Thursday, 10 June 2010

Stornoway, A Band On The Run - From Genre

Fuel Up (on Later With Jools Holland)

Stornoway are a band running from genre.  Genre has it's gifts and it's hindrances.  It can help people understand your music, it can help people who like similar bands discover you, it can help critics classify you. OK well that last one may not be a plus side but lets face it people like to classify stuff.  Be it types of South American tree, umbrella or in our case new bands. 

Stornoway have recently thoroughly disowned the folk labels that were thrust upon them from everyone from the BBC to the NME.  But why have they been pigeon holed into the wave of new folk artists?  Well because their debut album Beachcomber's Windowsill is undeniably folky, that's why.  I mean come on even the album name is folk to the hilt!  The production on the album is reminiscent of the Fleet Foxes and the parallels between contemporaries like Noah & The Whale, Sons of Noel and Adrian and Mumford & Son are their in the instrumentation; featuring songs with banjo riffs a-plenty in We Are The Battery Human,  fiddles in The Coldharbour Road and delicate acoustic guitars in The End of the Movie.  Stylistically they range between folk and the more raucous tracks like Watching Birds

I Saw You Blink (Official Video)

So this begs the question, what is folk music?  Well what does it bring to mind for you? For some when they hear the word folk they think traditional English folk music (which personally leads me to think of Morris Dancers and Maypoles), others think 60s folk revival.  Well the dictionary definition is as follows:


plural noun 1 (also folks) informal people in general. 2 (one’s folks) one’s family, especially one’s parents. 3 (also folk music) traditional music of unknown authorship, transmitted orally. 4 before another noun originating from the beliefs, culture, and customs of ordinary people: folk wisdom.
  — ORIGIN Old English.

So then does modern folk music fit this definition?  Can we call Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons etc Folk?  Well no because we know who wrote their songs, they did.  Is their music traditional?  Well what's traditional? (Lets not go there right now we have enough on our hands with 'Folk'!)  Are they transmitted orally?  No.  We listen to their records.  So is anyone folk?  Arguably not by definition, no.

Zorbing (on Later With Jools Holland)

But who cares?  Stornoway like Marling and the Mumfords are all influenced by folk music, among many other genres.  So we should let Stornoway off with not wanting to be stereotyped as one of these new folk bands.  And their record has something none of the other bands have on theirs.  A Kazoo (on Watching Birds).


Go listen to the album The Beachcomber's Windowsill now, available on spotify here.  They're also part of my nu-folk spotify playlist, along with a load of other great bands, which can be found here.

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