28th May | Wardrobe Theatre

Entertainment began before we even reached our seats at The Wardrobe Theatre for the launch of Stanlæy’s new album, The Human Project. Two silver people teased us with envelopes, doodled with different hand-drawn patterns, all fronted by the word “Fate.” Finally managing to snatch one from the mischievous pair, I made my way to my seat, tearing it open to find a handwritten note from Bethany, composer, founder and producer of Stanlæy: “DEAR HUMAN, The past two years have been musically ruthlessly beautifully saturated…”, continuing to thank those involved and welcoming us to the launch.

Alfi, the trio of Alannah Thornburgh, Fiachra Meek and Ryan Mcauley, met Bethany while studying in Ireland. Their set carried me back to my childhood holidays to Dublin where I first discovered the magic of traditional Irish folk music: the soft whine of the Uilleann pipes, the metallic chinking of the banjo and the sweet, supple plucking of the harp. Their tunes bounced in mood from sombre to jubilant, and effortlessly flowed across time signature changes.

Fiachra (he joked about the pronunciation of his own name, so you don’t have to) explained some brief histories of their music, such as the old-time clawhammer-style banjo being played, or the everlasting relevance of their humorous but political ballad reflecting the Irish “dough” or social welfare. Carrying us up and down over Irish mountains of emotions with beautiful, tear-jerking musicianship, they played with professional synchronicity having only been playing since 2017.

The silver creatures appeared again in the interval, but this time with an offering of cake, adding to the homely feel of the cosy space, mostly filled with Bethany’s friends and family. I wanted to be entirely lost in the magic of Bethany’s music, what she describes as “fairytale chamber pop,” but I was pestered by incessant foot thumping on the back of my seat in the tiered auditorium. I did soak enough up, though, to know that Bethany is an artist and creator who puts her entire being into her work. Excited and a little nervous, Bethany was eager to play songs rather than talk to her audience.

She has a phenomenally unique, Björk-like voice, but this can at times create ambiguous lyrics. After clearly giving them so much thought, she deserves them to be understood. When I did catch them, however, I rose to beautiful natural delicate habitats encrusted with wise philosophies and a desire to let humans be humans. Stanlæy were joined by a string quartet and occasionally Allanah from Alfi on harp. Her usual smaller band of three was now creating a very different sound of sweeping strings and rhythmic webs. Slightly complicatedly, the live arrangements were different from the more orchestral ones on her record. I wonder if reworks could be forthcoming at a later date.

I was left with many questions for Bethany, as she was a rather closed book on stage. However, ending on a standing ovation, it would be a huge surprise to me if she doesn’t have similar reception from much bigger audiences in the future. A show of outstanding, mystical musicianship.

See the video for ‘The Mountain Collector’ here: