Review: Stanlaey, supported by Cat Eliza T at The Art House Cafe
The Southampton music scene’s a strange one. Home of proper punks, heavy metal die-hards, and late night jazz jams, it definitely exists if you know where to look. With strong music degree courses at both its universities and some amazing pubs and music venues where the regulars are akin to family, it provides fertile soil for some genuinely notable artists.
Cat Eliza T is the real deal. She easily captures the room by drawing you into her bold personality. Her voice, with expressive vibratos, massive range and the ability to really belt it out, was just made for story-telling. Like all proper folk singers, she can deliver any story of woe, from the tail of a women abandoned by her unborn-child’s father, to a chirpy song about suicide. She masterfully played at least four different instruments during the set (two guitars, a ukulele, viola and dulcimer), switching between tunings while entertaining the audience with funny stories and a regular segment of her performance called “audience bingo”, where a lucky member can win the most random thing that she found that day in pound-land. She simultaneously entertains you and breaks your heart, but you can’t help enjoying yourself when she’s on stage. For the second half of her set she was joined by harmony-expert Hayley of Tenderlore fame. The pair’s combined vocals were a match made in musical heaven. The high-light of the set for me was the final song “Not in My Familia”, a new composition by Cat which set her dulcimer to the duo’s beautiful vocal harmonies. It was an intricate, interesting song which Cat told me after the show was heavily influenced by her recent obsession with 70s prog-rock band Yes. Not just a skilled performer, Cat managed to show off her talent as a songwriter too.
The tone was set for Stanlaey’s performance as they stepped onto stage all in blue, faces painted like creatures of the sea. They then proceeded to draw you into the mystical and magical mind of Bethany Stennings. They were performing tracks from her album ‘Ouroborus’, inspired by the classical myth of a great, self-sustaining snake which circles the world, and this cycle of self-consumption holds the world in balance. Using an unusual 9-piece set up of a string quartet, drums, bass, two backing vocalists and Bethany on guitar and main vocals, they created some soundscapes and textures unheard of even amongst the most out-there indie music, especially within a live setting. With extremely original drum playing by John Pilgrim, mimicking synthesised machine noises, and a wire-y guitar sound from Bethany’s white Stratocaster, it produced a very quirky and original noice. But when the full band with strings and vocals kicked, sitting where I was in the front row it was almost overwhelmingly moving and powerful. Even with the dazzling display of shiny clothes and blue face-paint, the stand-out feature of the performance was Bethany’s signature vocals. It is startling and surprising when first heard, and hard to forget afterwards. In attempting to describe it, most immediately jump to other uncategorizable artists like Kate Bush or Bjork, but of course the only thing those women have in common is that they are so different from the crowd. There aren’t many adjectives which do justice to her voice. It is both innocent and sinister. Sweet and savage. Such a voice could only suit songs inspired by Chaucer, classical mythical creatures, wide expanses of coastline and the vastness of the ocean. While her album may be inspired by the shoreline landscape, this is undoubtedly an artist on the horizon of something great.
Buy Ouroborus now: https://stanlaey.bandcamp.com/album/ouroboros