Simon Harper meets Birmingham rook and rollers Shady Bard
Far from the confines of Birmingham's usual music venues, one band will be causing more than a little twitching amongst the shrubbery.
Local quintet Shady Bard will be at one with nature on Saturday August 6, when they perform at the Botanical Gardens in Edgbaston.
The Fuzzy Bird garden party will see the five-piece take to the bandstand at the kind of plush environ not normally associated with the toilet circuit.
"We were all sitting there going, 'Wouldn't it be amazing if we could play the bandstand in the Botanical Gardens . . .' so we phoned them and enquired to the possibilities. They were only too happy for us to hire it," explains vocalist and multiinstrumentalist Lawrence Becko.
"It's an amazing setting surrounded by beautiful plant life, and the bandstand is a mere bird's flutter from the aviary. It's the perfect setting for us to show our love of flora and fauna, and enjoy an afternoon of music, lemon squash and cucumber sandwiches.
"In the past, we've played the usual indie gig circuit - the Jug of Ale, Flapper and Firkin and Bar Academy. It's always fun to play venues like those but we thought it would be great to try something totally different, and more suited to our sound and philosophical outlook.
"Fuzzy Bird is all about promoting original music and presenting it in a way that hasn't necessarily been done before, and this is a great example of that."
Shady Bard are one of the leading unsigned bands to have emerged from Birmingham, melding the cosmic Americana of Grandaddy and Sparklehorse to the achingly fragile laments of Red House Painters and Elbow.
Also counting Spiritualized, Super Furry Animals and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci as influences, Shady Bard are far removed from the wealth of post-punkalikes wielding asymmetrical hairstyles and dour baritones.
"So many bands are overly concerned with subscribing to a certain rock n roll image. We, on the other hand, spend most of our time in Birmingham's leafier locations - enjoying the company of trees and birds, and the odd naughty grey squirrel. Lots of our lyrics are intricately tied in with nature and its effect on our lives.
"Our song These Quiet Times is probably where it all started. It features the refrain, 'Feed the birds in the wintertime' and that has sort of become our motto, inspiring our campaign last winter of distributing birdseed to audiences. It's just grown from there. Fuzzy Bird, our promotions company, picks up those themes and is looking to take them to the next level."
Starting out as a trio in 2004 with Becko, his songwriting partner Tom Rogers, and drummer Olly Forrester, Shady Bard has since expanded with the addition of multiinstrumentalists Jasmin Hollingum and Alex Housden.
Their lilting, piano-led folk-pop has garnered justifiably admiring reviews, and the Birmingham-based act believe that the city's local scene is thriving at the moment.
"There's plenty going on in Birmingham," says Becko.
"People outside the city give it a hard time because of its musical past, and they make lazy references to its architecture, as if it's the only city in England that has suffered from sixties town planning. This might sometimes make it hard for local bands to get noticed but it also has the effect of making everyone on the local scene really open and friendly.
"There's no attitude. Everyone's just doing their own thing. I wouldn't say it's got a clearly defined scene - just a load of people making music they love."
With the number of plaudits tossed their way steadily increasing, Shady Bard are set to go from strength to strength, and have a number of activities building up for the coming months.
"We're lining up the gigs and starting to look further afield - we're playing at Winchester at the end of August and Leeds in October. We're also recording a session for Radio 4 on September 17, which is really exciting. We produce all our own stuff so we're working hard at that, and hope to get a release together soon."
Named after their friend Bard, who contributes a diary to the band's website, Shady Bard have a full tour penciled in for October, as well as the aforementioned slot on Radio 4's Loose Ends, presented by Ned Sherrin. But it won't be their first appearance on radio, as their song Bobby has received airplay on Radio 2's Janice Long Show.
"It was great to hear [Bobby] going out to so many people. I had to call loads of friends at two in the morning, and wake them up to get them to listen to it. It's been played a few more times since!"
First, though, is their showcase performance at the Botanical Gardens. Prepare to peek out from behind the foliage, and you might be in for a pleasant surprise.