Tiny Pop Presents... The Wind-Up Birds - Leeds, Fox & Newt

by Andy Brown Rating:10 Release Date:2013-04-20

With a disconcerting number of famous musicians shuffling off this mortal coil during these first four months of 2016, it’s reassuring to know that there’s always a steady supply of inspiring music at Tiny Pop Presents.

The nights began last year with organiser Rachael Rix-Moore forming and playing with 13 different pop-up bands before moving into 2016 with a series of themed nights. Each event has been an inclusive, unpretentious night of all-out fun and that sense of positivity and celebration continues undeterred with sets from You’re a Face, St Lucifer and The Wind-Up Birds.

You’re a Face is Rix-Moores own project, releasing a steady stream of albums since 2008 alongside guitarist Michael Capstick. Rix-Moore’s partner, Alice Rix-Moore, joins the band on glockenspiel and bass while violinist Chrissie Caulfield, Capstick’s collaborator in The Helicopter Quartet, completes tonight’s line-up. As you can probably tell, the Tiny Pop family is pretty closely knit.

Rix-Moore takes her usual place behind the drumkit while also delivering vocals on these self-penned songs about pixies, pirates and owls. If that sounds like a list of cosy, almost twee subject matter you’d be way off the mark as the set frequently broods with a dark, troubled sense of melancholy. Take the strange and wounded pleas of ‘I Want to Be Your Owl’ with Rix Moore weaving an evocative tale of a long, dark night in the forest as Caulfield supplies some typically spine-tingling accompaniment.

There’s the propulsive and repetitious ‘I Am a Pirate, I am a Face’ as well as the unexpectedly heavy and doom-ridden noise of ‘Crystals’. Capstick proves to be a brilliantly creative and free-flowing guitarist, displaying a restless, thrillingly unpredictable and experimental style. The set ends with the nosiest and most ominous version of the ‘Rainbow’ (ask your parents) theme song you’re ever likely to hear.

As is tradition with Tiny Pop events there’s something of a musical shift with the night’s second act, Manchester’s St Lucifer. The band is dressed as if attending a particularly goth-friendly wedding reception and look like a real gang, a brilliantly cool band of misfits, from the outset. Their drummer, Charlie, stands calmly behind electronic drums in round orange shades while their vocalist, Alex, acts as a conduit for the bands irrepressible energy. The music is a dark, throbbing mix of electronic noise, vitriolic wordplay and danceable 80’s darkwave. It’s kind of ridiculous and it’s also kind of wonderful.

It’s unlike anything I’ve seen recently. It’s as if Killing Joke were gleefully bludgeoning Depeche Mode’s back-catalogue into a sweaty pulp.  Alex is a great frontman, pointing accusing fingers into the audience and dancing on chairs. The vocals relate a blunt and brutally direct lyricism and half recall the likes of Sleaford Mod’s Jason Williamson. Rix-Moore joins the band on stage for their explosive finale, adding her primal drums to the bands sonic stew and creating a satisfying tsunami of industrial-style freak out in the process.  

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen The Wind-Up Birds live and a surprising amount of time since their last album (the excellent and misleadingly titled Poor Music) so tonight was going to be something of a re-education. The band is, as always, refreshingly free of rock ‘n’ roll clichés and gimmickry as lead singer Paul Ackroyd (Kroyd) sips casually on a glass of wine and chats away to the audience.

Kroyd explains that there’s already been an element of rock ‘n’ rolls artifice as he unwisely decided to put his jacket on minutes before going on stage. Despite being too warm he feels like he can’t remove it just yet. It’s this line in self-deprecating humour that disarms the audience before the band launch into a typically raw and lyrically confrontational set.  ‘Guy Ritchie’ sounds desperate and vital and if you tune in you’ll hear some pretty astounding lyrics too, “Talent and charisma that the passing of time devoured/His life was just a love affair that habit slowly soured”.

It would be fair to say that Kroyd has a way with words as his mid-song banter provides numerous highlights throughout the set. He tells us that he only really gets to go to his own gigs, and as people don’t usually attend gigs dressed in the bands own t-shirts he likes to imagine that everyone wears The Wind-Up Birds t-shirts to every other gig they go to. He then reassures us that this isn’t a sales tactic as Oli, their agile drummer, has forgotten to bring any t-shirts along.  

The band performs songs from across both albums and there’s not a dud amongst them. ‘Two Ambulance Day’ remains something of a highlight though, the perfect combination of Kroyd’s detailed inner-monologue and the bands emotionally charged indie-punk. The roaring, spiky and passionate stylings of ‘The Gristle’ sound exposed and urgent as Kroyd delivers the lyrical KO, “for one short time we had superpowers/ yeah we squandered them/ but we had fun”.  

The band frequently goes for the emotional jugular with their slower, sadder numbers and new song, ‘Riddled’, is no exception. Despite being an apparent work-in-progress (Kroyd reads from a piece of paper) the song is as unflinching, lyrically complex and interesting as anything in their repertoire. The likes of ‘Past Houses’ and  ‘The Mild Awards’ (the single “no one bought” as Kroyd tells us) are underused underdog anthems that make the band feel like the best kept musical secret in West Yorkshire.

It doesn’t seem to matter one iota that the band has been away for some time as tonight’s performance is as spirited and as inspiring as always. They make every song count and you get the feeling that they’d put as much energy into a show for a few people as they would for a packed out arena. Actually, this wouldn’t really work in a soulless, corporate sponsored arena.

As they finish my friend asks them if they aren’t going to do another song and the band seems genuinely surprised but flattered nonetheless. They leave us with the energetic pop-perfection of ‘Cross Country’ compete with the weirdly appropriate/inappropriate lyric that finds Kroyd claiming to be “a corporate rebel, a bit like Prince”. With that Leeds finest retire to the bar and we’re left wondering when we’ll get our next fix.  

As usual Tiny Pop Presents has managed to put on an eclectic night that somehow makes perfect sense. If you haven’t attended a Tiny Pop night yet then you really need to come along to the next one… 

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