According the Daily Mail, Britain’s premier sower of panic, “modern-day sheep rustling is the work of ruthless armed gangs bringing terror to the countryside”. Let’s hope the Mail doesn’t get wind of the new band Stealing Sheep, whose name the newspaper would no doubt decry as an appalling promotion of a depraved and dastardly rural crime. But the rest of the world should pay attention – for the young Liverpudlian trio are a bright prospect.
This show celebrated the release of their debut album Into the Diamond Sun, which finds them channelling (rather than pastiching) the spirit of 1960s/70s psychedelic folk-pop. No less an authority than Paul McCartney approves: the Stealing Sheep threesome attended a stage school co-founded by Macca at which one of them caught his ear. A jamming session duly followed, along with advice from the ex-Beatle on how to resolve songs. Judging from tonight’s gig, the lesson has been learnt.
It opened with keyboardist Becky Hawley, drummer Lucy Mercer and guitarist Emily Lansley lining up at the front of the small stage. A clarinettist, flautist and another drummer joined them in the background. The first number sounded tense – the wind instruments were too shrill, the three women’s voices were too modest – but as the set proceeded they warmed to their task.
The songs were led by Mercer on drums, standing with a drumstick in one hand and a mallet in the other. The beat was strong, irresistible; there was nothing fey or whimsical about it. Next to her, Lansley added a nicely skewed accompaniment on guitar, as with the wonky Beck-like hook running through “Rearrange” or the woozy use of the whammy bar in several other tracks. Hawley on keyboards added swirls of colour, from period 1960s drones to retro-modern effects such as the looped sample of a dulcimer in “Shark Song”.
The trio shared the vocals, at times singing separately, at others chanting together. The music had a similarly shape-shifting feel, with “Gold” transforming itself from eerie freak-folk into a dynamic jig, and the finale “I Am the Rain” building into grand Velvet Underground-style trance-rock. At the end, the threesome looked bashful at the enthusiastic applause. They will hear a lot more of it.