Saying goodbye is never particularly easy, and when it’s to a band that have been creating a soundtrack to parts of your life for the past decade, it can be even harder. Not to get too soppy or anything, but Stornoway’s back catalogue can stir up some pretty strong emotions at the best of times, so we new we’d be in for a bit of a rollercoaster, as Manchester bid farewell to the boys from Cowley.
As the lights dimmed and the crowd took stock of the stage, decorated with items from the band’s previous album tours, we were shown a picture reel of photos from Stornoway’s many outings and recordings over the years, much like you get at a cheesy wedding ceremony displaying images of the happy couple, but far more reflective and sombre…(apologies, I can feel myself choking up already!) However, within moments we were immediately lifted out of our momentary lapse of excitement, as the band took to the stage to blast out their opening number. Kicking off with Between The Saltmarsh And The Sea, taken from their third and final record Bonxie, it was immediately apparent that both band and crowd were truly fired up for this final meeting.
The setlist for the night was littered with tracks taken from all three of the band’s beautiful albums, with the stunning You Take Me As I Am and (A Belated) Invite to Eternity, both featuring on 2013’s Tales from Terra Firma, making an early appearance. Bonxie‘s slightly bonkers Lost Youth and The Road You Didn’t Take were also highlights, sandwiched between fan favourites Fuel Up and Boats And Trains, taken from their flawless debut The Beachcomber’s Windowsill.
The highlight of the night however, was when lead-singer Brian Briggs took to the stage alone, unplugged and with crowd as quiet as 1,500 dormice could possibly be (aside from an ill-timed, yet giggle-provoking sneeze). It has become a little tradition for the band to perform a couple of stripped-back numbers during a set, however, being their final show, it felt so much more special. To begin, Brian delivered a quite sensational version of November Song, a track that, once again, stirred up all kinds of lovie emotions. He was then joined by Jonathan Ouin and brothers Oli and Rob Steadman, for unplugged renditions of Bonxie’s belter Get Low and the exquisite Josephine, highlighting the band’s incredible talent for harmonies of the highest order.
Inevitably, it was the big-hitters that very nearly received the loudest singalongs, with the crowd justifiably going nuts upon hearing the opening notes to I Saw You Blink and the ludicrously good Watching Birds, bringing back personal memories of a quite perfect weekend at Glastonbury back in 2010. Yet it was a fitting cover of Simple Mind’s Don’t You (Forget About Me) that lifted the roof off, with Brian stating that we were by far the best audience of the tour – which, with a biased Mancunian arrogance, came as no surprise to hear!
To be honest, we could and certainly would have stayed for an extra couple of hours to hear the band’s complete back-catalogue, as there were a couple of numbers that understandably just didn’t fit into an already-packed setlist (The Bigger Picture, Knock Me On The Head and Here Comes The Blackout…! would personally have made the night bang-on perfect), but Stornoway’s encore certainly delivered us with three more opportunities to belt out our lungs with the guys, once last time.
We Are The Battery Human has always been a firm favourite and at times like these, particularly fitting. Ironically, The Great Procrastinator then followed, painting an equally identifiable picture! But it was the final and unavoidable set-closer that brought the Manchester crowd together for one last hoedown. Zorbing has, and always will be, one of those songs that fills you with joy, even in the darkest times. For me, I reminisce on Summer evenings, drunkenly belting it out with friends after the pub, or sitting up on the hill overlooking The Park at Glastonbury, or that beautiful moment when two friends chose this as their first dance as a married couple. It was the ideal way to cap off their farewell show, and despite a tinge of heartache that we’ll never see it performed live again, it was an incredible moment.
Stornoway have never been a band that hit the heady heights of world fame, but they are a band that people have always been able to connect to. Brian’s lyrics have continued to be beautiful and honest, filled with love, melancholy, reflection and escape, whilst musically, the band are one of the most creative around, lifting samples from birdsongs, creating sounds from all manner of items and instruments, and ensuring that the most luscious strings, keys and horns are littered throughout, so that listener’s heartstrings are well and truly tugged. They will be sorely missed but we wish them all the best in the future, whichever direction the wind carries them in.