Stornoway – review

Oran Mor, Glasgow

It's tempting to declare it an injustice that, in a week in which Stornoway's folk-pop peers Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers were both venerated at the Grammy awards, this Oxford quartet are beginning a long UK tour visiting such destinations as Pocklington and Leamington Spa.

But there's no shortcut to mass adoration for a band with appeal this edifyingly nuanced. An appeal eschewing rousing universality in favour of, say, opening with three songs about seabirds – a favourite subject of singer and songwriter Brian Briggs. And, as amusingly confirmed by the sight of multi-instrumentalist Tom Hodgson making ambient effect out of sawing a piece of wood during Here Comes the Blackout, not a little whimsy.

With a winningly ambitious second album in Tales from Terra Firma, Stornoway will widen an unlikely breach in the mainstream that saw them enter the top 20 with their excellent 2010 debut Beachcombers Windowsill. The Bigger Picture – shaded by Jon Ouin's Maggie May mandolin soloing – evidences yet further sophistication of Briggs's way with a melody, while the John Clare-inspired (A Belated) Invite to Eternity adds swarm-of-bees electric guitar to Stornoway's multi-instrumental palette. Played solo by Briggs, November Song is humblingly pretty.

Beachcombers Windowsill numbers are greeted like old friends – the shrewdly anthemic Fuel Up, with its haunting dulcimer and whirring organ, and Zorbing, the jubilant mood of which is captured by one excitable punter breaking the quiet tension post-first chorus pre-band kicking-in with a roar of "yeah!" that ignites smiles all round.

An encore beginning in none more improbable fashion than a drum solo, before snapping suddenly to I Saw You Blink, and ending on Watching Birds – more birds – embellished with a countryfied second verse, bears the theatrical flourishes of a band brimming with confidence. It's all the assurance needed that much greater acknowledgement lies down the line for Stornoway – even if they have to make every stop on the way.

• What have you been to see lately? Tell us about it on Twitter using #GdnGig

• This article was amended on 21 February 2013 because the original referred to "multi-instrumentalist Adam Briggs making ambient effect out of sawing a piece of wood". Tom Hodgson was standing in for Adam Briggs at the gig.


Malcolm Jack

The GuardianTramp

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