It seems fitting that it’s Stealing Sheep who close four days of 25th birthday festivities for eclectic indie mavens Heavenly Recordings.
The label have chosen to throw their shindig high up in the Pennines, in what may be Britain’s best small venue, with their own Heavenly beer on tap and a venue full of fans, their eyes glazed from a weekend of fresh air and eclectic sounds. And it’s Stealing Sheep who are very much part of the label’s bright future.
The trio’s 2012 debut Into The Diamond Sun was a delight: ethereal and occasionally unnerving pagan pop, post-prog arrangements and marching band percussion, all shot through with kaleidoscopic swirls of psychedelia and lullaby melodies. Though there were nods to Vashti Bunyan, Fotheringay and Pentangle, it was a 21st-century record made by people painting from a much broader palette than simply ‘folk’.
Returning tonight with a second album recorded and a set heavy on new songs, within seconds it’s evident that Rebecca Hawley, Emily Lansley and Lucy Mercer have made a bold creative leap. Like the beguiling protagonists of a folk-horror film not yet made, they still seduce with their siren-like harmonies, but now the arrangements are more lavish, the moods tempered, the percussion throbbing with the pulsing beats of disco, funk and kosmische.
The likes of L.O.V.E. and She are masterworks in arrangement and delivery, comparable perhaps in mood only to Kate Bush and the recent explorations of Wild Beasts, while This Time recalls the dramatic dark tones of late-60s pop – The Mamas And Papas reborn on the west coast of England, rather than California. A cover version of Delia Derbyshire’s robotic, reverb-laden oddity Ziwzih Ziwzih OO-OO-OO is turned into something quite special.
“Stealing Sheep are a dance band,” enthuses one new convert, having just thrown her hair and limbs around from beginning to end. This is partly true, but they’re so much more. This is music so entrancing it could lure any naïve heathen into a burning effigy for a death by ritual sacrifice. But the trio are also warm, funny and charismatic, and this combination of songs and personality suggests that wherever Stealing Sheep go, we’ll gladly follow.