Review: Paper Aeroplanes – The Slaughtered Lamb, London

Paper Aeroplanes are the duo Sarah Howells and Richard Llewellyn. They’ve been rising to prominence recently with significant airplay on BBC Radio One (Huw Stephens), BBC Radio 2 (Bob Harris), BBC 6Music (Lauren Laverne) and BBC Radio Wales (from where they hail). Of particular acclaim was their beautifully delicate version of the Christmas carol In The Bleak Midwinter.

The pair find themselves in London, after a couple of weeks of Christmas R&R, to play at the Slaughtered Lamb in Clerkenwell, and record some new song demos in the studio. The basement venue of the Slaughtered Lamb is packed even for the two in-house support acts. As Sarah, Richard and cellist Miriam Wakeling pick their way forward through the sprawled audience, the room is full to capacity.

They start brightly, as always, playing through songs from a mixture of their album The Day We Ran Into The Sea and their EP’s. First up is Save It from their newly re-released EP, We Are Ghosts, before introducing the unrecorded Taken. Then we’re treated to a rendition of Cliche, the opening track from their album. Paper Aeroplanes’ upbeat pop/folk sound always makes me think of careless summer days, and this is a welcome contrast to the single-figure temperatures and biting winds blowing through the empty streets of Clerkenwell outside. Their album sounds wonderfully produced, but live they’re equally as majestic, especially with the rich bass notes of Miriam’s cello. After a few more songs, including Winter Never Comes, a track that Paper Aeroplanes opened up to the music community for remixing, there’s the first break from normal service. By request from the promoter, Sarah breaks into their hauntingly bewitching version of In The Bleak Midwinter. And the applause from the crowd is booming, despite, I’m sure, most people being relieved that Christmas is long over.

The banter is minimal, with Sarah remarking that she’s a little off form after the break in shows. Richard explains that good playing and good banter are anticorrelated, modestly admitting that their playing has been “pretty good” this evening. Tongue in cheek, Sarah comes back with, “Richard’s not usually allowed to speak…”

After the fantastically catchy Take It Easy and Skies On Fire, Sarah introduces a relatively new song, Circus, a slowly building ballad with an emotional summit. It is received well, as ever. As the set builds to its finale, Richard induces a moment of hilarity as Sarah thanks her many friends and supporters for coming. Richard’s meek response of, “My friends couldn’t make it” induces much mirth in the assembled throng, probably winning him instant new friends and supporters.

Paper Aeroplanes power on through tours de force such as Pick Me, My First Love and Free Wheel, ending up with a lesser-known track Orange Lights. Each is met with rapturous applause, and when the last note dies down, the crowd is already asking for more. The promoter’s voice can be heard over it all, “Oh no, not one more, at least two…” A flagging Sarah and Richard re-take the stage in the rising temperatures, and deliver beautifully stripped-back versions of Tuesday and Newport Beach to round off a 16-song set, delivered flawlessly and with much grace. A promising start to the year for the duo from Wales, in what is sure to be a rewarding 2012 for them and fans alike.

Paul Woods