Welsh band PAPER AEROPLANES know how to put on a great show. Whatever format they choose, you’re guaranteed a memorable night.
Here at Manchester’s Deaf Institute, they’re headlining to a packed crowd on a Friday evening. Their last venture to the city was a much more intimate affair at the Castle in Northern Quarter, together with double-bassist John Parker. With the addition of cheery drummer Ryan (“Bryan Adams”) Aston, now making up the four-piece unit, they’re planning on delivering a full sound tonight.
The crowd is a mixture of die-hard Aeroplanes fans and newcomers to the sound, resulting in an audience listening intently to every note, at one point, singer Sarah Howells a little nervously pointing out, “You’re very quiet…” to which a bloke in the audience reassuringly pipes back, “That’s a good thing!” Having suffered a lengthy drive up from Cambridge, the band are in surprisingly good spirits.
John cradles his double-bass in his usual shoe-less mode, while Sarah in a lovely black number and stalwart Richard Llewellyn take to the front of stage, with Ryan holding the fort at the back. The band move through the tracks, many from new album “Little Letters,” demonstrating Sarah’s extraordinary vocals and Richard’s pitch-perfect harmonies.
For those not in the know, their songs are strewn with a generous dash of melancholy, mixed with a healthy dose of romanticism and stories of heartbreak. Revealing that online sales of their “Same Mistakes” may have benefited from sharing the same name as a One Direction song, they were tickled when crowds in Germany to whom they mentioned this little fact didn’t know who 1D were (yes, there is hope…).
Part-way through, John and Ryan leave the stage to give Sarah and Richard the limelight for a few tracks, including the beautifully haunting new track “Fable” (“Coz you might be unable / And I might be unkind / There’s truth in this fable / There’s a fairy tale inside / So surrender your armour / Throw your gun to the sea / Throw my arms round your shoulders / And carry me”). I could listen to this track all day on repeat, with its gorgeous guitar and vocal elements.
This is followed by one of my all-time favourites, the brilliantly well-written “Lifelight,” and we are reminded of why Paper Aeroplanes are a soundtrack darling. Sarah comments how, although they’re known for producing break-up songs, this one was actually used as someone’s wedding song. And it’s not hard to see why. (“Why waste time / Your heartstrings are caught in mine / So pull me up to your side / And we will be alright / You might be my lifelight”).
John and Ryan are back on stage, although John has temporarily mislaid his bow – he’s back after some serious bounding around backstage. This is swiftly followed by new album title track, the pounding “Little Letters.” We’re treated to the rockier “When the Windows Shook” inspired by what Sarah describes as the battle between industry and countryside – Sarah grew up in Milford Haven, home to massive oil refining which understandably sparked huge controversy over the years. Set closer “Circus” is incredibly moving, with its pained drawn vocals and high notes. It’s a good example of what this band do best.
After a storming and deep set, they’re back with the energetic “Freewheel,” John plucking his double-bass heart out and almost completely off the stage. We end of course with classic “Winter Never Comes” (“So I’ll fly away when the leaves begin to fall / Fly away when the cold wind blows against my door / Fly away to hide beneath the sun / I am leaving in September so winter never comes”) which sees the audience humming away and swaying to the foreboding drumbeats.
It was a real pleasure to hear this band once again, and in a different form to our previous experience. And you must get their new album – it is arguably one of the best you will hear this year, and for some time to come.