Monday, 25 April 2011

The Live & Unsigned Journey of Birds In Flight: Road to the O2

Birds In Flight are a Southampton-based alternative rock band who are enjoying their journey along the Live & Unsigned road to the O2 Arena in London. It's a national competition that sees thousands of acts audition to perform at the legendary venue in July and this blog post will highlight the band's journey up until now, from the perspective of their drummer (that's me)...

Let's rewind a few weeks; 8 in fact, to a sunny Sunday morning on the 27th February, 2011. I'm not sure the band had seen this side of 9am on a Sunday for a long time, but bleary-eyed and buzzing with nervous energy we left Southampton to begin our journey to the O2. After a few wrong-turns here and there we found our way to a car-park close to the Portsmouth Guildhall and wandered across the square and in through the entrance to the theatre to a room full of bands and solo artists, all of various ages, brimming excitedly with confidence and anticipation at the start of their very own journeys.
Once we'd signed ourselves in, it was just the matter of playing the waiting game. Luckily we fell in the first round of auditions so didn't have long to tune-up and talk over our audition piece before our name was called and we were summoned to the audition room. Nervously we waited beside a three-piece act who were to perform after us, whilst a solo artist laid his soul on the line for the expectant judges sat at a long table, scribbling notes and not giving much away. They thanked the guy and called us forward; the next minute or so was a blur but we launched into our audition piece, a medley of two of our tracks, and before we knew it we were sitting in yet another room without any idea of how we had been perceived. The feeling among us was that nothing had gone wrong, so it was all down to the judges. After another thumb-twiddling wait that saw acts all around us get called to hear their fate, we were asked to step into the corridor where we were told we had progressed to the Regional Finals of the competition! A well-rehearsed barrage of information sailed over our heads as we all turned our attentions to the first of the live shows and, indeed, our next step on the road to the O2.

The time inbetween our audition and Regional Final on the 23rd April was spent pestering friends and family to buy tickets, hounding our local press for exposure and preparing our next performance piece. It certainly flew by though, and it wasn't long before we found ourselves back on the road, driving in the early morning sun, making the same wrong-turns on our way back to the Portsmouth Guildhall.

With the feeling of deja-vu in the air, once more we crossed the sunny Guildhall square and signed-in, before being called shortly afterwards for our sound check. This was our first and only chance to get a glimpse of the other acts performing, and of those that we saw sound-check before us one thing was clear; the standard was high and we'd need to be at our best to stand a chance in progressing further in the competition. The stage was huge, the drum riser was high, the sound was fantastic and everything felt great as we excitedly wandered back out into the sunshine with a spare twenty minutes, directing nervous parents stuck in traffic, observing the pockets of bands with their families already here, some sporting t-shirts and others waving banners; there was a real party atmosphere and it was soon ready to begin.

We once again found ourselves holed-up in a room full of equally-anxious acts, the nervous energy clearly evident in the form of awkward chatter and the harsh, frantic strum of an unamplified electric guitar. Sat in a circle, we chatted amongst ourselves, the nerves slowly growing as more and more acts were called to await their 3-and-a-half minutes in front of the judging panel and excited audience. Finally we were summoned, and nervously made our way through the labyrinth that is the interioir of the Porstmouth Guidhall before we found ourselves waiting in the wings, catching a glimpse of the flashing lights and cheering audience merely metres away. It was time. Confidently we strode onto the empty stage, I couldn't make out the introduction of the compere as I ensured everything was in the right place, altering the heights of cymbals and the angle of the snare as quickly as I could. The applause died down and I looked across to the rest of the band; everyone was ready...I counted off...1, 2,3 4...

Barely seconds in and Jess, the singer shoots me a concerned glare and I'm wondering what I've done wrong. Moments later, Theo, the bass player to my left does the same thing and I wonder if everything's sounding great in my head but in actual fact, the pressure of the expectant judges, the eager crowd with family who have travelled for hours to be here, and the building nervous energy inside me has caused some catastrophic error; am I playing the wrong song? Is everything twice as fast as it should be? I could have sworn there were two crash cymbals earlier...And then I realise, as the kick drum slowly but surely makes its bid for freedom, the legs of the cymbal stand lying on the stage, with the kick drum mic stand also sprawled behind Jess, both having escaped from the drum riser after our explosive intro. I spend the remaining three minues and 20 seconds running over the situation in my head, as I am powerless to stop the kick-drum slowly sliding away, heading for the edge of the drum riser where the mic stand and crash cymbal have already leapt. I can see the whole thing going over, it's going to happen, there's no question, I'm on auto-pilot and luckily can feel where the changes are in the song, remembering still to perform, whilst accepting that in about thirty seconds I'm going to be sitting on the drum riser with just a snare and hi-hat stand and Jess' legs sticking out from beneath a mountain of drums. We make the change from our original song to Ellie Goulding's Starry Eyed, there isn't long left now. The music feels great, I can hear everything perfectly, but still I'm worrying, still the kick-drum is escaping, I can barely reach the toms now and my leg won't stretch out much further. We are reaching the climax of the song, it's a miracle I've made it through this far before finally the technician has noticed what's gone wrong, and rushes onstage. With a forceful push that nearly sends me off the other side of the drum-riser, the kick drum is lodged firmly back into position and held for the last twenty seconds of the song. I've made it through unscathed! The crowd cheer as we rush off, buzzing and relieved and ecstatic as we make our way back up to the holding area, chattering non-stop, as we spend the next forty-five minutes counting down the time, the adrenaline slowly wearing down, before we are finally called for the final time. This is it. The result.

In what felt like a lifetime's wait, three acts had already been called to the stage, confirming their achievement at having progressed to the next round of the competition. Spaces were limited and anxiously we waited in silence for the compere to announce the next act to go through... "BIRDS IN FLIGHT!" He called our name, we rushed onto the stage to be greeted by gracious nods of approval from the other acts already through and screaming family and friends in the audience, all as happy as we were to have made it through to the Area Finals of the competition. The event ended, we had our photo taken and received our tickets for the next show, barely under a month away back at the Guildhall, the final step before performing at the O2. It's only going to get tougher, but we couldn't be more ready for it. We've come all this way and aren't ready to falter at the final hurdle. This is our time, and the O2 is calling...

Birds In Flight will be performing in the Area Finals of Live & Unsigned at the Portsmouth Guildhall on Saturday 21st May. Tickets are priced at £7.50 for a 12.15pm start, and are available from the author of the blog.

Video Alert! Alice Avenue - Let It Go

Sultry blues trio Alice Avenue have released a brand new video for their upcoming single Let It Go. The student band have released the single independently on iTunes and it's definitely one for fans of John Mayer. Check out the video below, and be sure to keep up to date with the guys on Twitter!

Monday, 18 April 2011

New Artist Alert: Saturday Night Gym Club

And now for something completely different; it's all been a bit pop-punk friendly recently so here is a refreshing hit of some pop/dance ambience. Saturday Night Gym Club have popped up on Zane Lowe's radio show, been featured a few times by BBC Introducing and are set to play the BBC's Big Weekend in May. Oh did I mention, that's their first gig!

I had a listen to a couple of songs; EP title track How To Build A Life Raft is an eclectic electronic dance mix that features a whole life raft of sounds and synths and a really nice vocal performance; it washes over you and has a really relaxing quality. The band's debut single, set to be released in May features Ellie Walker and is called I Know. With it's long, discerning intro that features an accordian, it sets the reader on edge with a confusing and broken wave of sound before breaking into a cool, washy pulse. Considering the genre, of which admittedly I'm not a huge follower, it's a great dance/pop song that will I'm sure go down perfectly in the lead-up to the summer. Ellie Walker's vocals really compliment the sound of the track which gently builds as it progresses.

Saturday Night Gym Club describe themselves as "an Anglo-Irish grouping of dance floor storytellers" with "organic textures against dance floor friendly bass weight" and, fun fact for the day, I Know's analogue synth parts written on the Northwest tip of Ireland, with drums engineered on a flight into Edinburgh. Cool!

For more info on the band and to check out the tracks featured here, head over to their Soundcloud page. How To Build A Life Raft is out in June.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

New Artist Alert: Afterlife Parade

I was recently introduced to the fantastic Afterlife Parade. Personified, the outfit is Quinn Erwin, whose debut offering 'Death' reflects the celebration of many passing lives with his thought-provoking and often harrowing EP. After having recently relocated to Nashville, the musical mecca for many a-fan and artist alike, Erwin found himself surrounded by loss and channeled his emotions, turning his grief into celebration, and came up with a mature-sounding debut introduction whose title track, although upbeat, carries a sinister underlying feel. A one Jeff Buckley is, ironically, resurrected; his influence on the music and sound of the vocals very apparent throughout the EP. The haunting offering of 'Nothing But Love Can Stay' is a definite stand-out track, its ghostly piano and solemn vocals laying the foundation of the sinister love song.

The entire EP tells a story, taking the listener on a journey, beginning with the concise Fate: An Introduction, aptly named at the head of the album which meanders among death's path, hot on the heels of the Grim Reaper, before concluding with Afterlife Parade, completing the journey from a fateful death to the preceeding accepatance.

Death doesn't make for the happiest of listenings contrary to its ambition to celebarate and not mourn the passing of souls, but it definitely attempts to maintain an upbeat outlook on death which can't be the easiest pitch. I really like the sound of the artist and indeed the EP itself, and hope you'll be intrigued to delve yourself into the mind of Quinn Erwin and explore the EP for yourself.

Take a step into the unknown; more on Afterlife Parade can be found on Myspace where you can hear Death for yourself and keep up-to-date with the artist.