Exclusive | Listen to Bird in the Belly’s debut album with a track-by-track guide

We’ve already heard a few teasers of Bird in the Belly’s debut album thanks to the beautiful session they recorded for us here at FFS, but now we can bring you the entire thing a day early – plus the band’s own track-by-track guide to this labour of love. Hit play, and read on.

Give Me Back My Heart Again
This was one of the first tracks we arranged together as a band – we sat together on the studio floor and tried to work out harmonies, and whether us all working together as a band would even work at all – luckily, for the most part, it did! The lyrics came from the Bodleian Library ‘Broadside Ballad’ Collection, which is a great online resource that everyone can access for free. We were really struck with how contemporary the lyrics felt considering they were written 200 years ago – beautiful direct, visceral lyrics written about heartbreak.

Welsh Ploughboy
Another from the Bodleian collection. This song tells the all-too-familiar story of wanting what, or who, you can’t have. In this case, its a wealthy young woman who lusts after a farm laborer, and pleads with her father to let her marry him instead of the wealthy old man he has got lined up for her to wed. We liked the idea of this forbidden crush, as she watches the ploughboy from the side of the fields and dreams of a life with him that society would not let them have due to their class difference. We decided to push this idea further by having a male lead vocal on this track – a man now tells of his lust for the ploughboy – it adds a new dimension to the story, and the ideas of culturally forbidden love.

Shoreham River
Two of us – Laura and Adam – grew up in the small seaside town of Shoreham, just outside Brighton. Through Shoreham runs the River Adur and in fact, the pair currently lives on the river in a houseboat. We discovered the poem in a book called the Highways and Byways of Sussex. Looking out over the rotting, decaying boats dotted (as they are) along the river, the poet reflects on his own mortality. The song is full of melancholy, ebbing and flowing like Shoreham River itself.

Old Squire
Old Squire is an arrangement of a poem by the same name written in 1895 by Wilfred Blunt. Originally the poem is an homage to the English countryside and to the simple pleasures of nature. It carries a message about taking the time to appreciate what you have rather than coveting what you don’t; something we could all do with remembering from time to time. We wanted to find a musical arrangement to match the imagery of the poem in all its lushness and nostalgia, so a heavy feature of this song is a fluid string arrangement which builds slowly throughout.

Duke of Grafton
We mainly wanted to find songs and stories that had been over looked, but this was the one exception. Mishaped Pearls and A L Lloyd have both recorded incredible versions of this song. The lyrics we found in an old book of ballads were slightly different to the one’s we had heard before, and we liked the slightly tender variation to the version we found – little phrases added in like “his lovely body” rather than just “his body” – it made is seem more romantic somehow. Our violin player Tom Pryor produced and scored the record, and he worked tirelessly to get the mood right on this track.

Horace in Brighton
Horace in Brighton is a poem written by English poet and novelist Horace Smith in 1815. The song depicts the London poet’s heady weekend escape to Brighton. With references to the west cliff, the parade and the Steyne. The poem strongly evoked for us an image of our beloved hometown and we knew we had to find a place for it on the album. As it was, the lilting, lyrical nature of Smith’s writing meant that the melody almost wrote itself. The song, which appears on the album just after the woes of the Duke of Grafton, serves up a bit of light relief.

Verses on Daniel Good
This one came from the Oxford Book of Ballads, and tells the well documented story of the Jane Jones Murder. Her lover, Daniel Good, murdered her on discovering the inconvenient truth that she was pregnant with his child. A policeman discovered Daniel Chopping up and burning the body, and Daniel fled across London, avoiding capture for over a week. Numerous police forces teamed up to try and catch Daniel, and this was the start of Britain’s first detective service. At the time, the story really captured public imagination due to how gruesome her death was, so we really wanted to get the feeling of drama and gossip in the track, like its being recounted in a pub between excited drunk gossipers.

His Night Waking
These lryics come from the research of Professor A Roger Elrich from Virginia Tech. We were interested in his study into ‘first sleep’ and ‘second sleep’ – the discovery, (through songs, poems and prayers of the time) that a lot of Western Society used to have 2 smaller sleeps in a night instead of the 1 sleep per night of contemporary society. Sleep used to be broken into two parts, with a period of being awake in the middle for praying, visiting neighbours or having sex. We wrote to Professor Elrich and asked for some examples of the texts he was studying, and this was one of the poems he kindly sent back.

The Irish Emigrant
This song came from the Bodleian Library resource, and tells the story of a man having to leave him home in Ireland to find work and food in America. The narrator recounts his story as he says goodbye to his wife’s grave, and apologises for having to leave her and their home. We have played this at various folk clubs around the country, and more often than not, floor spot singers have Irish Emigrant songs too – I think there were 3 in one night on one occasion.

The Lilies
This is a poem written by the same poet who wrote Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Unlike her more famous work, this poem is dark, and aims to prepare children for death. We recorded this live at the Church of the Good Shepherd on Shoreham Beach. The extra vocals are provided by Laura’s (lead female vocalist) dad, Barry Ward.

’The Crowing’ is out on 23 March on GFM Records (iTunes pre-order link here).

Bird in the Bell live dates:
29th April – Patch Fest, Brighton
8th July – The Sail Loft Folk Club, Essex
24th August – The West Street Loft, Shoreham
1st Sept – The Ropetackle, Shoreham
18th Oct – Manchester Folk Festival