An Interview with Oxford’s local Folk heroes Stornoway

Despite the misleading band name, Stornoway are one of Oxford’s best homegrown bands, and this month they are back to play one of its most impressive venues. The folk pop band will be celebrating the 5th anniversary since they last played the Sheldonian by playing it again on 5th November. And then again on 13th November. I spoke to Oli Steadman ahead of the show about how it all managed to come about.

“They told us that we were the first ever pop band to play there five years ago. And they’ve told us again that in the intervening time they haven’t had anything other than classical or speaking events or graduations.

“So I think we’re the second pop band to play there as well. And because it’s two nights, we’ll be the first, second and third ever pop band.

In terms of being allowed to play the venue, Stornoway prove that if you ask for something you might just get it.

“We had been a band for a little while already and we’d been working with a local violin player called Rahul (Satija). He was at Balliol as a postgrad in statistical biology. He just came along to one of our gigs one day and said “Do you mind if I play along? You don’t even have to have me on stage. I’ll just stand in the audience and play along on my violin”

“We thought this was quite endearing. It was quite a lonely song called ‘The End of the Movie’ (from their debut album, Beachcomber’s Windowsill). We pictured the lonely violin player in the corner of the room.

“In the end we felt too bad to do that so we invited him on stage and he joined us as a full time member really.”

Rahul had big ideas for the band from the very beginning.

“Within a couple of weeks, he was talking about getting us some really quirky shows because he was living in the heart of Oxford and he was gown whereas we’d come from town. He came up with this plan quite rapidly of just going for the Sheldonian. It was the biggest, craziest venue in town that he could think of.

“It took him maybe a couple of months to book the night. He made it all happen. He even wrote some of the parts for some of the songs. It’s all thanks to Rahul.”

Although unfortunately Rahul won’t be present for the band’s grand homecoming.

“He now lives in New York which is a shame because we love playing with him. We have him back in the band whenever we tour the States.”

Stornoway epitomise the perfect blend between the ‘town’ and ‘gown’ aspects of Oxford.

“We all met in Oxford in about 2005. I was a kid at school locally, so was my brother. The other two were postgrads at Wolfson College.”

Brian and Jon actually met at the university’s freshers fair and soon decided to found the band. They advertised for a bassist and Oli was the only one to reply. His brother Rob soon also auditioned for the band. Yet, it means there’s quite an impressive age gap within the band.

“It’s actually exactly ten years between Brian (singer) and Rob (drummer). There’s always a ten year age gap on stage which makes such an interesting dynamic. We’ve all had different experiences and we all bring a different listening background.

“It was a really strange thing to do in hindsight.

“Right now if I formed a band with a kid who was still at school I don’t know how I’d go about it.

“I don’t know if it happens often but it creates some interesting dynamics and we’ve managed to stick it out. We’re still together almost ten years later.”

Stornoway will be able to enjoy the ten year anniversary of being in the band next year, when they will release their third album. Their debut, Beachcomber’s Windowsill, was an undoubted success, throwing them into the mainstream consciousness with catchy singles like ‘Zorbing’ and ‘I Saw You Blink’. They followed it up last year with Tales from Terra Firma as well as the shorter album, You Don’t Know Anything.

“Basically in the next six months, in the new year, we’re going to release it.

“I’m convinced people are going to love it and are going dance to it. There’s a song on there for everybody.

“I live in London now, but I come back to Oxford for producing records and stuff. But when I’m commuting round London I just have my headphones in listening to our latest mixes because we have a dedicated engineer who’s just happy to remix and remix. I spend my time on the tube making notes about how the mixes are sounding.”

When he’s back in Oxford though, Oli enjoys visiting his local haunts.

“I tend to hang out at a pub called The Star. That’s where all the Oxford musicians seem to go, especially on Tuesday’s where there’s nothing much else happening. It seems like the whole town comes to a standstill. You can always find a party at The Star.”

It’s clear that the music scene in Oxford continues to thrive and produce a significantly high number of successful groups.

“I think it’s something to do with the number of people coming in. Fresh faces arriving in September, October every year. Lots of them play really well. They have great tastes, varying tastes and also ears open to hearing some different stuff.

“Oxford’s the kind of place where you can get any night of the week reggae, Indian raga, slow trance and everything in between. And without that feeling none of the bands could ever happen. It’s just an amazing place.

“I’ve been meaning to watch this documentary made recently. This guy called John Spiro who owns a local video shop made a documentary film a couple of years ago on Kickstarter to expose Oxford as this place where Supergrass, Foals, Radiohead, Ride and everyone else came from.

“And I think we’re actually featured because a couple of years ago our second album had just come out.

“It is funny that there are all these different communities who write about [Oxford] and report it.

“It’s a real hotbed of talent and no one understands why.