Renfrewshire is a small county in Scotland that punches above its weight historically. But, for the “cradle of the Stewart kings” in a modern post-industrial climate, the emphasis these days is on promoting its rich creative sphere via events such as The Spree Festival, in Paisley, now in its eighth year. Tonight, King of Birds have packed the recently revamped Paisley venue, The Bungalow. The band come from the village of Elderslie, just a few miles to the west, and midway through the set, vocalist Charlie Gorman sings of growing up locally in ‘When we were Kings’. Continuing the regal theme, brother and co-writer/guitarist, Stirling, jokes about how the melodic inspiration for the song came from the first three notes of Elvis’s ‘American Trilogy’.
The night had started with support, local country band The Logans – sisters Honor, Tayler and Leona – whose set I only caught the end of, but with beautiful harmonies, nicely crafted songs and a sense that they were clearly having fun on stage– they are one to watch.
King of Birds opened with the powerful menace of ‘Down on the Corner’, Gorman rasping, “When the light falls on me I’ll be here at the dark end of the street” culminating in the band uniting on a haunting three part coda. The set tonight was drawn entirely from the band’s debut album. With the title ‘Eve of Destruction’ and themes including modern rampant consumerism, the “great pretenders” entrusted with world leadership, loss of close friends, and emotional well-being, one could be forgiven for expecting a gloomy piece, but the band’s performance tonight is ultimately uplifting, a homecoming triumph. First, the dynamics of the four piece succeeds in filling the gaps of the album’s full-on instrumentation that embraces lush strings and evocative pedal steel. Second, the Gorman brothers’ affable stage chat, including the frontman’s announcement that he had just yesterday become a father, result in engagement with the audience. ‘May You Always Be Loved’, a jaunty Dylanesque love song is dedicated to his wife. Gorman’s voice ranges from the aforementioned gravelly textures to the tenderness in the solo section of the gig ( “Hang me out to dry/ Tell me if you see her”).
With the four piece set up, there were little hints of ‘Blood on the Tracks’, REM, The Byrds and the country tinged indie of Scottish acts like Del Amitri or Trashcan Sinatras. However all of this resulted in an unforced and genuine local version of Americana, the likes of which we generally only hear from alternative Nashville based acts like Andrew Combs and Justin Townes Earle. Highlights were ‘Hard Times for a Good Man’ – heartfelt and poignant – and ‘Tomorrow’ whose elevating harmony and jangle filled chorus could have come straight out of Laurel Canyon. To every man there is a season and perhaps King of Birds’ time has come. They came to Paisley fresh from a sell-out album launch in Stereo, Glasgow and a live session on on Ricky Ross’ BBC show, Another Country. Expect them in a UK tour sometime in the new year.
Thanks to Brian Byrne for the picture