Akin to Don and Phil Everly, First Aid Kit’s Klara and Johanna Soderberg and Maggie, Terre and Suzzy of New Jersey trio The Roches, Watford can lay claim to producing another musical act centred on dazzling harmonies that seemingly can only be the result of the synergic effects of siblinghood. Thus, the Staveley-Taylor sisters (Emily, the eldest, along with middle sister Jessica and youngest sibling Camilla) brought along their delicate folk-rock and formidable harmonies to an enthusiastically received Saturday night performance.
Clearly the group’s true calling card, these harmonies take centre stage with opening song ‘Hopeless’, a hitherto unreleased track and a rare excursion into a cappella, and later during the mic sharing coda of the finger-picked ‘Let Me Down’ – the three voices mellifluously melding together and further layering atop each other with the use of loop pedals.
When not showcasing their smoothly incisive three way vocals, each sister takes their turn to sing lead; Emily takes us through the oscillating melodies and call and response vocals of ‘Steady’ while the ukulele pickings of ‘Blood I Bled’ sees Camilla take over lead duties. Meanwhile Jessica, whose vocal arguably stands up as the most effective in isolation, dispenses with her guitar and takes to the keyboard to deliver the plaintive introspection of ‘Sadness Don’t Own Me’.
Performing on guitar, ukulele, keyboard, single drum and harmonium between them, the three sisters are also backed with a bassist, a keyboardist/guitarist and a drummer. This set up occasionally transforms the gentle folk musings into a heavier sound with a little more bite – such as when the electric guitar propels the sassy ‘Black & White’ into the welcome realm of soulful pop moodiness.
Also, the addition of extra musicians on violin, French horn and trombone help flesh out and excite beyond the occasionally cloying elegance of the bare-bones folk arrangements. This full line up provides a satisfyingly large sound within the quiet/loud dynamics of ‘Winter Trees’ and, following a self-deprecating joke about Watford being “the place where dreams are made and ultimately broken”, the excellent ‘Mexico’. Meanwhile, the subtle murmur of brass and moments of aching violin effectively add shade to tracks such as ‘Eagle Song’.
A constant display of enthusiastic crowd approval produces smiles from the band and a gleeful comment from Camilla (“You guys are pretty cool”) before a cover of Bombay Bicycle Club’s ‘Feel’. Jokingly introduced as a gesture to “help them out by playing a couple of their songs”, the track is given the folk treatment with strummed guitar, finger-picking and hand claps.
With their musicality and obvious flair for vocal harmony, there’s no doubt that The Staves’ are a class act that provide an array of beauteous moments. However, they are perhaps a knockout track or two short of fully demanding your attention.
The consistent gentleness evidently feels a little slight for some and chatting among the audience can clearly be heard in the stalls as Camilla strums through the soft, breakup lament of ‘Don’t You Call Me Anymore.’ This is perhaps no fault of their own – tonight’s show is within the context of a Saturday evening out after all – but when the crowd becomes more animated during the upbeat, country tinged singalong of ‘Teeth White’ during the encore, it is a welcome change of gear that has felt all too elusive.
The performance is met with a resoundingly warm reception as the sisters Staveley-Taylor, all smiles and gratitude, take a bow for the audience. With just one date at The Roundhouse remaining, the tour effectively ends here. Camilla described tonight as a “great way to end things”; there appears to be no one in disagreement as we shuffle out into Saturday night.
Photos by Donna Coombs Photography – view our gallery of the show.