Gig review: The Staves @ The Portland Arms, Cambridge

Well Saturday night was one of a few firsts at a gig for me, which I’ll address in a point by point format:

a) A decent musical Dutchman

The Dutch aren’t massively known for their music, let’s be honest. In fact the only ones I can think of right now are early Eurodance sensations, 2 Unlimited and the Vengaboys. Now I may be doing our friends from the Netherlands a great disservice here, but it seems that instead of clogging up our charts with more of the banal rubbish that the rest of the world does, they’re taking care of the more, erm, interesting things in life, which is fine by me. Anyway, I digress. Last night that all changed for me – support act for The Staves was the wonderful Christof. Advertised as ChristofMusic, I was half expecting a Mel Gibson inspired musical theatre act or at the very least some hymns and a glockenspiel, but no. What we had instead was a mightily impressive singer songwriter, with both talent and charm in abundance. Armed with his acoustic guitar and harmonica, Christof sang gentle folk songs of pillow shaped clouds and dreams of Charlie Chaplin. Having spent much of the last few years either busking, or playing in pubs and clubs, his is a craft well honed. His songs were interjected with confessions that he preferred playing these smaller gigs to the large arenas, and requests for Cambridge’s finest sausage sandwich (see point b) – but there was far more to Christof than just a joke and smile. Songs such as The Ghost of Corrib’s Lady and Honey Tears (the title track of his latest EP) were more than well received, and as he closed with Mind Myself along side The Staves, it was clear he’d gained a whole room full of fans. Seems there’s more to Holland than cheese and whores.

b) A sausage sandwich review

Being partial to the odd sausage sandwich myself, I have to touch on this. Not only did Christof treat us to a delightful array of songs, he also revealed he’s been researching the quality of sausage sandwiches on offer as The Staves and he tour the width and bredth of the UK. A very useful full analysis of these sausage findings can be found on his twitter or alternatively, just go to his website and check out his enjoy some fantastic music. As yet, I don’t know how Cambridge fared with the sausages.

c) Sibling success

Now musical history is littered with family success stories granted, but I doubt there’s been anything quite like this in terms of natural harmony. Emily, Jessica and Camilla make up The Staves, and on Saturday night they wowed The Portland Arms. Having made music and sung together since their early years, this natural progression shines through now in what is quite simply stunning music. They’ve been compared to the likes of Joni Mitchell and Laura Marling, which isn’t far off the mark , but they do have their own distinct style as they range from folk to borderline a capella, letting their voices work so well together as they sing of loves lost and found. The beautiful Icarus blends alternated and then harmonised vocals with a progressively plucking guitar, while The Motherlode uses a harmonium, well they “think it’s a kind of harmonium”, with those perfectly complimented voices to great effect. The girls themselves work just as well together when not singing, boasting of their music being used in Hollyoaks (“we’ve made it!”) and pulling each other up on poor elocution (“we’ve been raised better than that!”). What’s also refreshingly nice to see is that they seem genuinely abashed with the applause and praise received as each song ended, something they may have to get used to on a larger scale with the news that they’ve recently been announced as support for Bon Iver’s upcoming US tour. After finishing up with Winter Trees, they edged off the rather limited stage before returning to mass cries for an encore, rounding off a stunning set with help from our favourite Dutchman. Appearing at the Cambridge Folk Festival this summer, you’d be wise to catch them if you get the chance – a massive future beckons.

d) A group that look good as they sound

A rare thing that is. Think of a better looking and better sounding version of The Corrs, but without the moody looking brother hanging around on the edge of stage having incestuous thoughts. That’s The Staves.

e) Frank Spencer on stage

Yes that Frank Spencer. You’ll have to go and see them for an explanation on this one I’m afraid, if you even need any more encouragement by now. It was my first experience of The Staves on Saturday; and on a night full of firsts for me, I was overwhelmingly left with a thirst for more.

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