Having become the first unsigned band to play on ‘Later… With Jools Holland’ in 2009, folk quartet Stornoway signed to 4AD in March 2010, releasing their acclaimed debut album, ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’, two months later. Last year they began work on the follow-up, writing much of their new material in a campervan and recording it in rhythm section Oli and Rob Steadman’s parents’ garage.
The album, ‘Tales From Terra Firma’, is due for release through 4AD on 11 Mar, and the band are currently on tour in the UK, with dates stretching out to the end of March and their final show of the tour at The Forum in London on 27 Mar.
Just before they went off, we asked multi-instrumentalist Jon Ouin to put together a playlist for us, of which he said: “I’ve made a playlist which is loosely based on some of the artists and tracks that inspired us regards what instruments we used on our new album ‘Tales From Terra Firma’. Hopefully it’s worth listening to in its own right! When we were working on our album, we tried to make each song stand out in its own way, and couldn’t help but have stylistic or instrumental reference points as we were going along; we tried introducing certain sounds to see if they helped or hindered the song. The choices below are all related to various creative decisions we made (sometimes fairly tenuously), and it probably doesn’t need saying that quite a lot of these artists inhabit a pretty different musical universe to Stornoway!”
Subscribe to this playlist on Spotify, and then read on to find out more about Jon’s choices:
01 Sväng – Tyyskä
Sväng are a remarkable group of mouth organ players from Finland, and this track is from their self-titled collection. I’ve always been a bit partial to a bit of honking bass harmonica (even if it’s possibly a bit of a novelty sound!). Our bassist Oli has a collection of harmonicas in the garage (where we recorded the album), and one of the tracks we recorded featured a chunky bass harmonica line.
02 Tom Waits – Hell Broke Luce
This is a song from Tom Waits’ album ‘Bad As Me’, which was released when we were making our album. Brian’s been into Tom Waits for ages and so I gave him the album for his birthday (and had a sneaky listen first). Aside from that voice, I love his DIY, ‘found-sound’ approach. There were at least a couple of tracks where we wanted a certain type of Tom Waits-style horn sound (sometimes lazy and sometimes frenetic).
03 Ahmet Meter – Ada Sahillerinde
This is the first of two zither-related tracks, as we used some on the new album. I picked up a tape for the car in Turkey a few years ago by Ahmet Meter, a Turkish qanun player (the qanun is more or less a Turkish zither), and the instrument now features in one of our new songs. And we are excited about having an expert player (Tom) on tour with us!
04 Laraaji – Day Of Radiance
The second zither-related track is the opening of an 80s album called ‘Day Of Radiance’ by an American musician Laraaji (produced by Brian Eno), featuring what sounds like about ten hammered dulcimers. I find it to be pretty mesmerising, as there are so many fast-moving layers piled on top of one another, and you start hearing things that probably aren’t really there. We asked Brian’s brother Adam to play the hammered dulcimer for one of the tracks, as we were trying to conjure up a particular feeling and a specific geographic location.
05 Thomas Bloch – Kleine Tonstucke: 1 Grave
A couple of years ago I was given a beautiful CD featuring a French musician called Thomas Bloch playing glass harmonica (it’s a bowl organ – the sound of a series of pitched glass bowls being rubbed – just as when you rub a wine glass with your finger). It was invented in the eighteenth century and allegedly people used to think it sent you mad… until they decided the madness was actually caused by lead poisoning (lead was used on the bowls). We were very fortunate to discover a fine glass harmonica player in London called Alasdair Malloy who seemed sane enough, and he performed a part we wrote for him on one of the songs on our album.
06 John Adams – Nixon In China
This is an instrumental orchestral piece by an American composer called John Adams, and it’s taken from an opera of the same name. As the title suggests, the opera is based on Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972 (and more broadly is about the source of myths in the context of contemporary history). After seeing a performance of this in London, I became pretty obsessed with his earlier minimalist instrumental chamber music! His string writing was particularly inspiring to me.
07 The Byrds – The Ballad Of Easy Rider
This was one of quite a few songs I was listening to when attempting to learn how to play the mandolin over the last year. I like the way the mandolin part in this song rolls along in the background without screaming out for your attention.
08 Jim O’Rourke – Ghost Ship In A Storm
I hadn’t heard too many vocalised Jim O’Rourke songs until I heard this. I had only heard an album called ‘Bad Timing’ which mainly consists of acoustic-based drones; quite near the end of that album there’s a pretty somnambulant track which suddenly explodes into life with an incongruent chirpy brass section (and some pedal steel guitar) which directly inspired a full brass arrangement for one of our new songs.
09 Tom Dissevelt – Drifting
This is by a Dutch electronic composer called Tom Dissevelt, a fantastic example of early electronic music. It’s taken from a collection recorded in Dutch research labs between the mid 50s and the mid 60. The same collection also features a spoken word piece by kindred spirit and electronic proselytiser Fred Judd (in which he laments the dearth of support for electronic music in Britain); he made music of a similar vein, and we used very small samples of his music in one of the tracks on our album.
10 Les Paul – How High The Moon
I’ve picked this as my parting shot, partly because I’ll be playing a Les Paul guitar on tour, secondly because the aforementioned electronic composer Fred Judd was a friend of Les Paul (they were both early pioneers of multi-tracking), and lastly because the song is a gentle one to end on!