Babybird – Live Review – Leeds Brudenell

Babybird – Live Review – Leeds Brudenell

By David Schuster, May 2023

Sometimes the stars just don’t align for a gig. The last time I saw Babybird, back in the heady pre-pandemic days of 2019, it was a truly memorable night: Frontman Stephen Jones was a witty, acerbic driving force with the audience responding enthusiastically. Unfortunately, it’s clear from the outset that something isn’t quite right tonight. For one thing, it’s the Friday of the Coronation weekend, and gorged on a surfeit of Bank Holidays, half the country has gone on holiday. The normally packed Brudenell Social Club is less than a third full. Coming on stage, the band must’ve been as shocked and disappointed as I was.

To be fair, they gave it their best shot, opening with ‘Failed Suicide Club’ the bouncing, jolly guitar riff, juxtaposed with the serious subject matter, just the thing to set the mood. It’s a winning combination and warms up the crowd nicely. They go straight into the slow, menacing tones of ‘The Life’, Luke Scott making good use of his semi-acoustic guitar’s whammy bar to modulate a fine overdriven sound. Like the majority of Jones’ writing, the subject is dark, but not bleak, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. The fantastic 1997 single ‘Cornershop’, with its irresistible melody, coupled with the guitarist and bassist, Danny Lowe, singing a jaunty “Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa Pa-Papa-Pa” backing, concludes a compelling introductory trio. It’s clear that this was always intended to be a night of greatest hits.

The singer takes a moment to wipe the sweat from his brow, with a towel thoughtfully provided by the venue. “You don’t get this in every place.”, he jokes. “In Manchester we had to use the setlist. I ended up with it stuck to my face. At least they knew what songs we were playing.”

Babybird – Live Review – Leeds Brudenell 2

“Beautiful, poignant pop”

The next few numbers are more introspective; the ironic ‘All Men are Evil’, ‘Unlovable’ and ‘Send Me Back My Dreams’. The laid-back country and western tones of the latter are, Jones states, about the Tory Government. With his silver spiked hair and trademark grey suit, the singer cuts a commanding figure as he strides around the stage. He carries an air of gravitas with him, this is his natural element, but without arrogance. “I walk around” he explains, “because I don’t know what else to do whilst they play the intro.”

They pick up the pace again with another single, ‘If You’ll Be Mine’. It’s a beautiful, poignant pop song that deserves to get more radio play. The repeated line, “There’s no feeling, there’s no feeling at all”, normally make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. However, at this stage it’s clear that all is not well. The frontman apologies for his croaky voice, which is beginning to give him issues, explaining that he and the band are all suffering from some sort of flu bug and jokingly requests medicinal brandy. A large one duly arrives on stage.

Unfortunately, despite the brandy and the singer soldiering on, the magic has been lost. Apologising a couple more times along the way, the band rattle through another trio of tracks, ‘Little Things’, ‘Eyes in the Back of Your Head’, and ‘Bad Old Man’. Even an anecdote concerning a shell-suited Ian Brown, the subject of the last number, fails to sparkle. They end the main set there; I suspect cutting it short, but there’s genuine heartfelt applause as they leave.

They quickly return for a two-track encore which, by Babybird’s standards, is minimal. In the past I’ve known them to come back for no less than three separate encores, each of two or more songs, with the crowd still baying for more. But this isn’t that night. Starting with the perennial ‘You’re Gorgeous’, they finish with, what the frontman refers to as “the real single”, ‘Goodnight’, which came out in the same year. It’s a great choice, light, bright guitar and deep throbbing bass line, and a clever one too; ending the show with the same upbeat vibe that it started. However, there’s a palpable sense of relief that they’ve got through it.

Like I said, sometimes circumstances conspire. It’s not the band’s fault, or the venue’s, it’s just bad luck. Go and see Babybird next time they come around; it’ll be epic.

images: Gail Schuster


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