10 for 2011 Interview: Brian Briggs of Stornoway (Part 2)

By on Monday, 20th December 2010 at 2:00 pm

In the second half of my interview with Stornoway frontman Brian Briggs, we talk about the BBC and he tells me about being petrified playing for Jools Holland and their very busy year, amongst other things.

You can read part 1 of this interview by clicking here.

Last month you guys played a show with Ellie Goulding as London Union Chapel, part of Little Noise Sessions for MENCAP.
That’s right.
How did you get involved with the charity? Did they contact you?
It is hosted by Radio1 DJ Jo Whiley, she had us along there last year and obviously enjoyed us enough to invite us back again. [smiles] Union Chapel is a beautiful place to play, yeah. And it’s nice to be able to do something like that for a good cause.

Speaking of Radio1 and the BBC, I found out about your band because Steve Lamacq has played your songs. What is your opinion of BBC Radio in general? I find that in America, the way that the radio industry is structured…we don’t have nationalised radio, everything is commercial and very profit driven and it’s not very nurturing towards bands. Did you find the BBC was very supportive of you when you first came out?
Well, I think the honest answer is, we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the BBC. They were supportive of us from the very start. There are local BBC radio stations around the country, there is one in Oxford and the DJs there have been very supportive. And yeah, people like Huw Stephens plays new bands. A lot of the commercial stations, they only play a band once they’ve been mainstream for a year or more, or they have to be top 10 pop stars or whatever. But yeah, we feel incredibly grateful towards the BBC for what they’ve done (for us). The BBC network includes music tv shows. It was because of BBC Radio connections that we managed to end up getting on Later with Jools Holland. So yeah, there’s absolutely no doubt the BBC played a major part in getting us to where we are now.
What was it like playing Jools Holland? That was pretty early in the timeline of you guys just getting known?
Yeah, it was just over a year ago. It was definitely the scariest day of my life.
[laughs] You are not the first person to tell me that.
That was a kind of stellar line-up. I remember getting my photo taken with…I was kind of invited over as one of the lead singers to gather for a photo shoot. So I was on the end of the row with Sting, Norah Jones, Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters and Jay-Z, and I honestly felt like someone had kind of pushed me into the photo. It was a surreal experience. I was trying desperately…when you play, you’re in this big round studio facing all the other bands. I was desperately trying to avoid any eye contact and just tried to focus on the performance.
I did notice that on a YouTube video of ‘Fuel Up’ from the show you were looking straight ahead! (You can watch the performance below.)
Actually, that’s generally my style for most gigs. I find it very, uh, distracting or off-putting if I catch someone’s eye, even if I don’t know who they are. Yeah, I never really thought of myself as a performer, really, and it’s something I’ve had to learn. And that (Jools Holland) was the scariest moment in our career. I don’t think it gets scarier or much bigger than that one, really.

But you guys have played some pretty large festivals. What were the most memorable festivals for you guys this year?
We played lots of festivals. We played one towards the end of the year called Bestival, on the Isle of Wight, that was memorable because we had a main stage slot right before Rolf Harris…do you know Rolf Harris?
And we had a good crowd because it was a couple of months after the album came out. Amazingly, the heavens opened just as we started the first song, it had been pouring down and the rain stopped and everyone stayed with us. People were in a party mood, lots of fancy dress.
Yeah, that’s the thing about Bestival I am always reading about, it sounds like an amazing festival to go to. It sounds like a crazy, fun atmosphere to be in.
That one was fun. Everything was getting soaked, and Jon was getting electric shocks from the keyboard… [laughs]
Oh no!
Glastonbury was our biggest show of the year, the biggest crowd we ever played to.
Which stage did you play?
The Park. It really suited us, really nice one to play on. It was just a sea of faces. So that was a real highlight in terms of just seeing how far we’d come. And closer to home, there’s one called Truck, which is in Oxfordshire, which is one we’ve played the last 2, 3 years. So it was very much a home crowd and we got a main stage slot there. That was just special for the same reason we’d gone back and I’d been there many times as a punter. Those three…we did some abroad. We went to Latvia, which was…what was it called…the name escapes me for the moment…
That was a festival too?
Yeah, it was a festival on the beach on the Baltic (Sea). And it had a beach there with incredibly warm water, strangely, for the Baltic. The festival took place in glades within a pine forest there, so it was a really beautiful place to play. We went to Belgium – Pukkelpop was a good one. We went to Germany, there’s one called Haldern…and we played in a ‘spiegel tent’ if you know what I mean, a mirrored tent. And yeah, there’s been loads of highlights. Some weekends we were playing three festivals, so we had a busy summer. But it was great fun.
I’m sure you’ve travelled many, many miles this year.
Yes. This is the most, ever.
At least part of it was on a plane, right?

What’s something about yourself or the band that most people do not know or would not guess?
Ummm…hmmm… [looks embarrassed]
I don’t mean to embarrass you, I have been asking all the bands on our 10 for 2011 list this question.
Okay. Well, the first thing that comes to mind is Rob and Oli’s past as massive Blink-182 fans. They’re South Africans so they really didn’t have any musical education until they moved over to the UK. So yeah, before they came over here, they barely knew any bands at all and pretty much exclusively listened to Blink-182 and another similar (South African, now defunct) band called Tweak. And then when they came over, they kind of discovered…
…and then they came to Britain and were spoilt for choice!
Yeah, exactly. Yeah…will that do for now?
Yeah, yes!
Okay! [laughs]

Name one thing you’d like to do in 2011 that you’ve never done before.
Ooh! I’d like to go kite-surfing. Oh, that’s another thing that most people don’t know I’m into: power-kiting.
What’s that? I’ve never heard of it. I do know what kite-surfing is, actually one of my friends recently took it up this year. And it’s funny, because she’s about my size but she’s very athletic, but she was telling me how punishing it is on the body.
So what is this power-surfing…
Power-kiting. It’s basically the same, except on land. So it’s just flying a massive kite and getting lifted up in the air and stuff. And quite often I do it with a mountain board like an off-road skateboard as well. It’s great fun. I like to go flying.
Where do you go to do that in Britain?
Well, any big open space if it’s windy.
Oh, I was thinking you might have to go to somewhere like Cornwall, in the middle of nowhere.
Well, no no, I do it in a place called Port Meadow in Oxford, by the River Thames. But yeah, I think the best is when you’ve got a big open space, like a beach. Yeah, I would love to try the kite-surfing variety. You can do bigger jumps and it’s a bit safer because it’s a softer landing. [smiles]
Well, if you ever want to do it over here, I have a friend who has contacts. She even went for a course on a Delaware beach.

Tonight, do you have your violinist with you?
We do, yeah. Rahul (Satija).
You do? Great. I was wondering how this was going to be, because when Conor J. O’Brien of Villagers played in DC in June, he was by himself, he wasn’t with his band. So is what you’ll be playing very similar to the record in set up?
Yeah, it’s kind of the best that we can do with the six of us. Yeah, it’s not far off. Some of them are definitely reinterpretations, but we try our best to get close. The thing is, it [‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’] was recorded mainly at home and in fact nearly all at home, with a multi-track sort of digital box thing. Because we were spoiled for time and you know, everything we have at home to use, it meant we’ve got lots of details on there that we can’t recreate live, like percussion parts made off of, I dunno, 20 different instruments and parts of other tracks. And we’d use things like dulcimers and, I dunno, strange synth sounds or pianos and things that we obviously can’t transport. Or multi-part brass sections. Yeah, but we do our best!

If I could ask you, what was the inspiration for ‘Fuel Up’? Since you’re the writer…
That’s kind of like a reflective one on life. It was inspired by a trip to New Zealand I took about 3 years ago. I visited some old friends and I just had, you know, a bit of time to reflect while out there in the incredibly dramatic scenery. It’s quite an empty country. And hanging out with friends that I’ve known for a long time but whose lives had taken them to the other side of the world. That was kind of the trigger for it. It was one that took a while to write. I had been working on the lyrics to that for weeks.
I kind of felt it was, like you said, looking back on life and also the pains of growing up and I guess realising 20 years later, where you are now might be completely different than what you imagined it.
Yeah. Of course. Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

So my final question for you is, how are you guys spending your holidays?
Holidays, holidays? What are they? [chuckles]
Well, you will be home, right? [laughs]
I still kind of…it’s still quite a novelty to me to be doing this. Before we kind of recorded our album, we hadn’t done much touring at all, we just only played in our hometown of Oxford and tried to build up things there. So it’s a real kind of novelty to us to be travelling and playing for that to be our job. The good thing is, it doesn’t really feel like work. Do you mean Christmas holidays or do you mean like…
Oh, sorry, I meant Christmas holidays. I keep forgetting, here in the U.S. ‘holiday’ means ‘Christmas season holiday’ not ‘vacation holidays’.
Yeah, Christmas, I will be in South Wales, in a quite remote house by a reservoir. And I also am going to West Wales, we’ll be celebrating my mum’s birthday. We’ve rented a place for a few days, so it’s going to be a Welsh holiday. [chuckles] It’s a part of the world that I love.
Is your family from Wales?
No, but my wife’s family is, so I go there when I can.
Sounds like a very peaceful, beautiful place to visit.
Yeah, Wales is funny, it’s very different from England. There’s a lot more passion in Wales, the people are a lot more proud of where they’re from, and they love to yell about it. It can be very peaceful, but if you go to some place like Cardiff, it can be like the last days of Rome and everyone is drunk, collapsed in the street. Yeah, so it can be quite a wild place too.

Thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it. And have a wonderful show tonight.
Thanks very much, and again for the promotion online.

If you haven’t already, you can read TGTF’s coverage of Stornoway’s first-ever show in Washington.

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