25 year old Irish artist Wallis Bird has earned a reputation as a charismatic and mesmerising live performer. She recently wowed audiences as the opening act for artists as diverse as the legendary Billy Bragg, who hand-picked her to support him on his UK tour, and Ivor Novello award winner Gabrielle, who asked Wallis to support her on her 2008 UK tour. Together with her band, she has also played sell out headline tours of Germany and Ireland, as well as high profile shows in London and the UK.
Her debut album ‘Spoons’ rocketed into the Top 10 UK Digital Album charts, and earned her comparisons to Janis Joplin, Fiona Apple and Ani di Franco. A spine-tingling cover of The Feeling’s ‘Sewn’ prompted Feeling frontman Dan Gillespie-Sells to comment that ‘she’s taken the song to another dimension….I think her style is beautiful’.
Wallis’ live shows and album release have garnered her rave reviews from all quarters, with 4 * reviews being given by national publications including The Guardian, Daily Express and The Sun, who called her ‘a stunning female singer-songwriter to take note of…..a future star’.
Counting to Wallis Bird: a numerical guide to the Irish singer-songwriter with the loud guitar and belting-pure voice:
Six: the age, in months, Wallis was when she first got a guitar… ‘It was never forced on me,’ she insists. ‘I used to dance on it, before I realised you put it round your shoulder.’
Zero: the number of guitar lessons Wallis has had… ‘I’ve never learnt how to write or read music. I’m a lazy bitch. When I come up with songs, I don’t write them down, I just play them. I’ve lost a lot of songs from not remembering.’
Six: the number of lines Wallis thought was in a stave… ‘I told you I couldn’t write music.’ As she’d say herself: feckin’ eejit.
650: the average crowd at one of Wallis’s gigs in Germany… Wallis Bird was born in Meath, grew up in Wexford and studied (and partied) in Dublin. She’s loudly, proudly, vocally Irish – her accent seeps through in many of her lyrics. But she cut her musical teeth in Germany. She moved there two years ago after meeting two German brothers: the three were thrown together into an impromptu band as part of a week-long international music workshop. The bold, lyrical songs and forceful, intuitive guitar playing of Wallis instantly gelled with the ‘proper’ musicianship of Christian (drums) and Michael (bass) Vinne. When the brothers went back home to Mannheim, ‘a little old workshop town between Stuttgart and Frankfurt’, Wallis went with them, later joined by Irish bandmate Aoife O’Sullivan (viola/additional vocals). ‘It was totally mindblowing,’ says Wallis of her 18 months in Germany. ‘I realised what I wanted: to write songs and be in a band. I’d been dilly-dallying my whole life.’
24: the age she is now…
Five: the number of fingers on Wallis’s left hand that were severed by a lawnmower when she was 18 months old… And four of them were sewn back on. ‘Pretty good for 23 years ago, eh?’ she says, waggling them. Born left-handed, soon after coming out of hospital she was trying to play her guitar again, even though she was heavily bandaged. It was good physical therapy, she thinks. To watch her strum and bash and tug at her guitar now, you’d never know. Indeed, she wouldn’t be the mesmerising guitar player she is now if it wasn’t for the accident: her injuries meant Wallis learnt to play on a right-handed guitar, albeit one flipped upside-down. Which means the strings are back to front. Which means Wallis Bird’s chord fingerings and playing style are pretty much unique.
Two: the number of songs in which, Wallis admits, she comes across as ‘stalkerish’… The languid but tense ‘Moodsets’ with its mix of forceful acoustica and grungy chords, is one of them. ‘It was me being at a really rotten time. I was dying about somebody that I just couldn’t have, and I was like, how am I gonna do this? So yeah, I was stalkerish! Being really weird and not acting like yourself. Love can make me act like an eejit, and I don’t mind admitting it,’ she shrugs. And then there’s ‘Counting To Sleep’. ‘So I was falling in love and I couldn’t sleep at night, and I was awake all the time. I didn’t know what to do. It was really hard: I was like a dog in heat. It was embarrassing at the time.’
Seven: the age she was when she wrote her first song… It was about ‘driving in a car and, oh God, it sounds sick, kissing in the back…’ she laughs, mortified. ‘I remember my mum never wanted me to sing it ‘cause I was only seven. I started writing loads of brutal songs with my brother, about going to the butcher’s and stuff like that. We’d sit in his bedroom huddled over a little tape recorder. It just never stopped from then on.’
12: the age Wallis was when she wrote her first ‘proper’ song… It’s called ‘Hope Is A Dream’. She recorded it with her first band when she was 14, then found a tape of it two years ago. ‘The chords are nice but the lyrics are like, “I’m depressed out of my head!”’ she cackles. ‘I don’t know where they came from, I was a happy child.’
3000: the number of copies Wallis pressed up of her debut single, a German EP called ‘Branches Untangle’… ‘Homemade, lovely artwork – we did it all independently and it cost us a fortune! But it got a lot of radio play in Germany. It wasn’t the best quality but people seemed to like it. It’ll cost you 40 quid on German eBaY.’
Several million: the number of TV viewers/radio listeners who experienced Wallis’s 60-minute set at a recent German festival, hosted by the country’s biggest radio station… This year’s hand-picked bill, reflecting the hottest artists on German airwaves: Corinne Bailey Rae, Scissor Sisters, James Morrison, The Fray, Paolo Nuttini, Nerina Pallot, The Feeling and Wallis.
‘Two billion-million’: the number of friends Wallis Bird says she has on myspace… One of them is her brother’s band, Sticky Digit. Wallis would prefer not to think about what the name means.
Seven: the number of Bird children… Wallis is the second youngest. ‘All I remember growing up is shouting and screaming and fighting, all the usual stuff you do with your family. It was really cool.’ She agrees that Wallis isn’t a very Irish name. It’s nothing to do with Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee for whom Edward VIII gave up the throne. After some prodding Wallis will admit, with only a hint of mortification, that 'my mam named me after a coalmine… Some people get named after a beautiful flower or a day of the week, but I have to go and get named after a coalmine! My mam tries to gloss over it now and pretend it was really after Wallis Simpson, but the truth always prevails.'
Six: the number of months since Wallis and the Vinne brothers relocated from Mannheim to London… After creating a hefty buzz in Germany, and after a busy-busy London showcase last March, Wallis signed to Island Records. She’d already recorded and co-produced her debut album. Wallis Bird doesn’t mess about. She still misses Ireland though.
60: the number of people who are the object of Wallis’s affection in ‘The Circle’… ‘It’s not your typical love song. It’s more about a pub and a feeling. I was in a group of 60 people that went to this Dublin pub religiously every Monday when I was at college. The pub was the best, it was family,’ she sighs wistfully. ‘We’d dance and get hammered and stay up all night drinking and smoking and dancing. We were broke from going to this place. It was a group of people that you find hard to meet in your life. So “The Circle” was about them, just to say thank you.’
Five: the number of songs on Wallis Bird’s five-song sampler that she describes as ‘cathartic’… ‘For sure they’re cathartic. They all mirror my life. I can’t help but be honest in my songs,’ she says. Beautiful ballad ‘All For You’ (“when I am with you I have magic”) is a brilliant case in point.
Two or three (roughly): the number of times you’ll have to hear Wallis Bird’s first single proper, ‘Blossoms In The Street’, before it sinks into your ears… A tang of Edie Brickell’s ‘What I Am’, a touch of Joni Mitchell, and a big fat slab of a singer-songwriter who can whisper as movingly as she can holler, who plays guitar with 23 years of carefree, self-taught abandon, who pours her heart and soul and guts into every word she writes. “I shave my legs today,” she sings with quiet intensity, “and hope someone may want to touch my…. skin”. Wallis Bird: as direct with her lyrics as she is with her melodies.
Oh, loads: the number of influences Wallis will own up to… Ireland. Family. Mates. Life. Love. Pubs. Fiona Apple. Ella Fitzgerald. Nina Simone. ‘I love jazz and I love women with powerful, gutsy voices. I really looked up to Ani DiFranco when I was growing up. She doesn’t give a fuck about anything. She’s a really strong woman. You had to listen to her, and she did everything independently. And she’s got a huge cult following for that.’ Wallis Bird – the Irishwoman with the heaven-sent voice who followed her dreams to Germany, who sings out her own feelings with full-force honesty, who once lost half her fingers but defiantly didn’t let that stop her – thinks that this is the way to do things. ‘If you can live your life, being happy, doing what you do, fair play. That’s where I’m coming from.’
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