“Hollow Heart” By Birdland.
Reunions are very much part and parcel of today’s musical landscape, some work extremely and sometimes things are better left in the past, that “foreign country”: where “they do things differently. ” However some bands you sense may feel may have unfinished business. Birdland, that fleeting peroxide riot of white noise and rock n roll mayhem that flared brightly and briefly in the late 80’ and early 90’s are back!
Formed in 1988 by brothers Robert and “Lizzy” Lee Vincent, Birdland’s debut ‘Hollow Heart,’ an adrenaline fuelled Stooges meet The Ramones speedball was an instant classic shooting straight to number one in the UK indie charts and providing the perfect antidote to the oversaturated and frankly overrated baggy Madchester scene. The press initially seemed enthralled by Birdland, bestowing the ‘next big thing crown’ upon them. Sadly as Birdland would later discover, “a crown is merely a hat that lets the rain in.” Their live shows became the stuff of legend, fights, arrests, riots, as well as being thrown off the Jane Addiction tour after the first date. The Melody Maker described their live shows as “like being seduced by an earthquake” whilst Manics front man James Dean Bradfield is quoted as describing his experience of the band live as “The best gig I ever saw.” Birdland looked and acted like a band, as opposed to a troop of chimps in shell suites or parkas (which was a la mode at the time.) However, their image, a combination of the Ramones meets the Midwich Cuckoos meets The Velvets meets The Beatles seemed on occasion, to be more of a talking point than the music itself and often brought them the wrong sort of attention.
After four singles hitting the top spot in the indie charts the decision to delay Birdland’s debut album was crucial and meant that they missed out on building on the momentum and buzz their EP’s and live shows had generated. The capricious nature of the press meant that many journos who had previously been supportive of Birdland turned on them deciding to paint them as one trick ponies, a pogoing post-punk parody. Brit Pop and grunge had become the object of the music press’s affection and Birdland suddenly seemed like a band out of time. When their debut album finally saw the light of day in 1991 the press reaction was decidedly ‘meh’ and marked the beginning of the end. Yet in retrospect, it wasn’t a bad album and has actually stood the test of time rather well. Maybe it never quite captured the energy, vigour and fizzing mayhem of the early EP’s or their incendiary live shows but there are still some wonderful pop trash thrash moments. Birdland were an example of how hype can be completely counter productive and how the music industry can put you on a pedestal on a Monday only to knock you off it by Friday (as Craig David didn’t, but maybe should have sung. ) Had the band been given the time and space to grow, who knows just how big they could have been?
But the brothers Vincent have reunited for the sake of rock n roll, streamed a new demo and are currently making plans to play live again as Birdland.
We spoke to Rob and Lee about their unexpected reunion!
The Letter You Know (NEW Demo)
VP: First up , welcome back ! What was the motivating factor behind the return of Birdland? Unfinished business ? Will this be a reformation for nostalgia’s sake or will you be hoping to record new material? What’s the overall plan?
ROB: Lee was the main motivator, I didn’t really want to know at first, as I was moving forward with various other projects which, I thought was the way to go, not going Back !! But he was pretty convincing and after lots of transatlantic calls, arguing, discussing, we worked it out.
LEE: There is a huge nostalgia factor, it was a great band and we need to remind people of that fact again. Saying that though, we will be playing new material along with the EP’S and some LP tracks.
VP: Looking back on Birdland’s career it rather mirrors the music, fast paced, explosive, chaotic. Where you all prepared for the attention and the fickle nature of the music press when you exploded onto the scene?
ROB: No way!! We were very naive about it all, I just thought people would take it for granted we all had blonde hair and played pop songs at 90 MPH. It was hard to handle, just to keep your head on.
LEE: We were aware to a degree, how fickle the media can be and we walked right in to a brick wall with it. You can never be totally prepared for something like that unless maybe you’re making it in your late twenties and you have a little life experience. We were incredibly young and we were just being ourselves, growing up and arguing and fighting along the way, I enjoyed all of the attention but it was also a lot of work as well.
VP: Your image? Who came up with the idea? Do you think that started to work against you after a while, kind of diverting attention away from the music? The press seemed to pigeon hole you as Peroxide power pop punks…
LEE: The image just fell together really, we all had this bleached hair thing going on except for Sid bass, he was naturally dark blond, I mean when your that age your just carving out a identity and you want to look different. I thought it was very interesting the image, even more so when the journo’s got hold of it and started mentioning the Warhol thing. I didn’t think it would cause such a stir because we had been walking around Birmingham and not really being bothered by anyone until the press thing took off.
ROB: I think we stood out at the time because we actually had an image; most bands looked crap, or were into that baggy Manchester thing. It was cool standing out but it also brought us lots of hassle & trouble.
VP: Timing is everything and despite your early singles rocketing to the top of the indie charts it seemed you’re fast paced rock n roll owed more to the CBGB’s New York scene than the Brit pop that was starting to emerge and gain music fans and the music presses ears? Did you feel like a band ‘out of time’, a band that didn’t really fit into a ‘scene’?
ROB : Yes totally, there was nothing like us at the time, we didn’t think that strongly about it, I mean we looked like that in The Zodiac Motel, just our clothes were different. All our influences, were Punk , the original 76 77 wave, although we were all fans of bands like Sonic Youth & The Pixies .
LEE: We were so ahead of our time in a lot of ways, we never tried to bandwagon jump anything, it was very unique, it still would be now if we could get it together again.
VP: With hindsight would you have done anything different? Was the album’s delay a crucial factor in the band finally calling it a day?
ROB: Yeah, originally I wanted the album to be called “Teenage Perversity” After a Patti Smith bootleg I had, but this was argued against by our then manager. The album should have contained ten ‘ Hollow Heart’ type tracks, but by the time it was released it really did feel like we’d missed the boat in terms of the original build up & excitement.
LEE: Maybe not have listened to the idiots who wanted us to be the next ‘Who’
I was literally stopped by management from making all the feedback and noise, but I think me and Rob’s song writing style changed, we were paranoid and thought we had to grow up. If anything we should have stuck to our roots, but people get greedy around bands, they see dollar signs, blah blah blah.
VP: You were also a band whose live performances won rave reviews but I felt that the intensity and energy of your gigs was sometimes difficult to capture on studio versions. What were your most memorable gigs?
LEE: The Ramones shows were great, having Johnny and Joey at the side watching us was amazingand Joey I met again after moving to NYC in 96, he remembered Birdland really clearly! The Jane’s Addiction shows were fucking hilarious, they sounded like a bad metal band to my ears. I remember the roadie for Jane’s dragging Kale off his drum stool by his legs and a lot of shit kicking off. Ridiculous looking back, but there was some drama nearly every gig, nose’s being broken and our van being sprayed, it was all really crazy.
ROB: Best gigs were CBGB’s & Bath Moles, where the live Bootleg was recorded,that was a classic. Basically all the early small venue ones, where you felt literally anything could happen. There were some great gigs with Spacemen 3, one time they stood at the side of the stage firing water pistols at us while Lee totally destroyed the monitor system with his guitar ! Destruction & chaos followed us around through most of the early gigs , there was such energy & excitement. We did try to capture that on record, we’d play live together in the studio for the early singles, then do minimum over dubs, that was a great time recording with Paul Sampson at the Cabin in Coventry.
VP: So it’s been a while and I know you’ve still been involved in music, what have you been up to ?
ROB: I’ve been recording & playing with various bands around Nottingham & Birmingham, I’ve never stopped writing & playing really, Lee’s been doing the same in New York with both of us not really thinking about working together until late last year.
LEE: Yeah, I have a band, Psychic Drive in NYC, it’s a three piece, we’ve released two EP’S, I have copies but they are not available on line, I really should get that part of it together!! I am also writing some solo material which is so different than anything I have done, really mellow and moody. I’ve also been DJing around NYC since I got here, it’s ongoing…the English here are all DJ’s, all my mate’s are English and they all DJ, it’s in the blood, and we all do the same thing, it’s quite peculiar actually.
VP: Looking back, which bands from your peers would you class as the most influential? (Which doesn’t always mean the most successful?) Ones who have stood the test of time?
ROB : It’s not something I’ve thought about as I don’t really listen to them. I guess The Manics have actually had/save a successful career. I remember telling Steve Lamacq that we’d only be around for a short time..
LEE: Stone Roses definitely were influential and yes, The Manic’s did very well at the end of the day, I don’t know how influential they are but they did well. The Jesus and Mary Chain are still great to listen to, as are M.B.V, I mean it was quite a good time in music wasn’t it?
VP : The music business has changed hugely since Birdland called it a day . What’s your take on the internet and how it’s changed the face of music?
LEE: It’s been great for bands and the individual artist but awful for the major corporations, it took the glamour out of being on a label, I can’t quite imagine any new bands being pampered like we were in the States and Japan, limo’s everywhere and great hotels, and that was on a first LP, for all the money labels used to make, they must also lose fortunes on all the chances they take.
ROB: In some ways it’s fantastic, you can hear a zillion bands at the click of a button, on the other hand it creates a sense of apathy, I think some of the passion seems to have gone out of it. The fact that liking/loving a band, 20 years ago needed a lot more effort – you had to go out, get on a bus, go to the record shop, make contact with other humans..The same with Creating a Fanzine, getting it Zeroxed..etc .. You can do all that now with a few clicks of a mouse.
VP : What five words would best sum up Birdland’s career in the late 80’s early 90’s ?
ROB : Speed/chaos/pop/blonde/noise
LEE: Well ‘short’ has to be one of them !! I don’t feel like we had anything close to a career actually, I don’t think we got a chance to start, I was still working out a song writing style at 19, it was all over so fast. I still love music today and I still love writing songs, that’s all there really is at the end of the day, the songs, everything else in the industry is a big lie and it gets in the way of just playing music.