Live Review: Stornoway at Sheffield Leadmill – 8th May 2015

By on Wednesday, 13th May 2015 at 2:00 pm

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to see some old band friends of mine play the storied Sheffield Leadmill. Stornoway, who only just weeks ago released their third album ‘Bonxie’ on Cooking Vinyl (my review of the album here), have been touring in support of the new release since the middle of April and Sheffield was one of the last stops in this series of UK dates.

I can feel the tears forming behind my eyes as I type this review out, because as a long-time supporter of the band as well as a friend to them, I have a special connection to them, as they seem to be one of the very few bands still standing after so many years who have not compromised their integrity or changed their music for the sake of self-preservation in this ever-changing business of ours. Indeed, they will be playing a trio of shows for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in 2 weeks’ time, with the purpose of preserving and bringing attention to the wealth of wildlife in Britain. When’s the last time you heard of a rock band doing that?

When they started their PledgeMusic campaign in what month and managed to reach their target goal in just days, it was clear the people had spoken: Stornoway fans are some of the most loyal, supportive music fans in this country, and this is because their heroes are people they can believe in. As what we used to think of as the basics of music industry finances dry up, it is becoming ever more important that a band connects with their fans on a personal level, and Stornoway have this genuine way about them and are able to do this and so effortlessly.

As described in my review of ‘Bonxie’, this is Stornoway’s first album with an outside producer, and after having seen them live at Leeds Academy during Live at Leeds 2015 and now at the Leadmill as well, I feel that their path to rock star-style stardom isn’t far off. While the songs are all still heartfelt and full of incredible harmonies that Stornoway have become known for, there is a confidence and a brashness they demonstrate live that pays off big time. The gentleness of the folk pop ‘Between the Saltmarsh and the Sea’ is an excellent entry point to the newly evolved Stornoway, opening both ‘Bonxie’ and the show, quickly followed by the endlessly catchy ‘Get Low’. The only thing that could have made these songs – and the gig itself too – better was if they’d been joined with those adorable ducks that starred in the ‘Get Low’ promo. Fear not: doctorate of ornithology holder Brian Briggs has bird call samples from the field, peppering the set with them, making the Leadmill feel a little less than a club and more like a day out in the countryside.

As much as I’m sure Stornoway would have been happy to have played just songs off the new LP, for their fans they provided ample nods to their debut album from 2010. This turned out to be a fateful decision, as the gusto with which their fans sung along to every word of ‘I Saw You Blink’ (a personal favourite, as it was the song that still conjures up the image of a certain blue-eyed boy I fell in love with during the time of ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’) and ‘Zorbing’ was nothing short of impressive, as was the near deafening cheering. Good to know Sheffield has plenty of old skool Stornoway fans! ‘Boats and Trains’ was another contemplative blast from the past, perfectly distilling heartbreak, pain of separation and the regret of passing ships in the night.

One of the things I have always loved about Stornoway is despite their moments of sorrow regarding of matters of the heart, their supply of uplifting tunes and optimism seems neverending. As I predicted rightly, ‘Lost Youth’, with its gay xylophones and inspiring harmonies works amazingly live, and as did ‘When You’re Feeling Gentle’, a real foot-stomping barnstormer. The four band members – Briggs, Jon Ouin, Oli Steadman and Rob Steadman – huddled in a circle at front of stage for a particularly gorgeous unplugged rendition of ‘Josephine’, its beauty still ringing in my ears days after. There is nothing contrived here. This is pureness of heart and pureness of talent.

And in case it wasn’t obvious prior to this point in the show, something becomes eminently clear when the band trot out the final track of ‘Bonxie’ to end the evening, much to the delight of the middle-aged woman and her teenage daughter stood in front of me. ‘Love Song of the Beta Male’, one of the most self deprecating love songs in the history of creation, could only ever be written and performed by Stornoway: it is as humble declaration of love that is honest and real. Just like the band themselves. Please, do yourself a favour and catch Stornoway live as soon as possible. You won’t be disappointed.

After the cut: Stornoway’s set list.

Stornoway’s Set List:
Between the Saltmarsh and the Sea
Get Low
Boats and Trains
Lost Youth
The Road You Didn’t Take
On the Rocks
I Saw You Blink
The Bigger Picture
Josephine (a capella)
When You’re Feeling Gentle (is this in the right place?)
Higher Ground
Man on Wire
The Only Way is Up (Yazz cover)
Love Song of the Beta Male

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