Woodpecker Wooliams – The Bird School of Being Human (Robot Elephant Records)
CD / LP / DL
Released 24 September 2012
Enter the captivating and odd world of Woodpecker Wooliams through her new album full of delicate melodies and disturbing subject matter from the Devon-based singer songwriter.ÃÂ
Woodpecker Wooliams is Gemma Williams. Woodpecker Wooliams was born in a cottage built into the hill underneath Totnes Castle after a nursing career had been curtailed by illness and Gemma decided to move to Devon.
She has a high sweet voice and the songs are built around the sounds of a harp, bells, chimes and whistles. Add to the mix a dollop of electronic drone and distortion and you get an idea of the noise on this record.
This album is not an easy listen, the subject matter is at odds with the sweet true voice singing and the electronic sounds cover and distort the small tunes plucked from the harp and the twee noise underlying the songs.
Woodpecker explains “I didn’t set out to explore these ideas. Each song came via a bird that had a story to tell. A bit like a reverse Disney animation – rather than anthropomorphising animal characters, these songs are kind of how it might be like if people were aviomorphised, or if the birds were in human bodies. Bird’s eye views… So they’re the bird’s songs really. My life is changing/has changed so much over the course of making this album, surprising me, over and over”Â
”ËYou are wearing the same pink as the night you smashed my face in..’ The songs have violence and darkness sprinkled across them. Domestic violence countered by the sight of a Red Kite above the trees, a moment of light in a dark world, in the song that takes it’s name from the ”ËRed Kite’.
Her voice is twee and small at the start of ”ËGull’ talking about how having a greasy cafe meal will sooth the night before. But by the end of the song her voice is louder, threatening and angry. ”Ëwhat the hell are you staring at, just give me my Goddamn cup of tea.’
All over the top of a plucking harp and what sounds like someone tuning a radio. ”ËSparrow’ has an unrelenting drone behind an angry almost tearful shouting voice, the drums give machine gun stutters and the feeling is of rage filled hopelessness.
”ËMagpie’ has a soft strummed guitar and a voice full of regret for her ”Ë bonnie bonnie boy’ and the wish to have the strength to tell the one you love that you suffered child abuse. It’s sad but there is a note of hope there.
A bugle playing the Last Post ushers in the ”ËCrow’, disappearing into a wash of electric distortion, the song about waking up from a nightmare, sweat sodden and terrified. The slow drumming echoes the claustrophobic feeling flowing through the song; the music would fit into a horror film soundtrack.
”ËDove’ has a delicate harp sound and a quiet, soft voice ”ËIt’s happening again’ the depression and irrational behaviour is creeping back into her life. A soft brass tune flows under the harp and makes you sigh. It ends with a kind of wailing singing underneath a mess of harp and percussion.
The last song ”ËHummingbird’ starts, aptly enough, with humming rising and falling like chanting. Woodpecker’s voice is high and fragile over the top and as the song gets more structured with a drum beat and chattering synths her voice gets stronger and clearer.
This is an endearing and fascinating album, each listen gives you another facet to the songs and another set of words to decipher and wonder about. The mood of the album is surprisingly upbeat when you consider what is being sung about.
The birds fly in and out of the songs, sometimes as a lyric and sometimes as a feeling in the music. They are free to fly away and over us, to disappear into a soft blue sky and leave us behind. That is why the music is so hopeful and the light shines through this record.
If you have a soft spot for female singer songwriters who have a fair amount of sadness, oddness and light scattered across their work then this is for you, and if you don’t, it’ll be your loss not to experience this.
Be warned though, I have been listening to this all last night and this morning and I have been totally captivated by the world of Woodpecker Wooliams.
All words by Adrian Bloxham. You can read more from Adrian on LTW here.