Stornoway – Letters from Lewis

March 11th, 2007

Every so often, there are bands who appear on the bills of gigs, completely with no hype and anonymous, and they turn out to be completely formed and brilliant. For me, Stornoway are one of these bands. While their live shows have been entertaining, the songs have also been great. Taken outside of the live setting, without the fun additions during their performance, it’s clear to see that this is a band of excellent song writers and arrangers. Ignoring anything from the past decade of songwriting, instead they revert back to the good old days, where great, simple songs will always shine through.

Take the first track Zorbing as an example. There’s everything for a classic pop song, great harmonies, arrangement (with trumpets!), warm harmonies, and a song that keeps moving forwards. It could fit in anywhere during the early Belle and Sebastian albums. The rest of the tracks on this EP prove that they don’t only have one trick and one song, as they continue to sprinkle their magical songwriting and arrangement over genres where so many have failed before (ballads, country jaunts, straight forward pop songs).

If you don’t get a chance to catch this lot live, then, at the very least, get over to their myspace to hear the songs.

Patrick Wolf

February 7th, 2007

at the Zodiac 6th February, 2007

The changing audiences of four of the last five gigs that Patrick Wolf has played in Oxford tells the story of the shift in gig going audiences. The first show was a late afternoon show in 2003 at MOMA, just Patrick and a lot of malfunctioning equipment. Everything went wrong, but in the intimate audience of 40 odd, anything was fine. Patrick had a reputation for being arty and weird.

The next year Patrick played another Trailerpark, this time in the Cellar, Patrick and a laptop. With the instruments in working order, this was the show that grabbed my attention. However my memory of Patrick, even after this most recent performance, will be at Truck 2005, turning round the corner and seeing him perform a cover of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill.

With his third album, Patrick Wolf has moved on from the melancholy and minor keys. It was a shock at first to hear him sing so happily and positively. So it was with some trepidation, I watched his show. The most immediate change isn’t how the music has changed, but instead it’s how the audience has changed. Where in the past he attracted arty types, now he seems to be a popstar attracting a teenage audience. There were teenage girls singing along to his songs as if it was a McFly concert. That was weird. For me, Patrick Wolf’s songs are about isolation and a personal ownership of them. It was strange to hear a crowd singing them back just like any singalong song.

The other big problem was the sound. On the songs which were perfect for stomping and dancing, the beats were drowned out by the strings, and the Virginal that was used for all the piano parts just didn’t sound right with the rest of the instruments. Above all these problems there were still the signs to explain why Patrick Wolf is truly a unique artist of our time. By switching between all the different instruments, he was able to show off the variety of textures of sounds that most bands wouldn’t even think up. And his voice still sounds as great and rounded as ever.

The internet is probably a big factor in the changed audience. Now that music is so easily accessible, no doubt many more people have been able to get hold of Patrick’s music, but on the other hand I’d rather have that intimate, dark, closed in feeling of his music, rather than sharing it with everyone else.

Minus the Bear and This Et Al

November 25th, 2006

at the Zodiac – 25th November, 2006

Performing to an impatient crowd, This Et Al made a difficult start. Leaving their more immediate songs until the end, the band first tried to stun us with then grandness of their sound. However, as everything was just too loud, some of the tiny details that sparkled on record were drowned out by the PA. The only tracks not to suffer from the over-dominant speakers were Wardens and You’ve Driven For Miles where they give us a glimpse of how their grandness and songs should actually sound. Still, it was great to hear a band not content to settling down to one type of sound, and continue to vary and change what they do.

The headliners, Minus the Bear are an example of how, even in the days of the internet, you can still not hear about everything. But plenty of other people had, and they filled out the room. Since the gig, I’ve found out that they are supposed to be ‘math rock’, but if they are, they are very formulaic and miss the inventiveness of similarly described band from this side of the ocean. Sounding more like a fast version of Death Cab for Cutie, everything was just too similar. By the fourth song, they had fallen into the pattern of quiet verse and loud chorus. While this may please some people, as they look to sing along to the loud bits, it would be more interesting to listen to a band that changes with every song.