The Staves


Every so often I hear a band that sets my heart beating a little faster. It makes me want to call everybody I know in jittery excitement and splutter some prophetic words of exhilarated gospel about my discovery. This is a dumbed down description of my reaction to hearing a few crackly recordings of The Staves back in 2011. I was then struck by a perpetual curse whereby something life changingly important would crop up every time they performed in London. Unsurprisingly (if you’re superstitious) it would be Oxford where I would see them for the first time.

On a side note, The Staves’ performance in Oxford corresponded perfectly with a miraculous upturn in the weather. Their debut album Dead & Born & Grown (2012) has a distinctly sunny feel and so this show was meteorologically extremely well timed!

With a relatively early start the band paced onto the stage at around 8:45. They were met with rapturous applause and adoration. A few giggles were sheepishly shared on stage before the three girls, alone, began their first song – ‘Gone Tomorrow’. It was a scene setter and a statement of intent. The crispness and perfection of their vocals and harmonies is rare. They’re not just three girls with good voices, there is a tonal compatibility and bond that goes beyond the sound waves that are emitted from their mouths.

Following a couple of songs alone the trinity was joined by a bassist and drummer who would perform with them for the rest of the set – excluding the encore. This added muscle to the songs, and made it feel closer to the sound of the album. Both the drummer and bassist played well. With this type of music it would be easy for powerful instrumentation to overpower the songs – refrain and feel was adopted throughout and although this probably wasn’t noticed by many, it certainly would have been if they hadn’t.

There was an obvious fondness that radiated from the crowd. The songs were obviously old friends and their live introduction was something to be savored and enjoyed. This said, the two new, and currently unnamed, songs that were played in the set went down very well – despite their preceding apology.

‘Tongue Behind My Teeth’ was one of the higher moments of the set. It was performed with venom and delivered with fist-clenching conviction. The words “I promised you that I’d never let you down – Oh but I couldn’t love you any less than now” rang in my ears. It was at about this point that a member of the crowd fainted. A weird atmosphere of uncertainty and edgy nervousness crept across the venue and a few worried looks were traded between strangers. With the help of a little cognitive dissonance I managed to persuade myself that it was probably because they were overwhelmed by the music. Come to think of it… it was quite hot in there.

They then ticked the encore box. On re-arrival to the stage they played, as they started, without the band. They gathered round one microphone to sing ‘Dead & Born & Grown’ together. It was a touching moment and a fitting close to the set.

The Staves are one of the jewels in the crown of current folk music. Their compositions have drawn obvious inspiration from classic folk standards, but their songs feel fresh and unburdened. They are also charming, accomplished and captivating performers. It would appear my babbled words of gushing enthusiasm after my first ever taste have manifested themselves into quite an accurate prophecy.