I arrived at The Wardrobe Theatre, to be greeted by two silver people. I was slightly confused that I’d somehow arrived late, but in fact I was early and these new silver friends were simply being polite in helping me find my way to the box office. After checking in, I was handed an envelope, with the words ‘fate’, handwritten on it. I found my seat and opened the envelope to read a handwritten note titled ‘Dear Human’. At this point, I knew the evening was going to be an adventure. Stanlæy’s front woman Bethany Stenning, had written hundreds of these letters for her guests to open on arrival which was a wonderful introduction to her album launch.
The warm-up act was Irish trio, Alfi, who have recently launched their own album, Wolves in the Woods. The band from Dublin comprised of Alannah Thornburgh on harp, Fiachra Meek on vocals Uilleann pipes and whistle and Ryan McAuley on banjo. Al fi were a mix of folk and fun featuring Irish trad. and American Old Time, definitely worth a listen.
The intermission involved cake, handed out by our silver friends, which is always a good start. The Wardrobe Theatre gradually became stuffed with people squeezing themselves into seats with ears pinned back in anticipation. The stage performance began when Bethany drew us into her evening with an enchanting taster accompanied only by the harp, where her voice painted the picture for us. I couldn’t help being intrigued by the mix of rock n’ roll and orchestral instruments behind her which all featured in her following songs. The usual Stanlæy ensemble consists of Ben Holyoake (bass), Oliver Cocup (drums/percussion) and Naomi Hill (violin) but on this night we were treated to a full string quartet and guest Alannah Thonrburgh on harp. The ensemble created songs which were artfully orchestrated by the front woman herself, the string quartet for example, harmonised exceptionally well to bring out what was being sung.
Stanlæy performed songs which shaped the sound of fragile ice and others with jagged rhythms from the strings and percussion, to explore edgy mountains. This was crafted music but subtle enough to be enjoyed by the everyday listener. It was refreshing to hear the voice as an instrument with words, rather than singing words accompanied by instruments. Stanlæy incorporated both ethereal vocals and a blend of instruments to bring us a party in sound. At times, there were echos of Joanna Newsome and Florence and the Machine, but these were only flickers in sound as Stanlæy have their own musical recipe, a cacophony of jazz, modern, electrical music with a pinch of folk. In a word, Stanlæy’s ability to mix music with song was extraordinary and they definitely pushed creativity beyond the stage. This was an album launch not to be missed and Stenning is a musician to watch.