If you adored the sound of the gently rippled “Down to the River to Pray” (the classic close-harmony song made famous by Alison Krauss in ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’) – it’s a fair bet that you would have been in a state of bliss for The Staves performance of “Wisely and Slow” ( taken from their debut full-length album Dead & Born & Grown) at this year’s End Of The Road Festival.
“Brother, you will never know / All the things I did for you / Many years ago…” This song follows the same repetitively sonorous formula as its traditional predecessor – the roots gently digging into our collective consciousness – like any good chant should. It had a calming effect on our frayed nerves and allowed us to reach a state of meditative reception.
The three Staveley-Taylor sisters that form ‘The Staves’ – Emily, Jessica and Camilla – grew up in the North of London suburban town of Watford. They told the crowd about their sense of dismay – upon returning home from a long tour – only to discover – with the appropriate amount of revulsion – that their beloved Harlequin shopping centre had been renamed as “intu Watford”. Bummer! They also spoke about the famous Larmer Tree peacocks back stage. “There are the all-brown ones. They are the females. And then there are the ones with the cocks …” Appropriately enough, this was when the siblings introduced the “Boys” onto stage (a quick amendment by Emily described them as “The Men…”) including the bass player Cyrus Bayandor.
The perfect 3-part harmonies – performed a capella most of the time – were fuelled by the simplest ornaments … perhaps a little jingle-jangle of guitar here-and-there, a lacewing strum of the ukulele – and occasionally (but not always) a spattering of drums or bass (played by “The Men”.) Jessica wore dark glasses and played guitar for most of the show. Emily, the eldest of the three, played on an old squeeze-box, banged a drum, and whistled contentedly. Camilla, the youngest, played her ukulele centre stage. Her long hair formed dark rivulets across her shoulders.
‘Icarus’ was as gently swaying as the fields of hay crop that graced the edge of Larmer Tree Gardens. Emily ‘s voice was warm and buttery: Whilst the voice of Camilla echoed lustrously. This was a sweet moonbeam of a song.
And songs like ‘Mexico’ reminded us – a lot – of Fleet Foxes. The reduced elasticated guitar accompaniment added something to the mixture – rather than penalized it. The lyrical content radiated sparkling lines of stars, like seeing fireflies seen through rock crystals. This was absolutely intriguing and totally seductive.
On ‘The Motherlode’ the girls used the pastel coloured squeeze-box and employed a rhythm driven by the lone guitar. Camilla’s countenance was strained on this one. With furrows deeply torn into her forehead. But when her sisters joined in with the song, the pressure was demonstrably relieved. The song-words stepped carefully along the paving stones of melody – with a desperate craving and a missionary zeal. The golden polyphony of the chorus – together with the sweetly interweaving melodic lines – created a heavenly climax. This occasioned a slight ripple of affectionate applause from the audience at The Garden Stage – who remained polite and well-behaved through the entire performance. It was a lovely and dreamy moment.
This was sweet unhurried music. Flawless, guiltless, bliss.
– © Neil_Mach September 2013 –