History 2


'Rock 'N' Roll Nigger' was, at best, a stop-gap release prior to the eventual release of an album. Backed by three new tracks, the single made the national Top 40 despite - unsuprisingly - no radio support. As one media commentator highlighted, Birdland were able to release their version of the controversial Patti Smith song without needing to take the responsibility for writing it. In the end, the media fury never ignited and the recording paled beside the live version.

A bootleg collection of out-takes, demos and live material - 'Kamikaze Kids' - appeared in some major record stores towards the end of the year. Distributors Greyhound are threatened by Lazy but there were whispers that the band, unhappy with Lazy, passed tapes onto those involved in pressing the unauthorised album. Meanwhile, the band spend the last few months of the year finally putting down tracks for a debut album, bringing in Philip Tennant to oversee production.

The first fruits of this collaboration is heard in the New Year when the band's final single. 'Everybody Needs Somebody' is released. John Peel was disappointed, calling it "Birdland by numbers" on Radio 1's review show and to an extent this was true. However, like 'Wanted' before it, it was Birdland doing what they did best: short, sharp and punchy and, on the evidence of the extra tracks on this and the previous EP, the band had the beginnings of the more mature sound they clearly wanted but struggled to deliver for the album.

When the album finally emerged, the disappointment was palpable. 'Birdand' is not a 'bad' album, and the years are generous, but it never rises much above a 6/10. Too often it was possible to hear blatant lifts rather than honest tribute (Stone Roses, Echo & The Bunnymen, 'Needles and Pins', Television) while even the new version of 'Sleep With Me' saw the band swap the original pop thrill for some kind of tired authenticity. Tired of the cartoon jibes, Birdland had tried to make the difficult third album instead of capturing their early ebbuliance. The CD version includes re-recorded versions of 'Paradise' and 'White' that aren't listed on the sleeve as well as the a-side of the debut EP which only made for a quite bizarre and disjointed listening experience. Arguably, The Strokes made a better Birdland album than Birdland did, only a dozen years after the fact.

Press reception to the album was also muted. Simon Williams in the NME highlighted the debt so many of the new tracks owed to other songs before damningly claiming that "... Birdland may have the image, but Mega City 4 have infinitely more sophisticated musical muscle. ... 6/10." Sounds could only award 2/5: " ... (the LP) contains moments of impressive, often polished pop trash. ... (but) song differentiation, as ever, remains Birdland's big problem. Tuneless workouts like 'Don't Look Back', 'Wake Up Dreaming' and 'She Belongs To Me' are practically indistinguishable."

The album is supported by a session for the Mark Goodier show on Radio 1 where they played 'She Belongs To Me' / 'Exit' / 'Wake Up Dreaming' / 'Letter You Know'.

A trip to Japan in May was, arguably, the band's last great hurrah. One gig was filmed for the TV show Space Shower TV as part of a Birdland special, which also featured an interview with the band and screenings of three of their videos. They look rough and largely disinterested, although this may be down to the demands of Japanese TV.

Japan 1991

The indifferent response to the album meant that the band's profile went immediately into freefall. In a letter dated 10 September 1991, only a few months after the trip to Japan, Wayne Morris details both his success in securing record contracts but also the amount of time and effort spent "... counteracting the band's irresponsible and destructive behaviour." These infractions include the damage and destruction of hotel rooms, musical equipment, recording and rehearsal studios and tour vans; the selling of master tapes to a bootlegger, and assaults on staff. To claims of considerable record sales, Morris reponds that most releases were on limited edition formats and "...many of the records were actually given to record shops ... as complimentary product which is common practise to gain favours for the band." The next day, Morris sends an invoice to the band's solicitors (or accountants) for £2368, calling in loans and tour support.

In the New Year of 1992, Morris wound up Lazy Records. He told the NME: "When shit like The Manic Street Preachers can go Top 40 I have no desire to release any more records, and this comes from the man responsible for Birdland!" The band, meanwhile, claimed unpaid royalties and had "...been forced back on the dole just to survive. We're completely skint basically," said Lee. By May the band are reduced to scouting for interest in the NME. "We've got lots of fresh material and what we really want to do is record an EP, one with really great direct sound. We'd only really need an engineer because we want to handle the production side of things ourselves," said Lee. In retrospect, it seems odd that a band with a few hits under their belt and solid overseas interest could not find another home. They would never release another record.

last promo? - Kyle, Robert, Simon, Lee

The Vincent brothers took a version of the band back onto the road the following year with a new rhythm section. For full details of the tour, read the interview with Steve Cannell elsewhere on the site.

Setlist for the tour: Sugar Blood / Appolinean (instrumental) / Load / Change The Painted Word / Sleep With Me / The Saturn Charmer / The Death Game / Halloween (instrumental) / Hollow Heart / White / Paradise // Rock n Roll Nigger

After Birdland, Lee Vincent hawked a new project, Capriccio, around the labels during 1995/6 but again only met with indifference. He is now based in New York. Robert Vincent has worked with several bands in the intervening years, the most prominent being Torn Bloody Poetry, a three piece featuring Chris Coffey and Nick Fleming.

Their eponymous 1997 album is an essential listen for anyone with fond memories of Vincent's previous work - in many ways it serves as the missing Birdland second album, a scuzzy collection of psyched-up pop and acoustic flavours that even harkens back to the Zodiac Motel days. Their label, Ochre Records, also released material by Will Sergeant and Marshmallow Overcoat. He continues to make music.

In September 2004, Castle Records released a 2-CD anthology of the band's work, "Paradise - Complete 1989-91", which despite the title, doesn't include absolutely everything they recorded but is worth picking up as it includes three live tracks that are previously unreleased.

The Birdland story is a fair example of how the industry can, in a very brief time period, completely overwhelm new entrants to the game. But few can be as unlucky as Birdland. With chart success (however stage managed it was), good press coverage and overseas deals in the bag, the fact that their debut album would be their last is baffling. Their inability to secure even the interest of an indie label post-Lazy suggests their reputation had preceded them, that the cartoon chaos they had sought to throw off kept haunting them in a flurry of outstanding bills and recriminations.

To quote the Vincent brothers' heroes, Birdland were strangely "Out Of Time". Their New York-inspired sound was completely out of sorts with anything else happening at the time. A glance at the support acts for their headline show at the Brixton Academy in 1991 proves this point: Carter ... (ironic drum-machine driven social commentators), Cud (avant indie-popsters), Silverfish (noisecore), The Cateran (Husker Du-esque melodic punk). Without the shield of a scene to hide within, they became an easy target for press doubters and, when the crunch came, there was no support network to turn to.