I first came across Shady Bard supporting Califone at Brixton Windmill. It was a late night, I was knackered after a long week, half-thinking about chucking it all in and going home, when they shimmered on stage to save the day, quickly joining that elite group of support bands I’ve been impressed by enough to sign up to their mailing list.
They were chilled out, tender and good to listen to as I lounged on the large sofa against the back wall while trying not to fall asleep. Their tunes were just the right side of ambient and there was something about penguins involved. These are all good memories, and so it’s with happy glee and a smile on my face that I put their debut album From The Ground Up into the CD player.
Utilising keyboards, orchestral strings, brass and more traditional rock instruments, songwriter/singer Lawrence Becko and the band (Jasmin Hollingum, Alex Housden, Aidan Murphy and Pete Marshall) weave their way through lyrics that offer environmental fables (such as Treeology, the story of a man who tries to preserve a forest by painting all the trees with creosote, killing them in the process), to simply beautiful songs, such as Bobby’s bruised lyric of “We’re all to blame in the end”.
Becko’s voice is distinctive and interesting, low and cracked as if he’s somehow apologising, cowed and shying away from the limelight. He has nothing to be apologetic for: this is a wonderful gem of a debut album.
With a shared background in school orchestras and gigs in park bandstands behind them, Shady Bard know how to hold a tune and as the disc turns, it’s as if all tension drains away, slipping through the stresses of modern life to create the aural equivalent of that large, warm sofa at an intimate indie gig.
This band are never going to produce music to dance to, but that’s not always what you need. This is music for the people who feel more at home at the Green Man festival than Cream, and the hippie fields of the Brecons is where you’re far more likely to find them plying their trade. It’s the right place for them, with their gentle tree hugging. This is music to watch the stars come out to, especially the delicate opener Fires, Memory Tree and title track From The Ground Up.
Where they go from here is a question for another day. For the moment, just snuggle up and enjoy them.