The Staves // RNCM Manchester // Saturday 2nd November 2013

Photography: Rebecca Miller
Photo: Rebecca Miller

The audience file into the concert hall; the performers tonight are The Staves, an acoustic folk trio from Watford, Hertfordshire. They have recently received acclaim with the release of their debut album, Dead & Born & Grown.

The crowd within the hall seat themselves. The gig is about to begin. Stepping out first onto the stage is the support act, Christof; he is a singer-songwriter hailing originally from Holland.

Christof quietly takes to the stage with the rest of his band. They pick up their instruments and begin to play their opening song. There is a shy aura about the musician, though this dissipates quickly as he strikes an opening chord.

Amongst the memorable songs of his performance are the tracks ‘Love’s Glory’ and ‘Shoot Me Down’, taken from his latest EP: both are exceedingly beautiful. They are comprised of sterling harmonies, exquisite cello, and the faint sound of drumming.

The welcoming Manchester crowd receives them well. Throughout the performance the audience are silent and respectful to the young musician. They are moved by his honest songwriting and his subtle approach. With some parting words, he leaves the stage at the conclusion of his set to a round of applause.

The Staves appear not long after Christof has vacated the stage; with them is their touring group. After settling themselves, they begin to play tracks from their debut album. Amongst these is the single ‘Mexico’, a gorgeous song lifted to greater heights by the pitch-perfect harmonies of Emily, Jessica, and Camilla.

The group is incredibly comfortable; they make droll remarks to each other onstage between songs. They have an incredible chemistry, and it is on display throughout the performance for those in attendance.

The songs ‘Tongue Behind My Teeth’ and ‘The Motherlode’ also provoke a strong positive reaction from the audience. ‘Tongue Behind My Teeth’ is a more raucous affair than their other songs, but the audience doesn’t seem to mind; they respond cheerfully to the piece. The latter of the two tracks, ‘The Motherlode’, contrasts with the last song quite significantly. It is more restrained in its composition, allowing the harmonies to take preference over the instrumentation.

They perform a collection of their best work from their career so far, including the songs ‘Winter Trees’ and ‘Facing West’. The crowd responds once again with applause; the songs are of an exceptional quality for musicians so young.

The Staves are a rare example of a group whose sound thrives in a live environment. Their harmonies echo out throughout the concert hall to the supreme delight of their fans. Producing an incredibly intimate backdrop to their vocals, Camilla delicately strums the ukulele to the left of the stage. The atmosphere is profound.

After an encore, they thank the welcoming crowd for their excellent behaviour, before departing through the stage exit. It is now only left for the audience to withdraw into the night.

With one album behind them, The Staves look set to become as big as their popular folk contemporaries. From their performance tonight it is easy to suggest that it’ll be only a matter of time before they are playing much bigger venues, allowing them the opportunity to distribute their earnest sound to a significantly wider audience

4/5

Written by: Jack Yarwood

Fish Tank Review

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Fish Tank is the second full-length feature film by director Andrea Arnold, after 2006’s Red Road. It follows the story of Mia Williams (Katie Jarvis), an antisocial teenager living on an East London housing estate.

Throughout the film’s duration, Mia, the central protagonist is subject to the harsh conditions of the estate where she lives. She communicates to her mother (Kierston Wareing) and sister (Rebecca Griffiths) in a series of piercing screams, and often finds she has to defend herself against her environment with the use of force.

It is only when Mia is truly alone that she is capable of becoming empathetic. Guzzling down alcohol in her spare time to deal with her everyday life, she seeks escape wherever she can find it. This leads her to the glamorous world of Rn’B and Rap, where she discovers an interest in urban dancing. Practicing alone in an abandoned room on the estate, she attempts to perfect her technique in order to escape her conditions and find something worth holding on to.

The film is as much a personal story as it is a social commentary. The character of Mia, though subject to conditions created by a particular political and sociological climate, is not merely a stereotypical working class figure, but a fully realised individual; like any real human being, she has individual dreams, aspirations, fears, and regrets. This is displayed perfectly within the film, owing to the director’s astute ability to create unique and interesting characters, as seen previously in Red Road.

Other characters that feature predominantly in Mia’s story are her mother, Joanne; her mother’s boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender); her younger sister, Tyler; and a local boy, Billy, played by Harry Treadaway. All of these characters witness the many sides of the girl, being exposed at different points in the narrative to both her anger and affection. They are also perfectly cast. Much of the film depends on the interactions between Connor and Mia, and Fassbender and Jarvis handle this confidently.

The film is an awe-inspiring piece of British cinema, carrying with it a strong sense of realism. It is beautifully shot and presented, and manages to retain an interest throughout its run.

If you are a fan of Andrea Arnold’s previous work, or a supporter of British Cinema in general, Fish Tank is a must-watch. It handles its subject excellently, treating it with the necessary depth and sensitivity.

5/5

Written by Jack Yarwood