With thanks to Sophie Cooke and Qasim Hussain.
I first encountered Birds and Beasts as an acoustic duo during the final show at Wood Street, a tiny wee acoustic venue in one of Huddersfield’s labyrinthine streets.
Leo and Anna, the group’s co-lead guitarists and vocalists, performed a short set of stripped down tracks from their back catalogue at the cramped, candlelit bar. They managed to not only impress your humble author, but did so to such an extent that I felt very enthusiastic about attending a ‘proper’ gig with the entire line up.
Thankfully, in the historic Lawrence Batley Theatre, they had a single launch scheduled in the first Friday of July. Whether it was due to excessive inebriation is yet to be determined, but I said I’d be there.
And I was.
That’s right, for one of the first times ever, Jordan saw a social plan through.
As I stood there (melting in my usual suit jacket), it was all too clear this is a community group, an intimate, local effort that attracts a truly passionate audience. I was heartily impressed at the turnout for the gig, which very rapidly hit the maximum 150 capacity for the Syngenta Cellar – impressive enough for a local group, but almost mental for one that was practically exclusively promoted via Facebook. It’s not as easy as it used to be to convince people to get off of their arses for live music, but this little group of four managed to do so with relative ease. That’s really something special, and it only built my anticipation further…
Joshua Blinkhorn was first to the fray as main support, and did so with style. Beautifully informal, his simple, acoustic compositions may not have been enormously innovative – but heartily entertaining. A humorous, vaudevillian tone with a raunchy, bawdy, comedic overcoating.
After a particularly fine tribute to Ronnie O’Sullivan, his set closed to much applause. Once again, it was very clear he was a draw for locals; family, friends an idle passers by. A fine way to lead in, and a truly charming, funny and well performed set – but but now, it’s time for the main attraction…
Birds and Beasts are: Anna Rogge – Hep Cairns – Leo Brazil – Luke Granata
Birds and Beast‘s basic concept is nice easy to understand – songs of mother nature’s most bizarre creations, their drives, their lusts, their ideals and their rituals. It’s a seriously engrossing little idea, one that anybody can find a touch of fascination with, and, as the likes of David Attenborough continue to find immense success on television, it’s clear that the interest in the planet’s strangest population isn’t set to ebb away any time soon. I like to think this band are a natural progression of that fascination.
Live, they largely carve out seriously infectious, spaghetti western soundscapes with a desertous, haunting lawlessness. A true sense of great distance travelled and great lust, seduction and infectious charisma. A strange, tumbleweed ridden path lest travelled. A mountainous, tumultuous landscape… with teeth.
The performance and personality on stage proves Leo and Anna in particular to be naturals; Sheer devotion that oozes and sweats into every note. Everybody in the group is obviously having the time of their life, and everybody is truly passionate about music – but it’s clear where the real heart of the group stands and where the orbital point sits.
There’s a certain bassy dance flavour throughout; not pop, that’s for certain, but just as infectious. It’s closer to a high tempo early 1950s rock god / a 1960s hippy icon – or, rather, four components of their personalities. The sultry, the dominating, the sceptical and the driven are all hand in hand. Relentless and rubbing shoulders firm against the stage.
The songwriting is top notch, too. Every piece has a lot of unique flavour and is incredibly memorable. Many of them are very obviously bubbling and sexual, but never filthy or overly smutty. It sits in its own realm; facts of life – not facts of pornographic presentation. For instance, how does an isolated figure meet one of his own? How must that lost, hairy, pincer-addled soul feel? Their track of the Scorpion’s sexual exploits – my personal favourite in their surprisingly sizeable repertoire – follows its own plot flawlessly: Almost effortlessly; and really proves the group’s concept.
Birds and Beasts feel bigger and more formal than they are. They function with a well oiled, smooth and professional formality that’s primed for bigger and better things. There is no driving subculture here. It isn’t Goth, pop, hippy or country. It’s just passionate. It loves, it embraces and it encores every little aspect of personality. I feel like anyone could enjoy this; anyone could sit back and doze it, or get up and dance to it. It’s sat at a unique little crossroads, and I enormously appreciate that it’s not trying to find a road to a specific audience, or trying to shoehorn into a genre – instead, the group takes the approach of sitting in the centre, making friends with everyone that passes – with a (slightly boozy) picnic and strawberries. Ultimately, for all its dwelling, the experimental, creative and unhinged approach wouldn’t be out of place at Woodstock.
So, where do the band go next? I’d say the next step is to expand the concept. Stage designs, instrument designs, costumes, props – there’s a real opportunity to make a proper concept of the group, and turn their renditions of nature’s soap opera into a rock opera. The band have got so much already set and ready to go: their music is good, their personalities and performances are fantastic, and they know how to work their theme. Next is to give the theme a physical, visual presence.
I hope they consider it…!
Pleasingly melodic, fascinatingly varied and flawlessly blunt in presentation, Birds and Beasts are one to look out for – and not just if you’re local. This was a superb single launch; and I look forward to seeing more from the band in future.
And how’s the single?
Turn with the Tide is an odd, multi-patterned chameleon of a track. With a relaxed, soft and melodic groove and committal, warm vocals from Anna and Leo for the first few verses – swimming and weaving with soft lashings of chilled out reggae – before picking up the pace with a (slightly unexpected!) guitar solo, followed by bass, followed by anthemic chanting. It’s a great little ambassador for them – carrying that hallmark of unrestricted, open and experimental songwriting that the group are so bloody good at. No set style, no set structure; just going about their own way like a particularly productive, well rehearsed jam session.
Don’t believe me? Hear for yourself…