Exploring Birdsong – Liverpool Arts Club
One of 2017’s freshest and inventive acts make their surprise-packed live debut
Words: Phil Weller | Photos: Anthony Firmin
Heaviness doesn’t have to come from distortion and some angry bloke shouting. Heaviness is an emotion and an approach more than anything and, despite having no guitars in their band, Exploring Birdsong made their live debut to a healthy crowd at Liverpool Arts Club and introduced the world to their accessible yet deranged music that finds heaviness in its own way, without ever compromising their fun and danceable edge.
The band’s intriguing blend of textures creates a dynamic that is truly their own and they use it to propel and ignite their songwriting. Fronted by the devilishly talented vocal and piano skills of Lynsey Ward, the flavoursome playing of Jonny Knight, flitting between his five string bass and keys throughout and the controlled yet dexterously flavoursome drumming of Matt Harrison (Kill Or Cure, Wolf Company) both add their own personalities to the cooking pot too. Their selection of instruments and love of leftfield arrangements has resulted in something that is both heavy and hard hitting as well as celestial and hypnotic. It’s fresh and innovative, capable of winning over fans of the most bullish metal, the most ethereal prog and people who just want something to dance to without ever truly being any of them.
With that in mind, however, picking suitable support for this show must have been a nightmare. Liverpool’s The Blurred Sun Band were in that sense as right for this show as they were wrong. Their largely instrumental psychedelic jazz concoctions created a pleasant and chilled ambience in the room, but it was one that also provided, for many, a quiet backing over which they talked and laughed. They didn’t invite you into their songs the way you would have liked, partly due to the crowd, but across their set there were moments when the chatter succumbed to bright melodies and their densely decorated instrumentalism.
Although an expectedly bias crowd, one largely populated by friends, family and tutors, it was nevertheless interesting to see how intently the crowd listened and watched Exploring Birdsong who, from the off both alienated the non-musos in the crowd with some (wonderfully) headache inducing complexity and delighted them with harmonious peaks. Opener The River married their love of progressive songwriting with the effectiveness of evocative pop melodies brilliantly. Ward’s voice was crystal clear in the mix, although the two female backing singers didn’t cut through quite so much, and she became the focal point across a song that was the perfect introduction to the band. The double piano attack interchanged with moments of space and air over which the vocals could shine; its chorus infectious, compelling and utterly addictive.
When playing a similar launch show at Retro Bar with his then-new band Wolf Company (sadly band and venue now things of the past), Matt fell in love with purveyors of the quirky, The River Versus. That piano/vocal, bass/vocal & drums combination really resonated with Matt Harrison and, just over three years later their influence is still creating ripples in the music he’s writing. But Exploring Birdsong take TRV’s uniqueness and mutate it, they’ve taken it one step further, embellished and improved upon it. Ward’s Kate Bush and Tori Amos influence shines through, adding brightness to songs that also bare a subtle darkness, The Last Song (working title) a perfect example. Slowly layering countering rhythms on top of one another before whizzing off in a myriad of directions, Johnny Knight’s fingers strutting across his fretboard, Ward’s pop sensibilities tied it all together in inspired fashion. When talking about their debut single, The Baptism, we mentioned how this band has made an art form out of combining musical oxymorons and here they’ve backed up our statement.
Their oxymoronic values extend further than just the music though. With a small stage and a lot of instruments hogging the room there is little to no room for the members to move about. Knight and Ward can’t afford to ever stray too far from their keyboards either and so to that extent they aren’t that visually engaging. Yet watching Knight multi-task, oftentimes playing bass with his left hand and keys with the right it is very absorbing, they don’t actually need to run about to be fun to watch. The swaying of the two backing singers did add another dynamic too; their smiles were infectious and helped counteract the band’s nerves early on.
The band were aware however, that The Baptism aside, their set was full of new and unheard music and so they tease the audience with something familiar yet hauntingly different in their predominantly acapella version of (Don’t Fear) The Reaper. It starts with slow clicking fingers, all is eerily quiet in the vast, high ceilinged room and you could have heard a pin drop. Then shadowy, almost mournful vocal harmonies come in, ears prick up semi-recognising the words and their melody before the chorus, backed at last by piano, lifted the room. It’s abstract and dreamy, as understated as it is sublime and captures the audience through its masked familiarity while also making a statement of their intentions to do whatever they do a little differently.
Their innovation has really captured our hearts here at Manchester Rocks. Expect them to play our city in the not too distant future as, with a successful launch night now behind them, they can now dive headfirst into the future.