti – which seems an appropriately giddily romantic final flourish.
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