Oxford band Stornoway will bring their Farewell Tour to Cardiff’s Tramshed this evening.
In over a decade of playing together the band have released three studio albums, a surprise mini album and two Eps, the latest been 2015’s Bonxie, produced by Gil Norton of Foo Fighters and Pixies fame, which aw the band combine their two great passions, music and nature, to create a record indebted to the natural world and specifically, birds.
Andy Howells recently put questions to Jonathan Ouin of the band.
What originally inspired you all to get Stornoway together?
In short it was Brian’s songs! Brian and I (Jon) were at college in Oxford at the same time and we started playing a few songs he had written down in a big, dusty notebook – in what looked like hieroglyphics. Simultaneously, we were beginning to record the songs on a portable machine that I had, adding layers for extra texture. Oli then responded to an ad we put out for a bass player. There was about half a year when we were a sporadic three-piece painstakingly finishing our first demo, with Brian on the drum kit. It took ages to find a drummer and we had a whole load of auditions (regrettably most of them weren’t really into rhythm or the idea of songs should have any kind of structure!) but all the while Rob – who was about 15 or 16 at the time – had been practicing with his older brother and was already better than any of the people we’d tried. As soon as both Steadman brothers were involved it suddenly clicked.
You’ve had a productive time together with releases and touring, how have you all developed in the years together?
At the heart of it, I think we’ve been pretty constant musically. It started with a very ‘natural’ acoustic singer-songwriter sound, with plenty of outdoor imagery in the words to boot; I think that’s still pretty much the case, bar the odd extra instrument. But I like to think that where we’ve changed most is that we’ve improved as a live band, in terms of being more connected with one another and being less diffident onstage than we once were. Certainly Oli’s much more into stage-diving these days, Rob’s been doing these amazing drum solos on tour, and Brian’s ability to suddenly acquire an in-depth local knowledge of wherever we are on any given day is simply beyond measure.
Looking back, what has been your highlight as a band?
I think I’d have to say playing Jools Holland. ‘Later…’ was something I always watched as a kid, so it meant a great deal to me to do it. It just so happened that for that particular show they’d booked quite a list of musical megastars: Jay-Z, Sting, Foo-Fighters etc, so they probably needed to balance things out a bit by having a complete unknown/unsigned band (which we were at the time) on the bill.
Have you had a particularly outstanding live experience?
Too many to mention! In general we’ve always been a festival-loving band, so being able to open the main stage at Glastonbury was pretty unforgettable, even if most of our audience weren’t quite awake at noon! Playing the Green Man Festival in the Brecon Beacons a fair few times has also been very special for us – it was certainly something that we aspired to do for a long time. Closer to home, I think possibly our two performances at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford (alongside an orchestra), which came about thanks to our violinist Rahul, are right up there.
You’re on tour for the final time, how do approach what will be your last tour?
It’s the end of an era for us and it’s a farewell tour, so naturally it will be tinged with sadness, but we’re really treating it as a bit of a party to celebrate the last decade that we’ve had together. Think of it as a sort of musical raised glass to mark the moment: for ourselves, our crew (at home and on tour) and to the fans.
Why did you decide to split up?
I think the most straightforward answer is that collectively we felt that the time was right. I think we’ve always done things on instinct really, and are proud of what we’ve done together as a band, but nowadays it just so happens that we’re all leading very separate lives in different places now.
What are you all going on to do and will we hear more from you as individuals?
Well, you can catch Brian performing at various literary festival on 1st April with the brilliant Welsh poet Paul Henry; Rob is playing with two bands in New York – one called The Textiles and the other is KT Mulholland; Oli is keeping busy with his promotional company Tigmus and playing with Count Drachma; and I’m writing music for TV and radio, and songs for an as yet imaginary band.
Do you think you’ll all continue as friends and collaborators?
To varying degrees and geography permitting, yes I hope so! In fact Brian recently recorded some music with poet Paul Henry in my small garden studio, so hopefully there’ll be a bit more where that came from.
- For ticket details visit stornoway.eu/tour