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Melodic duo fly high as headliners on a welcome return to familiar territory

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 16, 2012

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When Paper Aeroplanes duo Sarah Howells and Richard Llewellyn raided their respective family cinefilm archives for the video to accompany their best-known song My First Love, it was a move entirely appropriate for their emotive, folk-tinged and often ethereal indie pop sound.

Footage of the pair as children, as they grew up in separate small towns in West Wales, snatches of both their parents' weddings, games with siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents, all offer snapshots of family life that strike a universal chord.

This touching, observational quality is also deeply entrenched in their songs, defined by Richard's guitar and mandolin melodies and Sarah's clear, strong and hauntingly beautiful voice.

With a new six-track EP, Time To Be, just released, and the applause from sell-out gig at the Studio Lounge, Totnes last week still ringing in their ears, Sarah and Richard return to Devon next weekend to top the Friday evening bill at the Live at the Great Hall mini-festival at Dartington, as part of their extensive current UK tour.

The pair met ten years ago on the relatively small Welsh rock scene when Richard stood in for the bass player in Sarah's band, found lots of common musical ground and decided they wanted to work together.

"Our influences are a real mixed bag. My parents had a lot of classic records by 1970s singer songwriters like Cat Stevens and Joni Mitchell, and got into some rockier stuff as I got older," says Richard. "Sarah was into people like Tori Amos and Jeff Buckley. Her voice is just amazing, and it's even better live than on record. She and her best friend would spend hours and hours singing along to Kylie records in the house and harmonising with each other."

Their collaborations have slowly been building momentum and 2012 has been their most active and successful yet, playing their own headline tour, support slots with Ellen and the Escapades, a host of festivals including Hay Festival and the Isle of Wight, and dates in Germany with Tina Dico. They have also been in the studio recording tracks for a full-length album, due out next spring.

Songwriting is the key to their successful partnership. Richard lives in Cardiff now, and Sarah in London; they write individually, then work on the songs together. They both play guitar on stage and in the studio.

"I took piano lessons when I was a child, but I didn't have and emotional pull towards it. The guitar is something I just had to have in my hands," says Richard who has gone electric for their current tour and mostly using his "pride and joy" – a vintage 1970s Les Paul.

"It has a beautiful, clean tone," says Richard. "The sound it makes is quite mellow if you don't drive it too much."

Sarah, meanwhile, usually sticks to her treasured Gibson Hummingbird.

Occasionally they bring a double bass player on the road with them, but on this occasion they have a drummer for the very first time.

"It's nice because he plays quite subtly," adds Richard, who also puts a little mandolin into the mix.

No strangers to the Westcountry, having gigged around Cornwall and Exeter in the last couple of years, he says they are delighted to return.

Sarah adds: "After being lucky enough to sell out a show at the lovely Studio Lounge in Totnes last week, we can't wait to be back in the area.

"The beautiful surroundings of Dartington Hall are so perfect for some of our more ethereal music. We can't wait to hear new songs like Time To Be echoing out into the space."

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