Brighton Music Blog Advent Calendar / Day 16 / Woodpecker Wooliams

Woodpecker Wooliams has played a great second half in the game of her year.

Back in May we saw her play a beautiful short set in the tiny Fishbowl Pub to an audience of about a dozen blokes who probably hadn’t heard of her. However, her album ‘The Bird School of Being Human‘ was released in September and since then she has garnered an array of great reviews, including a great band-of-the-day piece in The Guardian, and much airplay for the album and its lead single ‘Sparrow’. It really is one of the most original and enchanting albums of the year.

The video for the single, by Gemma’s sister, involved puppets and a lovely cranky sound helped on by producer Marcus Hamblett of The Sons of Noel and Adrian. Watch it below. New single Gull is out now and another slam-dunk classic.

Woodpecker Wooliams - Photo by Jon Southcoasting

Words and Picture by Jon Southcoasting

Woodpecker Wooliams launches The Birdschool of Being Human

It’s a great album. This blog has already said that. And today, Monday, it gets its official release.

But if you were lucky enough to be at St Andrew’s Church in Hove on Saturday night you would have got to hear the whole thing played through in a beautiful setting.

Entering to the buzzing of bees and twittering of birds, the first 50 through the door were offered a small glass of home-made honey mead, made by Gemma Woodpecker herself, a keen beekeeper. And delicious it was.

Opening act Ichi is from Japan and has to be seen, to be believed. Entering stage-left on stilts, which turn out to be part of his musical equipment, he performs a funky witty entrancing set on a series of home-made instruments and objects, including a battered trumpet, kettle drum, balloon and ping pong ball.

The intermission, in-between the intermissions, featured a sword-dance act, where a veiled woman with the longest hair I’ve ever seen danced to the sounds of a saw being played with a bow. It was enchanting.

Saw-player and dancer - photograph by Southcoasting

The headliner then came on, with the unusual addition of a band who proceeded to reproduce the full album in all its odd beauty and electrifying rush. Marcus Hamblett (producer of the album) added some beautiful flourishes on the trumpet and a variety of noises from a desk full of knobs and pedals. The drumming was subtle and inventive, and the occasional addition of Emma Gatrill offered further depth to a sound that filled the whole church hall.

The star of course was Gemma, who was clearly enjoying herself, full of empassioned vocals and smiles. She ended with an unplanned encore, just herself sitting on the steps at the front of the stage playing a lovely acoustic number and charming the audience.

Woodpecker Wooliams

Woodpecker Wooliams

This gig followed a successful London launch the night before and a series of radio appearances. The songs are born of a darker place, but seem joyful and ecstatic in performance. This was a brilliant set, and the album should go far. I recommend you hear it and if you like it, go buy it.

Woodpecker Wooliams in St Andrews Church

Woodpecker Wooliams in St Andrews Church playing an encore on the steps

Photographs are by Jon Southcoasting

Woodpecker Wooliams / The Bird School Of Being Human

The Bird School of Being Human is the new album from Woodpecker Williams, out on 10th September on Robot Elephant Records.

The album is both challenging and comforting, bonkers and beautiful. It all starts off innocuous enough, with Gemma Williams (you didn’t think Woodpecker Wooliams was her real name did you?) proving that Brighton can match Joanna Newsome for quirky harpists. The first sign of discontent is at the end of opener Red Kite, where things break down a bit, but Gull brings back the strumming.

But then we have the new single Sparrow, and everything’s changed. The harps have gone. There’s wonky chopped up keyboards, and lots of reverb all across the vocals. Magpie has acoustic guitars and a queasy drone, and by the time we get to Crow (which got picked for the cover cd of this month’s Uncut), things get really messy and distorted. I’m sure I’ve had nightmares  which have sounded like this. Which is kind of a compliment – in that to actually capture the creeping fear and paranoia is quite a feat.

Then our palates are cleansed with Dove, as Gemma reminds us that there is beauty in the world. The harps swirl again, but this time recalling some of Bjork’s quieter moments from Vespertine. Finally the record closes with Hummingbird, the album’s triumphant moment. It builds slowly from a choir-like intro, then halfway through things pick up, vocals get looped, latin drums kick off, and the vocals are joined by trumpets and party blowers.

Less than half an hour after we started, the album’s done. You’ll want to listen to on repeat to go through all those emotions again and again, and I can guarantee you won’t hear anything quite like it this year. Sparrow is out as a single next Monday with remixes from Marcus Hamblett, Becky Becky and 182 Productions, and the album launch is at Saint Andrew’s Church on Saturday 8th September. You can pre-order the album from the Robot Elephant Website.