The scale of the burgeoning British folk rock boom is the musical equivalent to the game of how many people you can get into a mini, with an ambitious number of people queueing up but only a worthy few eventually getting inside the main vehicle. On hearing "Beachcomber's Windowsill" by Stornoway for the first time your initial impression may be akin to this and lead you to question whether this Oxford based four piece will truly cut the mustard (Note Amazon USA while Stornoway is a town in Scotland the band is from England). Do we really need another group that takes its lead from the well mined seam of Irish folk based pastoral inspiration?
On the whole the answer is definitely yes since following repeated listens you discover in "Beachcomber's Windowsill" an album of enormous charm and joy de vivre. Influences are worn fairly openly on sleeves thus you could name check Belle and Sebastian. Frightened Rabbit, The Trills and most centrally Welsh wizards Gorky's Zygotic Mynci whose template "Barafundle" remains criminally ignored (Discuss - "Patio Song" should be compulsory at barbecues?). Stornoway are named after famous Scottish town and from their entry in Wiki they comprise singer and guitarist Brian Briggs; singer, guitarist, cellist and keyboardist Jon Ouin; singer, guitarist and bassist Oliver Steadman; and drummer Robert Steadman. The band is usually joined by trumpeter Adam Briggs and violinist Rahul Satija.
The highlights are spread evenly across the album and sung with a heartfelt passion which is hard to resist. Take the opener "Zorbing" which the Times describes as "blast of sea air that hits you as you alight an overnight train" it moves along at real pace and is the type of song that the throng at Glastonbury will lap up. "Long distance lullaby" starts with bells, is punctuated throughout by horns and is a glorious sing-along summer pop ballad. The yearning "The Cold harbour road lane" is truly lovely and possibly an area that the band could explore more fully, ditto "Fuel up" while single "We are battery human" is all banjo's and chanting vocals and while the shadow of Marcus Mumford is cast they just about pull it off. "Watching birds" rocks it up and actually reminds me of the Libertines for some reason. While the true highlight comes with "I saw you blink". It is one of those special type of songs that cemented Belle and Sebastian's fanatically loyal fanbase and in terms of soundtracking the next three months you will probably play it all summer, fall in love to it, break up to it, make up and fall back in love again. Cited in evidence of this point is the case of BBC Oxford Radio presenter Tim Bearder who was an early fanatical champion of the band and was suspended from work after playing an hour of Stornoway songs on his breakfast show; probably a tad excessive!
All pop music has a ephemeral quality and something which is wildly hip and fashionable fades quickly. The Thrills "So much for the city" was completely ubiquitous in 2003 but they never quite matched it again and thus it will be interesting to see what Stornoway do next and where they take their musical direction. There are admittedly a couple of missteps on the album but its mostly irresistible stuff and enough pointers to suggest greater longevity. Thus for now treat "Beachcombers Windowsill" for what it is, an album packed with great songs, gorgeous melodies and hooks-a-plenty.