I’m sure when things ease up a bit, I’d love to do another solo album, but it’s Beatrix Players for now because I’m enjoying it, it’s lovely.
The announcement of the reunification of the Beatrix Players, after five years in hiatus, was greeted with some considerable delight by those who’d thought their debut album, Magnification, was a gorgeous piece of work. This time around, however, the players have expanded in number from three to eight, with the original line-up of Amy, Helena Dove and Tom Manning being joined by musicians like flautist John Hackett, Oliver Day (That Joe Payne) guitar, and Andrew Booker (Tim Bowness) on drums. Their sophomore album, Living And Alive, follows on from their debut, with more of Amy Birks’ beautifully ethereal vocalising, plus some gorgeous harmonising from the band, and is an utterly superb piece of music. And, if a new album isn’t enough for you, the Beatrix Players are also taking to the stage, with gigs already lined up at The Water Rats, London on December 3rd plus Barlaston village Hall, Stoke, on March 16th 2024, both with Amanda Lehman also on the same bill.
Amy spoke to VT and it was initially put to her, with the buzz greeting the return of the Beatrix Players, plus some of the positive feedback concerning the new album, she must be delighted with how things are currently going? ‘Yeah, it’s been amazing’, she stated, clearly very pleased. ‘I’ve just been having a look through some of the reviews and it’s absolutely amazing what people have been saying about the new album, so we’re now just looking forward to getting it out there, and then gigging with this lovely bunch of people and going on tour. The energy’s so nice when we all get together, and we’re gonna be starting rehearsals soon.’
There was surprise expressed in certain corners when the Beatrix Players got together again after a five year separation. Was Amy surprised at being a Beatrix Player again? ‘Well, not really. I suppose it’s because the Beatrix Players have been a part of me since I was, what, 18 or 19, when I was at university, twenty years back’. She went on to explain further: ‘Me and Tom (Manning) met at university and, with Helena, were the first of the Beatrix Players, and we’ve been talking about this for a couple of years. Tom played guitar on my last album (solo album In My Soul) and it’s sort of a natural progression as most of the musicians here have also played on my solo records, and basically formed this band, so I got this coming together of all these really wonderful people. So I said, ‘why not?’ because the Beatrix Players were always supposed to be like a theatre group of players, which was the initial idea, so it feels like it’s coming true now. I think the sound is different, it’s just naturally gone in a different way. We never set out to make it a prog album, or make it an art-rock album, we didn’t really think, we just wrote because there was a lot of freedom and this what came out of it’.
Was there ever a sense the Beatrix Players have got back together because there was some kind of sense of unfinished business from the first time around? ‘Yes, I think so’, she agreed. ‘I mean, we had a lot of success with our album Magnified, but I never felt like The Beatrix Players was ever fulfilled properly so, yeah, there’s probably some unfinished business and this album feels like it’s the start of something special now, and hopefully there’ll be many more albums from us. I can’t tell you how much we’ve enjoyed doing this album. I mean, I’ve learnt so much from everybody and, gosh, Oliver Day, the hours he and I spent in the little studio in my house! I’d leave him at 11 at night and he’d work through the night on the production mixes, and I’d hear him at five in the morning’, she laughed, ‘and we had a gig next day!’
Amy then went on to explain one of things she really enjoyed about the putting together of the new album. ‘What I’ve seen, and what I’ve loved seeing, is the relation developing between Tom and Oliver, two lead guitarists getting on so well and working so well together, it’s been great to see, and this shows on the album.’ How much more difficult was it recording an expanded version of the group, with eight musicians rather than three, I wondered. ‘Most of the time, everyone recorded in their own studio, or Jane (Fenton, cello) would come here, and Oliver would come at the same time whilst we recorded the cello, but being honest, it wasn’t too much different from recording my solo records. The majority of the same instruments used, and the guys were the same group of people. Jane was new to the scene but I’d worked with everybody else before, and John, Oliver and Tom had a real idea what they wanted it to sound like, and it’s got us to where we are, and we’re all really proud of it.’
Were the musicians ever all in the same room at the same time? ‘Ah, no’ (another laugh). ‘We’d written this album and we were playing a gig down south, there were five of us and I hadn’t realised Tom had never actually met Matt (Lumb, piano) so it was like, ‘oh hello,” (cue more laughter). ‘It was only when we rehearsed and we came together to record the video when we all got together. But we all did meet up at Richard’s (photographer) house, which was also a lovely day, all of us just sitting around the kitchen table and getting to know each other. It’s been a nice experience, can’t complain’.
We moved on to talk about the lyrics on the new album, and I raised the point, given Amy had written a sizeable chunk of the lyrics, they sounded like they’d come from an unhappy place. Had she been unhappy when writing them? ‘No’, she replied amidst peals of laughter, ‘I think more liberated. I think… I maybe get angry at people who don’t live their lives fully, which frustrates me. I suppose some of the lyrics could come across as being angry but I suppose it depends upon how you’re looking at them. But, I mean, I’m not unhappy but I do question things. I suppose, when writing, you do look back at your life, and look back at the last several years, well, before the last three or four because I’m in a peaceful place now, but prior to that, I had some difficult times, but I suppose you’ve gotta go through them to come out at the other end. But it’s more of a letting go and finding yourself. On the track, Me I Am Me, I feel like I’m in a place in my life where I know who I am, and sometimes people don’t like it, but I kind of think that’s not my problem’.
Any specific people? ‘Lots of people really, through my past, relationships and different people. But, yeah, there is some anger on this record, like the track Purgatory, and I remembered where I was when I wrote this and being quite angry, but it’s more about moving on really. I now question things a lot more, and sometimes it makes me angry when I see people who aren’t living their lives, or living through things, and maybe this can come across a little bit strong, even aggressive, but I do look at people and, as a writer, probably in a slightly different way, but I’m definitely in a good place now so… so God knows what I’m gonna write about next’, she laughed, ‘I’m gonna have to dig deep.’
Was a political point being made on the track Snowflakes with the line ‘there’re too many snowflakes?’ Amy was amused at this comment. ‘My husband’s a teacher so we talk about this a lot, about where youth is going today. I’m not sure it’s political, it’s more just another observation about where we are as a society. I think it’s more that than anything else’. At which point I declared an interest and stated, in another life, I’d also been a teacher for quite a few years before I took early retirement to go into writing, and a couple of teaching anecdotes were shared. ‘Simon ( Amy’s husband ) now works in a college, and where he previously taught was, let’s say, a challenging school, but it depends on the school you teach in, and I suppose what I wrote came from this.’
This one’s rather personal, I stated, but the track Me I Am Me had the line ‘there’s a clock ticking inside of me and it won’t leave me alone’. Are we talking the biological clock? ‘Oh yeah, absolutely’, she agreed. ‘I’m always aware of my age and, especially being a woman, you’re even more aware of it. I’m always so aware of time and not wasting it, and I’m constantly doing something, which is one of my faults in that I’m not very good at relaxing, and I’m very aware of time. In this body, anyway, you’re only here once so let’s make the most of it.’
Does the return of the expanded Beatrix Players now mean Amy Birks, solo artist, is temporarily on the back burner? ‘For now’, she agreed, ‘because, being honest, I just don’t have the time. I have a full time, quite intense job, and because I enjoy working with this group of people so much, the energy between these people has given me a new lease of life to push this album much harder. But I want to concentrate on whatever time I do have, and giving it back to the band, and I’m sure we’ll crack on with writing another album soon. But’, she emphasised, ‘never say never, and I’m sure when things ease up a bit, I’d love to do another solo album, but it’s Beatrix Players for now because I’m enjoying it, it’s lovely.’
Finally, I wondered how excited was Amy at the idea of playing gigs? ‘Oh, I can’t wait, absolutely can’t wait’, she enthused. ‘With the couple of gigs we did as the full band, for the Amy Birks albums, I absolutely loved it, and it’s just fun. I love to be on the stage, it’s probably my favourite place to be. I can’t wait, it’s gonna be brilliant!’ I wondered if her friend, Diamond Head’s Brian Tatler, would be making a guest appearance onstage at a Beatrix Players gig, which induced some laughter. ‘I could ask him, but he doesn’t really do anything outside of Diamond Head. He turned up at my last gig in Stoke, actually, and I’d not seen him for twenty years. Him and his mate were just staring at me, saying I’d not changed a bit. I mean, I’m pretty sure I have, I’ve got more grey hairs’, she laughs, ‘but what a lovely night it was. Brian’s an absolutely lovely bloke’.