NB* – We know it’s been ages….we know it’s well overdue…but hey! It’s here!
When we first discussed launching our new initiative, Bird&Bramble, Women’s Work Festival was the first port of call for us. Having worked with them in 2016, we knew the values and ethos of the festival meshed so brilliantly with who we are: celebration, diversity, community, and at the heart a love of art and creativity in all its forms.
We’ve been working under the name 3for3 for a few years, organizing and hosting gig nights for countless local acts – all sorts of genre, all sorts of lineup, all sorts of levels of experience. We have never underestimated the level of trust that an act puts in us – it’s their music…their creative output…their sound and reputation in our hands. Whether they be a really experienced punk band or a new solo act on their first night out….the trust is the same.
So, when we were planning our launch, we wanted to showcase everyone we have worked with – everyone who has said “Yes! I’ll work with you!”. So emails were sent, conversations were had…and in a flurry of absolute pride and humility, we had 7 acts ready for a lineup to help launch our new Bird&Bramble. The Oh Yeah Centre came on board to support us with a new take on their popular venue – a ‘café session’: drapes creating an intimate and atmospheric space within the larger Oh Yeah venue room. The Musicians Union had sent over information and application packs, which we were able to give out to acts and visitors, and Conor Kerr and Bernie McAllister (photo credits) had been tasked with photography, alongside a videographer documenting the Women’s Work Festival.
We had our acts. We had our venue. We had our sound engineer. We had four hours on a Bank Holiday Sunday evening to show who we are, and multiple spreadsheets (blame Stef) to make sure it would all work.
Our first act was Lauren Bird – a winner of Chordblossom’s Kickstart and fresh from her sold-out launch of EP ‘The In-between’. We had worked with Lauren in 2016. She did a gorgeous show then, and did not disappoint at our launch. With humility and a sense of comfort and ease, Lauren manages to create instant atmosphere – a talented player and mesmerizing singer, her lyrics are what really stand out for me. “Goodbye, Good Luck” has been stuck in my head for about a year now, and is a good example of how Lauren balances a bittersweet reminiscence with light-heartedness and a delicate touch.
Sister Ghost we now count as friends (they have no choice…they’re our mates now). We worked with them last Autumn to put together their EP launch in The Pavilion – a kickass full band show full of punk attitude and dirty guitar riffs with underlying ability and skills in the lineup. So having Shannon and Stevie sit with acoustic guitars, soft lighting and candles seemed incongruous. With Sister Ghost, there is a hypnotic quality that comes when great songwriters and great talent combine: ‘Spiders’ (a new track played exclusively at our launch) was a stand out for me, and “Her Mind” is always firmly on my playlists at home. Without a doubt this is a band to watch.
Coming from the North West just for our launch was Susie-Blue. Susie Blue was part of our Women’s Work Showcase night last year, and had come onto our radar through an open application for artists. Her video for “Trust Me” had me hooked – soulful and captivating, Susie is on the path to national success, playing at Glastonbury this year. Last year was a full band show, so to see a stripped back, acoustic Susie was an absolute pleasure and honour. What a talent. Each song feels like you are hearing a part of her heart and soul – it’s raw and, at times, painful, but always honest.
Emer Maguire blew my tiny mind last Autumn when she played 3for3. Showing her multi-instrument skills (I’m not jealous…what?!?), on drum pads and guitar, her songwriting talent shines through. Open, honest, and beyond charming, Emer’s new track “Belfast” feels like a homage to not just the physical city, but to that feeling of community and being part of something bigger. With a sense of fun and humour, Emer’s performance is so engaging you feel like you’ve just made a new best friend.
Amy Montgomery and I met randomly at a TV recording – we were both there to play a couple of songs and have an interview. I was in the room when she started singing and I nearly burst out of my skin. What a voice! It’s like Joe Cocker, Robert Plant and Janis Joplin got together and created those vocals. We had worked with Amy at our Help Musicians UK Takeover day, but when she arrived with electric guitar, and Mike Mormecha on a drum kit we knew we’d be in for a proper treat. We most definitely were. On a tiny stage, this charismatic girl, made almost entirely of smiles and positive light, became larger than the room. Giving everything of herself into the performance, new track “Dangerous” shone through as an example of why Amy should never ever ever NOT be a performer.
Another North West performer, Gemma Bradley also worked with us last year on Women’s Work showcase, with a full band. Gemma has a jazzy, bluesy sound, wrapped up in a unique voice and impressive performance. “Firewalk” is still a favourite for me – testified by our house now having three copies of the EP which has that track. Bouncy, full of blues overtones, but inherently fresh and vibrant, Gemma’s voice and skills are undeniable.
It’s hard to write about the last band of the evening, as I am in it….. Always a tricky one. I’ll leave the critique for someone else. All I can say is what our experience as ARLO was: the energy and support from the other artists and audience who were there was breathtaking. I am a stage junkie at the best of times, but I could have stayed in that room all night, just being around this celebration and appreciation of music, talent and the joy that comes from performing, and watching others perform.
The big takeaway for Amy and I that evening was the support of the artists. To have acts travel from all over NI to come to us is testament to their dedication. When we started Bird&Bramble our goal was to create community. We wanted artists to feel valued and loved, and looked after: so they can focus on their performance. We are beyond lucky to have worked with the artists we have, and to have an act say “We will work with you anytime! If you call us, we are there” is such a humbling and beautiful feeling to have.