I shared a post about Friday's Stornoway London gig a couple of days ago which took the blog over thirty thousand all time views (yikes!) A couple of days later I caught the band's final farewell show in Oxford, the place where the band met and started playing together, had their biggest breaks and played to some of the biggest venues, including being the first non-classical act to play a concert at The Sheldonian. I was only introduced to their music in my first year of university after meeting bassist Oli Steadman through Sofar Sounds Oxford, but the band have been making music in the city for just over a decade. Since then I've seen the band a few times and their music has become pretty special to me - so it's a huge shame to see them part (difficult to play down just how much crying was done at the two shows...) but they did so in a hugely triumphant manner, playing to a 2000 strong London crowd and to Oxford's largest theatre, the 1800 capacity New Theatre.
As Oli and the band's trumpet (and axe?) player Tom Hodgson self-promoted the Oxford show via Tigmus, I was incredibly lucky to get to be at the venue from the afternoon, sorting out guest lists, meeting the rest of the band, watching them soundcheck from the stage and generally hanging around backstage. It's worth pointing out that the entire band and crew are some of the kindest, friendliest people I've had the pleasure of meeting!
After rushing off for a meal with friends, I got back to the venue once the doors had opened and the previously empty theatre was full of people, many local but also many who had travelled far and wide to catch the final show, and the room was full of anticipation - it was also lovely spotting so many people from the local music scene, all there to send off one of the city's most beloved bands. I took my seat in the furthest corner of the room to catch the support band Brasstronaut play again, however compared to Friday night when I had been at the barrier, I didn't feel quite as connected with the set but enjoyed it just as much, and have since been listening to their recent self titled record on repeat - Raveshadow (official video here) is such a tune!
Similarly, being so far from Stornoway once they took to the stage I felt a little less part of the show but it was lovely to watch how much the music meant to the rest of the audience, who clapped, sang, mexican waved and even stage invaded their way through the performance. While I'm gutted I didn't get to hear The Ones We Hurt The Most live, it's probably for the best as there were enough tears without it... although the set was a wonderfully organised mix of joyous and sad tracks, and it felt like each time I felt sad the crowd were uplifted with a track like I Saw You Blink or You Take Me As I Am - Tom's energy on stage was also pretty contagious!
A highlight of the show, again, was an unplugged section in the middle, the same tracks as Friday (a solo November Song from Briggs followed by Get Low and Josephine) and just as beautiful. A little later during the set, lead singer Brian Briggs gave a heartfelt note of thanks to the crowd and the local music scene, saying that "we never dreamed we'd achieve what we've achieved [...] it gives us so much pride and happiness that our music has found its way into your lives [...] thank you for the memories, which we will treasure forever." If I wasn't crying before this point this definitely set me off, but soon after the band were playing their hugely fun cover of Don't You (Forget About Me) and it was a party again! Leaving the crowd with the hit Zorbing, the band responded to the raucous applause with a second encore, performing a track I hadn't heard until the soundcheck, The Old Blind Man, and ended on We Are The Battery Human with a pretty crazy stage invasion (for Stornoway, at least - and especially considering the several foot drop at the front of the stage!)
Once the performance finished I was ushered along with to the venue's back exit with the rest of the crowd, and (rather excitingly) came back into the venue, witnessing the moments after the band came off stage into the green room. Emotions (and champagne) were flowing and it was such a beautiful moment to share with the band, who then attended a signing session, meeting fans and saying some really heartfelt goodbyes which were also pretty beautiful and emotional to witness as I became a sort of unofficial photographer for fans before getting my own photo with 3/4 of the band.
After the meet and greet, we took to the afterparty, where it was lovely to catch up with some friends, admittedly mostly from Sofar Sounds Oxford - a lovely bunch of people! Taking a taxi home with the Steadmans, Oli and Rob's parents, was somehow the most fitting way to end what was honestly one of the coolest days of my life, a show which I'm really proud to have been just a small part of. Being my first farewell shows I'm fairly surprised by just how much they moved me, isn't music a magical and wonderful thing?! A quick adjustment back to reality now as I carry on with dissertation rewriting before next Friday's deadline...