Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Stornoway - the brand, not the band.

A blog I drafted on holiday but didn't have the know how to post until now

I'm in H&M, in Marseille as it happens, and an over-familiar song that I don't quite recognise comes over the sound system. As I am at an age when trends pass with the speed of the French TGV train that took me here, I'm about as familiar with pop music as the stock of fashion stores. So, it's no surprise that I can't name that tune.

There's something oddly persistent about the melody though, something personal that I can't quite put my finger on. Then, third verse in, it dawns on me why the music feels so hardwired - I'm listening to Stornoway, not the place, but the Oxford indy band who've gone to the verge of being very big by trading on the name of my home town.

The band has no association with the place, apparently they just liked the
name and it worked for them. "I saw you blink", the track I heard, is a fairly harmless piece of balladeering.It was the memorable power of the name that made me recall the performers.

And as I stray out of the shop along the quays and alleyways of this port city I start to wonder if we've done enough with Stornoway, the name, as a brand.

Stornoway - it's easy to pronounce, delightfully so, memorable, familiar from the top left corner of every weather report. And, rather like Marseille, it carries an echo of maritime heritage and seafaring romance across the oceans as a global waymark and a safe harbour.

For us maws, who grew up beyond the pale, it's hard to think of "Coatbridge on Sea" as the Mercedes Benz of the Hebrides, and for some it has associatoons with presbyterianim and nothing else, but marketing men would pay good money for the kind of product associations that the name Stornoway can stir.

The band, who've decorated their album in suitably oceanographic iconography, aren't the only people to stumble across the marketable quality of the town. You can have your Landrover Freelander in "Stornoway Grey" (silver really), and though it's ankle-biting cut isn't for me there is a Stornoway suit in Derick Walker's Harris Tweed collection. The famous Stornoway black pudding has already blazed a culinary path and is heading for EU protected status. There's branding to build on.

If it sounds daft to try and create a quality image on the back of a harbour name remember the luxury cachet of Dunhill began by being associated with humble car covers.

So, perhaps it is time to think again before stamping everything out of the Western Isles with Outer Hebrides, Innse Gall, Na Eilean Siar or suchlike when a far more powerful brand, albeit not an entirely Gaelic one, lies dormant at our doorstep.

Footnote: Check out Jay Rayner's review of Digby Chick in last Sunday's Observer which compares the Stornoway restaurant to an outpost of Islington. One day, maybe.

Meanwhile I hear that the Criterion, Stornoway's best bar which is two doors along from Digby Chick, is for sale. It wouldn't take much to turn it into an understated outpost of, er, Stornoway. A fireplace, an upstairs lounge, and some Hebridean tapas is all it needs.

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