Portland Arms, Cambridge

Three girls, pretty much all in plaid, with long flowing faery locks and the lips of sirens, take to the tiny stage in front of an audience mostly clothed in knitted items. There is a very bald head obscuring the view but a picture of Frank Spencer clearly sits on stage so it doesn't matter. The microphone stands are swathed in scarves. It's all very Stevie Nicks. That's where the comparison ends though, despite sharing equally as dire band names- The Staves are, after all, called Jessica, Camilla and Emily so it was always going to be a fairly respectable affair. Hailing from Watford, not synonymous with the upper-middle class, Emily (the Stave most definitely dressed in plaid) attempts to drop a few 't's to bond with the audience. There is polite laughter around the room. Yes, a very respectable affair indeed.

However, sneering aside, they have a wonderful talent. Their innocent shyness gives way to a mature, almost weary style of songwriting, creating a stage presence that, although not charismatic, is thankfully not cute either. They look at the audience through their long eyelashes but they look like hungry witches casting a spell, slightly simpering but savvy at the same time. Musically captivating, The Staves are like running water or snow melting, possessing a natural grace that is simple and comforting like the folk artists that inspired them.

Influenced by Joni Mitchell, Feist, Ryan Adams and sounding like Priscilla Ahn or Ray Lamontagne too, they haven't even released an album yet and they have Cambridge eating out of their hands. Title tracks from the 'Motherlode' and 'Mexico' EPs are eagerly received and certainly stand out- breezy vocals soothing over ukelele and/or guitar and their two man slaves on backing band, pronunciation is clipped and the glorious harmonies that are their speciality bring to mind the Puppini Sisters without the swing or Wilson Phillips without the big hair. Each song takes us on a journey on a guided walk through valleys, cornfields and woods with dappled sunlight, occasionally breaking into a tempting melting pot of seething rhythmic crescendo ('Wisely and slow') before gently making it winter again ('Icarus'). A purely lovely antidote to the cold, grey city, for the encore they are accompanied onstage by equally as talented support artist, Christof (from Ireland via Holland, very big hair and fabulous voice), and, as the evening draws to a close and a pin is heard dropping somewhere in this small back room, it is no wonder that The Staves were booked on to the Bon Iver USA tour. Not bad for a band whose biggest achievement was formerly having a song on an episode of 'Hollyoaks'. Gorgeous stuff.

Anna C