Clocking up an impressive number of European dates, Stealing Sheep arrived at Manchester’s Deaf Institute full of folksy sparkle and vigour. Having spent the first third of their ‘Into The Diamond Sun’ tour sitting comfortably in the shadow of, albeit, a pretty impressive band (Mercury prize winners anyone?), they finally stepped out of the support slot and into the headline for the remainder, and they more than step-up to the role.
For a three-piece they manage to fill every inch of the stage with an impressive array of electronics, a vast collection of percussion and a whole load of sequins. Despite the stationary nature to their set-up – Rebecca Hawley has a stack of keyboards, Lucy Mercer a stand-up multi-percussion zone and Emily Lansley a Fender guitar and amp combo, sounding more Hank than Hendrix – Stealing Sheep are sensually kinetic. Watching them live has the effect of deconstructing the tones and textures explored within the album and reforming them before your eyes in a way that allows you to appreciate them in an acutely more observed way.
Central to this is the complete lack of creative and performative ego. All three members are at the forefront sharing equal limelight and delivering almost as a tri-front-woman act. While this could instil competitiveness in lesser skilled bands, Stealing Sheep use it as a platform from which to each individually shine. Their delicious blend of intricately tribal and ethereal psych-folk has been knitted from widely varying influences. Sonically they form an alloy that is much stronger than the sum of its multi-genred parts.
Technically they are faultess. Songs such as ‘Circles’ easily flit between an intensely gossamer, feminine drawl to an upbeat ‘60s girl garage band and back again. Its tricksy timing plays out easily as though all three members of the band are tied together by some internal metronome. Lucy Mercer’s fantastic percussion provides the basis upon which the sounds can layer without faltering. Her stand-up dashboard consists of two floor toms, a snare drum, cymbals, tambourines and a line-up of cow bells. It presents a visually dynamic element that truly enriches the show and makes you think that the traditional back-of-stage drumming slot should really be reconsidered.
Playing ‘The Garden’ Emily Lansley renders both intricate finger-picking and stretched-out, raunging fret slides. Her guitar throughout the show constantly hints at the discordant – accentuated by her use of chorus and her deft string bending and tremolo arm techniques – providing an almost oriental-eqsue lilt to the sound. Slightly more introverted, she strikes an impressive figure and is all flowing haired and fretboard focused.
Both Lansley and Mercer provide impeccable vocals that are solidified by Hawley’s slightly more dark and intent tones. Collectively they harmonise with such rich facets as to hypnotise you into addictiveness. Hawley plays both Casio and Yamaha keys, and fills the sound with everything from intricate flute melodies to deeply rich synth bass lines. She embellishes proceedings with high-pitched, angelic Nintendo chimes and delightful Bontempi chord rhythms.
The eclecticism that has brought Stealing Sheep together unites into something strong and thoroughly convincing on stage. They mirror fantastic sonic dynamics with a performance that is organic and exciting to watch; extremely feminine and delightfully rich in texture, tone and technicality.
Words and photos Anne Louise Kershaw