Hi Brian. Where are you today?
I'm in my new temporary abode in Llangennith on the Gower peninsula in Wales.
What caused you to move there?
A long-term dream that has been temporarily realised, until I have to start recording and arranging the next album. You've probably gathered this from the subject matter of the songs, but I like wild places (1), and in my opinion this is the first bit of wildish coast as you go west from Oxford (2). I'm right on the beach. Lovely.
What can you see from your windows?
A little bit of sea, a huge gas canister, a few house martin nests. That's about it really. A lot of blue sky.
Craig David recently told 30 minutes about his seaside home in Miami, and how nice it was to have a place decorated with pictures of beautiful women and a Ferrari outside. Don't you aspire to that lifestyle?
I thought we had more in common, to be honest, but obviously not. I can just about see my campervan, which is my equivalent of the Ferrari – a dirty old Renault Trafic, which is where I do most of the songwriting.
Your camper van is called Bernie. Why did you name your van?
All campervans should have names. This one is a bit of a botched job. It's not a production-line conversion – it's entirely unique and therefore deserves its own unique identity. Once they get to a certain age you do have to talk to them in a loving, friendly way. Or occasionally the opposite. When you want them to start.
Do campervans all have different characters?
Very much so. You get the Craig David end of the market where they're a bit sporty and have surfboard attachments and then you get the elderly, old-carpet, cat-friendly ones. And you get the ones you can't even move in because of the impracticality of their design. Mine's somewhere in the middle, I think. It's got a couple of stripes on the side, but it's not especially sporty.
There's no escaping the fact that when you first started playing in London, a lot of your shows were full of what we might loosely call "braying poshos", who talked all the way through. Had they come down from Oxford with you?
No, they hadn't. Jon, our keyboardist, will hate me for this, but they were mostly related to him. Jon used to hate those gigs because his cousins would come and they'd shout "Pony!' at him, which is his nickname. He didn't enjoy those gigs that much, to be honest.
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You've reached the point now where your crowds are big enough that those who want to talk are drowned out by the rapt attention of the silent faithful …
It's quite bizarre. We do seem to have acquired an extremely well-behaved crowd, to the extent that we can unplug in 2,000-capacity shows and do a completely acoustic thing. We've got used to the fact that our audiences will really listen (3). We've just toured in America – to much smaller crowds – and they sing along a lot, even in the unplugged ones, which is quite disconcerting, because it's not necessarily in tune and it's louder than I am. We played in Cleveland, Ohio, and there were very few people there at the start but then this coachload of students turned up, who'd obviously got hold of the CD and passed it around, and there was this mini little fanbase from a college in Cleveland. They were fist-bumping and high-fiving and when I came off stage there was a row of high fives. Every song, even the ballads, they were all doing this kind of urban dance …
We've had brostep – you've invented brofolk!
That's what that gig was the dawn of – a new era.
Was Cleveland, as they say, "the mistake on the lake"?
Jon and I went down to the lake and had a walk. It was quite a strange place. The first person we saw was riding a mobility scooter that was piled higher than he was with stuffed toys. We got down to the lake – which was quite a challenge because there aren't many public paths – at the point of a sewage outflow. There were fish carcasses all along the shore, so we didn't stick around that long. We got chatting to a guy on the way back to the venue who was very friendly, and who asked us if we liked heroin. He said he liked it and it was really popular. So it didn't seem like a thriving area. But that might just have been the little corner where our venue was.
I take it you don't have a stylist?
Our manager's tried and failed to encourage us to do that. Rob is the most stylish member of the band. He's the youngest and attracts the most screams on tour. He attempts to style us.
You get actual screams?
Yes. You never know when they're going to come, but every now and then we get some real teenage-girl mobs. Some gigs there are none, then others the whole front section is screaming girls.
Are you comfortable wielding that kind of sexual power?
It's what I was born for.
What was the first single you ever bought?
Band Aid II is popping into my head, but I don't think it was that. I know my first tape was bought on the recommendation of a friend from school and was a disastrous choice, but I still listened it loads anyway, because I didn't have anything else. It was Europe – The Final Countdown, the album.
I believe you encountered a ghost while on tour this spring. Really?
She was called Charlotte, and she lived in the Feathers Hotel in Pocklington in Yorkshire, which was one of the first gigs we played on our UK tour. I was sharing a room with a new musician in the band, Tom. He and I had a fight in the middle of the night – we woke up at four in the morning as he rugby tackled me to the ground in the hotel room. His duvet was in the bathroom and we both suffered some serious carpet burns. We freaked each other out quite a lot and asked the hotel manager in the morning if there had been any reports of ghosts in the hotel. He said the room next to ours is kept unoccupied because there have been so many instances of guests getting scared – it's the room where Charlotte was apparently strangled. She seemed to follow us around on tour afterwards as well.
Do you believe in ghosts?
I'd love to, but no. I can't tell myself I believe in them.
You are an ornithologist by training. Are there any other people in the music industry with a great knowledge of birds (4)?
I believe so. I've definitely seen articles about birders. Sometimes they're called twitchers.
Isn't twitcher a pejorative term?
It's very insulting to be called a twitcher if you're a birder. It's very, very different, and I'm almost feeling myself getting riled up. I'm definitely in the birder category. I just went to Skomer Island (5) this week, which is where I was first trained how to ring seabirds. The approach to gulls is rugby tackling, basically – you have to charge after them and grab them because they're big. Puffins live in burrows and I was trained how to get them out – with a something like a shepherd's crook, but for puffin legs.
You can't just send ferrets down to flush them out?
No ferrets are allowed on the island. They're strict about that.
You could do yourself a nasty injury tackling a gull, I imagine … (6)
I still have the scars on my arm. They're pretty faint, but they're permanent. I had to throw away some trousers as well, because the smell of regurgitated fish would never come out. That place is unbelievable – it's so crammed with life.
Do serious ornithologists get competitive about what they've seen? Or are you above all that?
I think you're talking about twitchers there, Michael. I studied ornithology at Oxford (7), and there were some people there who didn't even know the differences between the birds you'd see in your back garden. They were total specialists in one thing – it could be behaviour-related, it could be parasites on a bird's wing – but they wouldn't have any particular interest in what they'd see out in the natural world, which is pretty strange from my perspective. But I think they're in the minority.
If they saw a lammergeier (8), they wouldn't tell every person they knew for the next 10 years – which is what I did – whether or not that person cared, then?
No, probably not. But if you told me, which you just have, I would tell you that I've also seen one and I was quite chuffed when I did.
Does the ornithology world also have the argument they have in mammal conservation: that concentrating all the energy on saving the big, spectacular animals – the charismatic megafauna – takes resources away from saving small, grey things that are in just as much need of protection?
Not so much. With birds like puffins, they do a bunch of work for other birds that happen to live in the same places. Puffins probably raise most of the money for the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, and in so doing they protect a whole load of other birds. But the big, dramatic species are the ones that grab people's attention and make them passionate in the first place.
So if you were told there was a rare warbler living in your garden, but you could only save that species by taking all the resources that go into saving the California condor (9), would you do it? If the warbler lives, the condor dies.
I'd definitely go condor, because they're funny to look at on the ground. Seriously, the condors do a lot more for conservation than the warblers do, even if they have an equal right to be saved. You'll end up saving more species if you keep the condors.
Keep the condors! There's a message we can all get behind!
Definitely. I like condors.
• Stornoway play the Avalon stage at Glastonbury on Friday 28 June and the Other stage on Sunday 30 June.
(1) A great many Stornoway songs do indeed address humankind's relationship with nature. Although the most popular one addresses humankind's relationship with zorbing.
(2) Which is where Stornoway were formed, and where Briggs lived before the call of the wild.
(3) When they played at the Forum in London in the spring, couples were singing backing harmonies to each other. Like Marillion fans used to play air keyboad solos.
(4) Guy Garvey of Elbow, Jimi Goodwin of Doves, Martin Noble of British Sea Power and Edwyn Collins are among rock's noted bird-lovers.
(5) If you want to see puffins, Skomer's your place.
(6) Herring gulls can be particularly vicious. The residents of Berwick-upon-Tweed, for example, live in fear of them. "I was walking down Marygate only last week with a sausage roll from Greggs when one of the vicious creatures swooped at me. It got so close it actually touched me," one resident told the local paper earlier this year.
(7) He's got a PhD in it.
(8) The lammergeier, or bearded vulture, is one of Europe's rarer birds, at 300-700 breeding pairs. It only lives in remote, mountainous areas.
(9) The California condor had become so rare by 1987 – with just 22 left in the wild – that the remaining population was rounded up and put into captive breeding programmes in zoos. When they'd got the numbers up a bit, the bird was reintroduced to the wild. Never say this column doesn't teach you things.