To inherit the crown of Brit folk-rock in a world after Mumford and Sons revivalism is a big burden to carry. The Staves return from a stay in the United States and kick off a new tour in our very own Nottingham, they don’t just emulate what they heard out there but bring a little of the misty-eyed stars and stripes back home.
First a comment on their own support Flo Morrissey though. Arriving at Rescue Rooms from Notting Hill, just 20 years of age, Morrissey silenced the crowd as she settled onto her seat as a silhouette, long hair pouring into her lap. Once the lights lifted such an air wasn’t so much swept away as replaced by the polar opposite; absolute earnest and sincerity. She wore no makeup and just a jumper and jeans: Flo was about her words and her music and her voice was enchanting; reminiscent of Nico of Velvet Underground prestige, it wasn’t that her piano playing or guitar picking was unremarkable, just that her singing made you forget about anything else. It was a wise choice to pair The Staves with a talent with vocal dexterity, as they’d soon prove, their’s are hard to match. Flo Morrissey’s debut album Pages of Gold comes out in spring on Glassnote and she proved herself deserving of our ears that night.
The Staves are part of a succession of female folk artists including Laura Marling and Sharon Van Etten who prove that femininity and guitars don’t equate to a lack of bite
One endearing woman was soon replaced by three, as The Staves took to the stage as a unit, supported by percussionist, guitarist and drummer. ‘Blood I Bled’ off their recent EP is a full on rocker which saw the girls tag-teaming catchy and Springsteen-esque vocals. The Staves are part of a succession of female folk artists including Laura Marling and Sharon Van Etten who prove that femininity and guitars don’t equate to a lack of bite; in fact a fair few songs here like ‘Teeth White’ and the vibrant lead single ‘Black and White’ keep things acoustic yet possess a powerful musical and vocal drive. Both these tracks are off upcoming album If I Was; and neither were supposed to be upcoming at the time of this gig.
It could have gone disastrously, with only six of the tracks being off their debut album Born and Grown and five of them being saved until the end
Thanks to an unfortunate but unsurprising label fuck-up, the album has been pushed back for release until March and so the entire eleven day tour has gone from being a victory parade of the new-stuff, with fans recently equated and keen to hear them live, to an impromptu preview. It could have gone disastrously, with only six of the tracks being off their debut album Born and Grown and five of them being saved until the end; but it didn’t happen that way. The best way to hear these songs for the first time may actually have been stood before them as they’re constructed live; such is the nature of The Stave’s output that gentle and harmonious tracks can often take some teasing before their treasures are revealed. Here, for the first time, they were delivered bare and open like a rush of blood to the head. The drums hold a background position on record but live were punchy, crisp and ground quaking, giving the tracks with a fire in their belly an extra shot of gasoline. The new songs were engaging without exception. While a criticism of their debut album could be a lack of diversity; the rockier songs here imbue their catalogue with a range of tone and tempo across the set list. The new tracks don’t just expand in one direction either; songs ‘Damn It All’ and ‘Make It Holy’ starting with the oldest sibling, Emily, on a hand held synthesiser providing extended organ-esque preludes: ears stretching towards the ambient as well then.
she stood from the mic, stuck two fingers in the air and sneered ‘yeahhh here’s a new one! … That’s how you do it right…?
The standout from the evening was always going to be the girls though. The Staves are not just a band; the three women are sisters; Emily, Jessica and Milly. They’re intergenerational too; with the eldest being 32 and youngest 25 – and impressively, just as Flo held her own on stage, so too did the personalities of each of the sisters come across; Jessica channelling Jessie J characteristics and frequently referring to the collective as ‘dickheads’ while Emily often gently reminded Milly, who stood firm in the centre, to promote and flog their new gear. Their sense of humour was forever present, regardless of how absorbing the preceding songs were. At one point Milly apologised for playing another new cut, but after a shot from Emily she stood from the mic, stuck two fingers in the air and sneered ‘yeahhh here’s a new one! … That’s how you do it right…?’ They were unabashedly delighted to be playing their new material and often wore big grins on their faces; while Flo had her enigma and some choose a persona for stage, the Stavely-Taylor sisters were very much themselves.
Performed live the three sisters left their positions and gathered round the centre mic, singing as one
Their sisterly collaboration though is most fruitful in their greatest musical asset; their harmonies. My god. Intensely pretty and surreally pitch perfect without missing a single solitary beat; theirs are some of the best on offer in music today. The showcase for this was the night’s true highlight; Dead and Born and Grown opener ‘Wisely and Slow’. One of the most distinctive songs in the folk revival; its first half consists purely of the three girls harmonising as one; each voice able miraculously to blend and stand on its own feet –that it then breaks into a swinging resolution is unnecessary at that point, but marvellous regardless. Performed live the three sisters left their positions and gathered round the centre mic, singing as one. The warm atmosphere in the Rescue Rooms would be testing to more cynical minds I’m sure; the opener of ‘Horizons’ where Milly and Emily started grinning and clapping the beat together even tested me. Ultimately though, Americana was not the only thing The Staves brought to Nottingham on the first leg of their tour, and the sisterly unity wrought many more grins that night in Rescue Rooms.
All Photos from Hannah Smith
Liam Inscoe – Jones
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