Somehow, it’s was always with a sense of slight embarrassment that I used to like bands like Stornaway (and previously…Mumford & Sons). It’s nothing to do with their lack of accomplishment as musicians; both bands are characterised by interesting arrangements and intelligent, poetic lyrics. Or is it anything to do with the fact that last year they were on trend. It’s more the feeling that both bands were formed out of- shall we say- comfortable backgrounds. Not that a comfortable background is a bad thing (it’s not as if they had a choice in the matter), I come from a not dissimilar background. It just seems that both bands are woven from the same, organic cloth of new-folk/vintage. Several of the men (they are all men) in their bands wear intriguing moustaches; they all exude a non-threatening bon-homie. I can confirm this. At last Thursday’s gig in Bath, Stornaway‘s front-man had several mildly amusing anecdotes. These came in handy in winning over the crowd, because his band had come on half an hour late. They also treated us to several mid-show sound-checks and pauses. The anecdotes were some of the most memorable parts of the evening. I’ve already forgotten one of them.
I’d booked tickets for the gig some months back. There are two or three Stornaway tracks that I like, one of which I really like. Here comes the blackout is a song I’d immediately admired when I first came across it five or six years ago, when I’d encountered it on MySpace. Then, Eric Matador was the nom-de-plume of the lead singer, Brian Briggs. Brian’s voice can be extremely clear, piercing yet sweet. At the right pitch- somewhere in the high tenor register, he regularly hits his sweet spot and lifts a tune into something nearly rapturous. It can seem effortless. Certainly, his lack of effort was very much evident at tonight’s gig. The band spent most of their one hour on stage farting out pop-y, uninteresting shit from their latest album. I would say that 60% of what they played was of the same standard as your average 90’s top ten single
I can’t remember what their first song was. I wasn’t anticipating being motivated to write about the gig in advance. Whatever it was, the only moment worth recording was that it involved the least perceptably useful member of the band whacking an already shredded tin djembe inaudibly and for no conspicuous reason. Daft, pretentious and musically pointless. Not exactly a win.
That the band thought this was a good idea does not exactly commend their good sense. If you were to put their lyrical output through a computer for vocabulary/parsing analysis, it might produce data like this:
your blue eyes, conkers shining, Atlantic ocean, mermaid fellating a flute (last one made up)
This bucolic-nautical fixation provides both their initial point of interest and subsequent descent to tedious triteness. Tellingly, the same malaise befell my relationship with Mumford. It’s alright, I’ve moved on. Their very best song, Here comes the blackout, is a genuinely enigmatic song. Its homely percussion line (chopping vegetables, apparently), and sparse, acoustic arrangement are combined with a dark-edged, contemporary terror-threat metaphor that gave the impression that there is/was a genus of brilliance in this group. It’s not conspicuous in many other of their songs