Courtesy PhotoBritish folk rockers Stornoway play San Francisco this week

The serendipitous origins of Stornoway

British upright bassist Oliver Steadman still recalls the help wanted ad like it was yesterday, on a webite in Oxford where people look for musical instruments for sale. But this one said “seeking a bassist for alternative-pop band.” Being only 17, he didn’t know what that oxymoron meant, so he went to meet them. “They” were keyboardist Jon Quin and singer-guitarist Brian Briggs, who went on to form the quirky folk-rock ensemble Stornoway with Steadman and his percussionist kid brother Rob, then 15. They had no choice, with Steadman being the only bassist who responded. The quartet just issued a jangly new sophomore CD, “Tales From Terra Firma.”

What was your first meeting like with Jon and Brian?

It was a really strange experience, a really strange environment. But I started to learn more about my own playing, having to play with other people and respond to their playing. So I’m quite lucky, because this was the first group I played in, and it ended up being the only group I played in. I got it right the first time.

Then you snuck your brother Rob in through the back door?

Well, we spent about a year auditioning different people. And I think a lot of people like to be seen as drummers, but they can’t actually play. Rob was the seventh person we tried, and he was damn good at only 15. So he was playing shows with us for three years after that, and getting kicked out after the last song because the U.K. drinking age is 18.

Did you actually record “Terra Firma” in your parents’ garage?

Yeah. They had this garage full of old papers and furniture, and one day they decided to clear it out and build a soundproof room. The timing was just right. It was when we were thinking about where to record. The best thing is, if you record at home on your own terms, you don’t pay a lot of money and you also retain complete control over the whole process.

Another upside — home-cooked session meals, too, right?

My folks would cook the occasional lunch for everyone. And they have these two little terriers that run around, and you can just about hear them in “November Song.” And we opened the garage door one day and all this sunlight came streaming in. We’d been locked up in there for over 12 hours. So the sun was shining, the dogs were barking again, and we decided to record that magic moment, and it’s featured in the ambient sounds of “The Ones We Hurt the Most.”



Where: Brick and Mortar Music Hall, 1710 Mission St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Tickets: $15
Contact: (415) 800-8782,

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