October 1, 2023

After a five year hiatus, when Ms Amy Birks and her two companions took a temporary leave of each other, The Beatrix Players are back in the game and with a sparkling new album. The two other players, her old muckers Helena Dove and Tony Manning, return to the fold, but this time inside an expanded line-up which includes John Hackett, Oliver Day (guitar), Andrew Booker (drums), Matthew Lumb (piano), Kyle Welch (bass) and, from the LSO, cellist Jane Fenton. The result emanating from this expanded line-up is a really very good album, containing some exceptionally strong songs, intelligent lyrics and some superbly well played music from musos who know how to play. Playing alongside some stellar talent has invigorated her and, with Amy’s gorgeous voice in full flow, which improves with age like a good liqueur, she sounds like she’s at the top of her game.

Their one previous album, Magnified, was released to critical acclaim, and the ethereal vocal prowess of Amy Birks was immediately noticed. This new album continues in the same vein and it’s a reaffirmation of everything good about the enlarged Players. It’s also, whisper it quietly, a ‘concept album.’  Amy Birks explains: ‘Living and Alive is an honest album which explores how life isn’t about just living, but also about having the courage to be really alive and to own it.’  It’s a story told to the sounds of some quite adventurous music, with the occasional foray into almost baroque, and gelling nicely with the confessional attitude of the sensitive singer-songwriter. The lyrical content, mostly written by Birks, speaks mostly of moving away from situations which are not conducive to the living of a fulfilled life, and how people should strive to be the best person they can be.

Snowflakes opens up and she sings, ‘there’s no such thing as an ordinary moment’ and we should make the most of every second we have. This is Amy’s credo, not wasting time. On the single, Start Again, with its nods towards Jethro Tull, we’re told, ‘ I’ve spent many a year holding onto you, and spilling many a tear holding back the truth’, and she goes on to state, ‘with my soul running on fumes, it’s just no way to live life’. And on A Beautiful Lie, she says ‘we’re living a beautiful lie, we’re beyond repair and we’re getting old’.  Other tracks like the rather more upbeat This Is Your Life, written with John Hackett, has some fast-paced playing and even a few touches of rock guitar, and Purgatory, with its overt message of ‘something evil occurring inside the family’, nods towards a kind of prog sensitivity with some quite adventurous playing. You Can’t Hit A Nail is somewhat slower but no less effective, while there are some gorgeous guitar licks on Free, and this and others are performed alongside some divine harmonising and exquisite melodies, with evocative lyrics well to the fore. 

Overall, there’s a fascinating beauty to Living And Alive, and it’s the kind of album which can be described as spiritually uplifting, and every song on this album is an amalgam of thoughtful and tenderly expressed lyrics, overlain on some quite emotive tunes. Amy Birks’ vocals are as mesmeric as ever and she weaves feelings and emotions together to come up with what is a very rewarding listening experience.