“Burton-on-Trent is the hub of all things hip and innovative” is not a headline you’re likely to see in this lifetime. Therefore, with it being my closest town, I was shocked and elated to find that The Brewhouse Arts Centre would be graced with the elegant sounds of the Paper Aeroplanes duo, Sarah Howells and Richard Llewellyn. The Madhouse, hosting the show, run ten to twelve gigs in the unassuming café/ bar of The Brewhouse each year to promote the dwindling industry of live acoustic music, thanks to technological advances allowing us to stream music at the touch of a button.
In the stone floored, whitewashed space leading directly from the entrance, rows of small tables and chairs were neatly laid out, with a pair of sofas at the front for the keenest fans. It was clear the gig wasn’t going to be a wild one, but once the seats were filled and the lights were dimmed you could feel the anticipation of fellow Burton-on-Trentions as we waited to watch a proper music gig in our modest little town. Fairy lights climbed the steel columns; warm beams lit the stage and blue and green candles created a soft glow around the audience. There was a sense that we were in for a real treat.
First to the stage was the supporting act Ryan Farmer, a young dark and handsome Blues/ Americana singer, with just the voice his mother gave him and a guitar in his hand to win over the audience. Sounds of the Deep South resonated from his guitar as he flawlessly performed some iconic Blues songs, occasionally slipping in some of his own material. With a powerful, gravelly voice like none other I have heard in my existence, it felt as though we were watching a star in the making.
There was a raucous applause when Paper Aeroplanes finally stepped up on stage. With no address to the audience before taking to the microphone, and an introduction that reverberated throughout the auditorium, a tense atmosphere was crafted. Soon however that tension was swiftly removed with the sound of Sarah Howells’ angelic voice. Paper Aeroplanes began with the hopeful tone of ‘Days you made’ from the 2011 album ‘We are ghosts.’ Sarah sang with the grace of a bird and the softness of the wind, whilst she swayed sweetly to the acoustic melodies of her dainty fingers. Her enchanting lyrics and wistful tone are impossible to ignore, slowly soothing the souls of every person in the room.
Throughout the gig Paper Aeroplanes delighted us with songs from albums old and new, with a few from their latest release ‘Joy.’ Joy is quite different from their previous works; a much bigger, electronic sound compared with their usual poetic, alt-folk records. The highlights of the performance came when Sarah sang with only an acoustic guitar to guide her. Her soaring yet fragile voice is at its most poignant with just one instrument behind it. Near half time, Sarah and Richard performed an acoustic guitar version of their song ‘Multiple Love’ which was originally played on the piano. It was a perfect example of how you don’t need to make a racket to have impact.
The entertainment value of the show was enhanced by the playful, comedic interaction between Sarah and Richard. Sarah, sarcastic and dry-humoured, casually conveyed anecdotes of previous shows, self-mockingly stating that when she runs out of banter, she tells the audiences stories about the time she told a good joke and people laughed. Her witty repartee is a delightful juxtaposition to her soul defying performance.
As the performance drew to a close, Sarah got the crowd involved, which took a bit of persuasion after we had just sat quietly for an hour almost moved to tears. However we simply had to make some ‘woohoo’ sounds so it wasn’t too much to ask and we eventually came through with some beautiful singing. After the final song, the crowd made such noises of gratitude that Sarah and Richard happily obliged to play us a couple more songs. At the end they both stepped forward into the audience and provided us with a fully stripped back, no electronics performance. It was reminiscent of bunch music lovers, gathered around the campfire, relishing the moment.
All in all, Paper Aeroplanes left a coat of fairy dust on the crooked rooftops of Burton-on-Trent and a wistful expression on the face of each audience member. Every note of the accompaniment by Richard, was mesmerising and refined to a tee. Paper Aeroplanes are a true pleasure to behold.