Every so often you hear something that stops you dead in your tracks and you instantly want to know what it is.
Our most recent “what the hell is that?” moment came courtesy of 6 Music’s Nemone who threw the magnificent Sparrow by Woodpecker Wooliams in our direction a few weeks back. We had to find out more. And quickly.
It turned out that our new feathered friend was one Gemma Williams of Englandshire and that Sparrow was one of seven avian-themed songs on a new album, The Bird School of Being Human. And she’s also coming to Scotland imminently, but we’ll get to that in a sec.
It’s a faintly pastoral sound, and the key instrument – other than Williams’ cracked vocals – is the harp but this is a little closer to Bjork than Joanna Newsom, such is the heavy use of loops and found sound, never more so than Sparrow itself. Williams, who keeps bees, also comes across as a genuine eccentric, pretty much always a good thing when it comes to music makers.
Upcoming single Gull is a dark tale of domestic violence, and the music has a creepy, sinister undercurrent, so if you were picking out that twee knitted sweater for her Edinburgh gig, we suggest you put it back. Or even, better, burn it.
And so to that show in question. Song, by Toad Records have come up with their latest gigging wheeze entitled BAD FUN, the second edition of which takes place on October 26 and stars Wooliams alongside Viking Moses and the Ghost Wolf Crystal Toads, allegedly a supergroup involving members of Meursault, Sparrow and the Workshop, James Yorkston and the Athletes, Broken Records and Rob St John. Oh dear.
Still, it should be worth it for Ms Woodpecker and you can get advance tickets here. It’s also the night before Tidal Wave 4 AND Papi Falso, AND Haddowfest is the same weekend, so it could be quite a special weekend for Edinburgh music. And so to our brief chat with Woodpecker Wooliams, then…
So who the hell are you?
Just a simple Southern girl!
Describe your sound in ten words or less!
Noise harp horror folk?
Seriously – what’s with the bird obsession??
Everyone needs something to collect. I tried stamps and porcelain figurines but right now I’m onto bird totems.
What inspired the songs that make up The Bird School…?
It’s quite a complex combination of influences. Male violence and female hysteria as traits were the starting point. I wanted to explore out from both of those to try and reach some kind of balance. Bees, birds, discordance contradictions, gender, cycles…. There are also a lot of references to some of my favourite authors in there. I wanted to add on to a tradition of expression, not necessarily just musical.
As a true solo performer is it difficult to recreate your recorded work live?
Well… I quite like the challenge of reinterpreting a song to make it work in a new situation. It’s like giving a song a new haircut. I’ve always toured on my own, and tried to play as many little bits at once as I can, but for this UK tour I’ll actually be joined by a friend who is playing some extra parts so the songs will probably not be too dissimilar from the album arrangements, at times. I’m really excited to play them this way, actually. I get bored quite quickly so keeping things fresh is good news to me.
Have you played Edinburgh before?
I’ve played a shamanic drum here and eaten a deep-fried Mars bar, but never played a gig up here, no! To be honest, I’ve been lucky enough to tour around Europe, Russia and The Baltics several times, but I’ve only played a handful of shows in the UK outside of London and Brighton so I’m really up for heading North now.
And are you planning on taking in any sights????
Are you offering a ‘beespoke’ sight-seeing package? (ah, I’m hilarious…) We do have a free day in Edinburgh after the show so anything is possible!
What’s next for Woodpecker Wooliams?
We have a couple of pretty exciting videos underway, which will be revealed soon. There are a few London shows coming up in November in preparation for the second single Gull which comes out on 26th November. And then back up to Glasgow on the first weekend in December for the Shhh festival at Platform. So, fun things!
Full tour dates as follows!
Oct 24 Cardiff Ten Feet Tall
Oct 25 Bristol Grain Barge
Oct 26 Edinburgh Henderson’s at St John’s
Oct 28 Eaglescliffe Waiting Room
Oct 29 Manchester Night ‘n Day Cafe
Oct 30 Sowerby Bridge Puzzle Hall
Oct 31 Poole Blue Boar Cellar