Yesterday I and a couple of friends went to see The Staves at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill, West London. The Staves are three sisters, Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Cooper, hence the band name) from Watford. They sing what I guess you’d call modern folk songs, with simple backing and the most beautiful harmonies. They are in their twenties, I think, and I imagine they’ve been singing together all their lives. You can sense that in the way that their voices interact so perfectly.
The Staves first came to my attention in March this year, as the result of a retweet by Whispering Bob Harris, doyen of rock radio, now residing on BBC Radio 2, playing the music he loves. He retweeted the video of the band’s single, “Mexico”. I really liked its poise, its simplicity, the vocals and the insistent but low key guitar rhythm. I checked out their music on iTunes, and found two wonderful EPs: “Live at Cecil Sharp House” and “Mexico”. I found that I couldn’t stop listening to them. Such beautiful, understated music and those harmonies. The song I liked best of all was a cover of the old folk song, “Silver Dagger” where the harmonies were at their very best. Just entrancing.
Since then there has been another EP, “The Motherlode”. I only downloaded it yesterday, when I thought, blimey, I haven’t heard it yet and the concert’s tonight! I was immediately taken with the third track, “Wisely and Slow”, again with those lovely harmonies. I think it’s my new favourite song, especially after last night!
There’s an album due in July, I think. For now, there are the three EPs, and you can hear them all on Soundcloud. Better still, get on iTunes, Soundcloud, or wherever, and buy them!
The Tabernacle is a lovely venue. I can’t believe I’d never been there before, me a West Londoner. It’s in the heart of Notting Hill, which is an area of London that combines extreme poshness, artiness, musicality (with the annual carnival the expression of Caribbean roots and culture in London) and deprivation at its edges. The Tabernacle is a grade 2 listed building which has had a big makeover in recent years. It has been a community arts centre for many years, and I have to say that I was really impressed by the venue last night. The bar and restaurant was a lovely space, the food looked great, the beer was fine, the concert/theatre hall was spacious and airy and there was a really nice space outside to sit and chat. It’s nestled between some residential blocks and there are some strict rules: everyone has to clear out of the external space by 9pm and concerts have to end by 10pm. So it’s never going to be a major venue. But it was a real find for me last night.
The support was provided by Christof, an Irish folk singer. He was good. Played a lovely acoustic guitar and had an effortless, tender voice. He dressed like a seventies Bob Dylan and had a good line in humour, with a funny story about sausage sandwiches on the road, amongst other things. (Yes, really!) For his last song he got out the harmonica and sang a beautiful song which reminded me of “I’m Gonna Be Lonesome When You Go”, one of Bob’s great songs from “Blood On The Tracks”. Mostly, his sound was closer to Nick Drake or John Martyn than Dylan, but the fact that these are the artists I’m comparing him with is proof, I hope, that I really liked what he was doing. I’ll be checking out his recordings.
And then the Staves. Aaaah. I just love their sound at the moment. It’s not breaking the mould, it’s just very good music. It’s a mix of folk with a modern pop sensibility. And those voices! I’d had the impression that Jessica did most of the solo singing, as well as playing the guitar, but live they shared the lead vocals and the playing. They also had a bass and drum backing, where it was needed. They played pretty much all the songs they’ve recorded so far and a few new ones. “Silver Dagger” was missing, which I regretted, but I can understand that with only an hour to play, they needed to focus on their own songs. Highlights for me were beautiful renditions of “Icarus” and “Mexico”, and maybe best of all, an acappella version of that new song, “Wisely and Slow”. For that the three of them crowded round the one microphone and just sang the most heavenly harmonies.
The gig was sold out and the vibe was good. The band were in good and quite robust humour. As their London gig (Watford being just North of London for those of you not familiar with the geography) it felt like A Sort of Homecoming (thanks U2!). And I felt good to be there. In the book I’m writing about my musical journey, I have a chapter about what I call celtic soul. The Staves may be from Watford, but I feel they have that soul. There were times when I was reminded of some of the Irish singers I remember from a wonderful compilation album called “A Woman’s Heart”, released in 1992. Featuring the likes of Mary Black, Eleanor McEvoy, Dolores Keane and Sharon Shannon.
It feels like momentum is building for the Staves. They’ve already had a successful tour of America before this one, and they are soon going off to support the brilliant Bon Iver in the US. Their sound is rooted in traditional music, but it does read across to the melodic, acoustic music that is popular today. (Ed Sheeran, Mumford and Sons, Ellie Goulding for example. ) I’m incredibly wary of making any generalisations in this field given my age, but I’m observing my own kids and their friends, as well as following new music myself. And at the concert last night it was telling that there was a real mix of the generations. Plenty of oldies like me, but also a lot of people in their twenties, relating to The Staves as contemporaries.
But hey, let’s cut to the chase. It’s just wonderful music – age is irrelevant – and I can’t wait to hear The Staves’ first full album. Last night was just a great musical experience. A celebration. I felt privileged to be there, and it felt like the start of something…
So here’s a link to The Staves website and, just for fun, a couple of rather duff photos I took on the iPhone last night. These are the best ones! It was a bit dark and there were lots of heads in front. One is of the band singing that song, “Wisely and Slowly”; the other is one of the encores with Christof.
I was there!
Photos copied from Google Images. The first photo is by Rebecca Miller at rebeccatakespictures.blogspot.com. Second, not sure, but from a publicity poster.
I previously wrote about the Staves in my blog from March called Two Gigs and Three Discoveries. You can find it in the Music – concerts, lists, reflections section in the right hand tool bar.