Words by Ed King / Pictures by Katie Foulkes http://www.kfdphotography.co.uk/
This is different. I’ve been to several gigs at the Hare and Hounds, but there’s not usually a queue; or at least, not usually one this long.
Not that there are more-people-than-ever-before, after all capacity is what it is, but they’re not often so punctual. And with the doors opening 30mins late, the snake of politely grumpy beards coils around the entire downstairs bar.
Birmingham Review last saw The Staves in April, playing at The Glee Club; and if you’re a fan of cross referencing, click here. But a lot’s happened since spring; the Staveley-Taylor trio have been supporting Bon Iver, soaked up as much festival stage as possible and flirted with national press.Plus they’ve released their debut album, ‘Dead & Born & Grown’; which is kind of why we’re all here.
My companion and I steal a Chesterfield, another drink, and watch the queue finally shuffle upstairs. ‘Mixed’, using my entire linguistic prowess, is the note I make on my pad.
After the combined time of ale, gin and tonic, we slide upstairs unperturbed to catch the end of The Staves’ tour support act – Luke Sital Singh. Sounding like Jeff Buckely (to me) and looking like Johnny Depp (to my companion) I fear for his safety. One more redeeming feature and he may not make it out the building.
The Staves walk on stage to thunderous applause, but I struggle to clap. With a plastic pint glass (plastic – glass?), a notepad, my posh parker pen, and a 2ft deficit to the sea of shoulders around me, I am limited.
I squeeze a look at the stage; Emily sits on the far left, Camilla in the centre, and Jessica on the right. Plus two new faces lurk at the back; one hidden by cymbals and the other by bass. This is another change, at least to the set up I previously saw. I write down ‘space’ and ‘backline’.
The Staves open with ‘The Motherlode’, Camilla leading the vocals that are becoming all too synonymous. ‘Icarus’ follows, with Jessica taking the wheel, whilst Emily and Camilla decorate the lead. I should at this point apologise if I cite the wrong sister or voice, but, as The Staves themselves have admitted, distinction can be tricky.
My least favourite, ‘Pay Us No Mind’, is performed next; with the backline bringing an onstage fullness to the languid album track. Jessica finger pick opens ‘In the Long Run’; a straight lead and harmony song “about touring”, something that Emily jokes “everyone can relate to”, before Camilla and ukulele deliver the softly beautiful chords of ‘Facing West’.
The Staves’ latest single, ‘Tongue Behind My Teeth’, is played next, and I find myself doing the nudge shoulder dance and clichéd foot tap. I didn’t rate this song on the album, but its live performance tonight is my highlight of the evening. Simply an excellent song, I discover; albeit embarrassingly late.
‘Mexico’ comes next, with Jessica’s vocal lead and guitar plucking a steady path through the room. Memorably, ‘Mexico’ was the first song by The Staves I ever heard; with its bold simplicity and mature lyrics embroidered over a gentle but strong melody. Enough purple prose? Bollocks to it, ‘Mexico’s an excellent song.
‘Go Wisely and Slow’ is performed next, with Emily suggesting (and all but one of the crowd agreeing) that we “stay quiet for this one”; as the Staveley-Taylors remind us what first nudged them into to the limelight.
The slightly forgettable ‘Eagle Song’ rounds off the main set, before “a Birmingham encore” keeps the sisters on stage; not that they, as Camilla ruefully points out, “could go anywhere anyway”.
The album’s title track, ‘Dead & Born & Grown’, introduces the encore, and I remember this was one of The Staves’ first compositions. It’s a short song, a lyrical fledgling – with Jessica’s six string metronome underpinning three carefully layered vocals. An artists’ sketch pad.
‘Winter Trees’ brings the set to a close; with its nostalgically dark verse, and seductive county chorus, building to dénouement. A great end track; and a fierce reminder not to pigeon hole young artists. I fight a sudden urge to drop kick Jools Holland.
The room jostles itself free, and I move over to the side of the room to mercifully lean my note pad against the wall. Scanning the drunk spider scrawl I try and sum up the set; or at least leaving the room with more than one word notations.
The Staves… The Staves… The Staves… When you’ve already written about a band, it’s sometimes a stilted process to revisit them so soon. But I know I’ve enjoyed tonight’s set much more than the one I saw in April; even despite having to stand, and use my pint glass as a writing table.
I’ve heard all these songs before, most live and all recoded, but there was something new on stage tonight. Something better. It’s not God, it’s not Ms Franklin, it’s not the musical second coming or a diatribe of platitudes; it’s just new. It’s just better. I scribble two more words onto my note pad.
And as I’m walking out the Hare & Hounds I get it. It’s not their singing, it’s their songs. Tonight I got the talent behind the voices, behind the easily grabbed badge that may oddly shadow the Staveley-Taylors. They write, and perform, some inspired compositions; with attributes beyond their ability to harmonise. A fact I hadn’t fully appreciated before.
I write ‘songwriting’ onto my notepad, click my pen, and put both in my pocket. Then I go home and listen to ‘Tongue Behind My Teeth’ on repeat.
The Staves debut album, ‘Dead & Born & Grown’, is out now – available in store and online. For more on The Staves, visit http://www.thestaves.com
For further gigs from Birmingham Promoters, visit http://birminghampromoters.com