It’s been a prolific year for Shady Bard. The Birmingham-based five-piece with a keen eye for unusual gig venues have gone from posting out demos to appearing on national radio and performing at this summer’s Green Man festival.
With the backing of a highly respected local record label, they are now poised to take advantage of the resurgence in interest in all things folk and next year should see them busting out onto the national stage.
The band’s chief songwriter, Lawrence Becko, explains: "We had this plan to play in the Botanical Gardens last year but we were still just sending demos to labels. I think we were still honing everything.
"Then the Static Caravan label stepped in to help us on our way. We got a big boot from that, because it’s alright believing in your music, but at some point you do need someone to step in and say, ‘I believe in this as well’, and get a load more people to listen to it.
"Just watching that happen is very exciting. Together, the band and the label really want this music out there, and as a songwriter it’s great to have people around me who want to share it and make it grow."
Shady Bard, which also features Jasmin Hollingum, Alex Housden, Aidan Murphy and James Dey, released their debut EP Treeology earlier in 2006 to ecstatic reviews, and have recently unveiled their fantastic new single Penguins, which coincides with their first full-scale tour.
Recalling the fragile dream-pop of Red House Painters, the soaring grandiosity of Godspeed! You Black Emperor and the doe-eyed wonder of Sparklehorse, it draws on the theme of nature, which is very much a part of their songs’ magisterial feel.
"Being in Birmingham and the greener part of that city, nature is an influence, but just the existence of nature around us is quite a strong theme. It’s not necessarily just images from nature or symbolism, and I think Penguins has obviously got a strong environmental theme.
"In the song everything is destroyed by the flow from melting ice caps, and the idea is that it’s an icy theme park, so it’s at the zoo as opposed to in Antarctica. The zoo gets destroyed by the hot temperatures, but it’s also quite a personal song about overcoming things. It’s meant to have quite a human side to it as well."
After appearances on BBC 6Music’s breakfast show, Radio 4’s Loose Ends, and Radio 2, Shady Bard have been attracting admiring glances from all quarters. Showcasing their delicate folk-pop and sumptuous wall of sound, the tour takes in a host of cities across the UK, including a date at Birmingham’s Flapper and Firkin on Saturday.
It follows a series of stripped-down shows which the band performed during the summer, culminating in their appearance at the Green Man, which Lawrence cites as a particular highlight.
"The Green Man was just a beautiful weekend really and a big moment," he explains, "even though it’s so low-key in such a good way. It’s kind of momentous playing your first national festival, and [the Green Man] is such a nice understated affair.
"It was good because you’d go into the food tent and Gruff Rhys would be sitting there having his breakfast. We bumped into Fionn Regan who was playing there as well, and he came to watch our set. I really like his stuff; he’s got a brilliant voice. The other person that I’m so glad we bumped into was Micah P Hinson; his album The Gospel of Progress is a masterpiece."
The turning point for Shady Bard came with the input from respected Birmingham label Static Caravan, which has released all of the band’s official output to date.
"It’s great to have someone with that level of belief, and who’s also inspired to release some EPs and do some really nice packaging; someone who’s very open to ideas. Geoff [Dolman] has got a great network of people and obviously he’s been working with Tunng, and that’s gone really well.
"I always used to think we’d be at home on a label that was interesting and experimental, even though we’ve got quite a strong melodic sensibility, and to have found that is absolutely brilliant, even though I’m sure the whole thing is an accident. We all help each other but it’s also all self-run; it’s a small operation and we’re trying to grow."
With an album in the pipeline, things look set to go from strength to strength for the quintet. While their beautifully layered vignettes are heart-warming and evocative on record, Shady Bard are also a live act to behold.
You should be sure to catch them while you can.