An Interview with
The Dawn Chorus
By Glitterbitch

The Dawn Chorus, a six piece indie folk band from Hampshire, visited Cambridge last October, admitting it was the furthest north they had ever played. Like many musical nights in our fair city (not naming any names!) the evening was a shambolic affair; poorly organised equipment, no communication, an unsuitable mix of bands (for those that turned up) and clearly no proper promotion or support. Luckily for me, although I was one of only a few who had the pleasure, the non Cambridgeshire band, who released their debut album - The Big Adventure - in 2008, weren’t phased by the lack of professionalism shown to them. They simply responded by stepping on stage and being every bit as energetic, evocative and intelligent as their recordings suggest. Slightly embarrassed by the welcome they had received and amidst all the confusion, I tentatively spoke to guitarist and songwriter Neil before they performed.

Starting life as a standard four part indie band they have spent the past few years ‘getting their sound’. With the addition of mandolin and keyboards, aside from giving them more presence on stage, they have grown into their modem folk skin which had been building up through their debut EPs and came to fruition with The Big Adventure. Neil explained how this came about: “We’d done EPs and that was all cool but we got to the point where we wanted to do an album, we thought ‘this is the time’. With Kyle’s lyrics and writing ability we had a great thread running through the whole thing.”

It is quite clear that the glue that holds the band together and a great deal of the power that The Dawn Chorus create stems from the lyrics of front man Kyle which constantly juxtapose imagery and ideas; light with dark, dream and fantasy with reality. “Kyle likes story telling. Quite often they are complete stories. He may see something on the TV or in a newspaper and his imagination goes a bit wild. The Big Adventure is based on Peter Pan, finding Neverland, and obviously there’s the fantasy of Peter Pan but based on the real life of the guy the book is based on and the juxtaposition between the two.” Quite often it is difficult to separate the fantastical from the mundane of everyday life but it is always presented to the listener in such a way that it is almost unimportant and the journey you go on with the band is far more crucial than anything else. The Summer of 99 is a perfect example – “it’s not completely about a friend of ours who died when we were young but it is kind of based on that. That kind of sums it up – maybe there’s one element, a feeling or whatever that is real…” That one feeing then blossoms and takes over the song in a highly emotive and imaginative manner.

The fact that the lyrics take centre stage and they spring from one source does not seem to cause the band any problems when it comes to arranging their songs nor to their quality. Much like everything they do, the whole process feels somehow organic; “We’ll write a rough structure, he’ll (Kyle) write some gibberish and I’ll (Neil) write a rough guitar riff and he’ll take it away. He doesn’t sit down with a piece of paper and say I’m going to write a song. His lyrics are never ever written down. When it came to printing the lyrics for the album he had to try and remember them all.”

The second you open the lyric sheet to The Big Adventure you can see how important words are to this band and, like a teenager locked in their room pouring over the words of their musical idols, you cannot help but be inescapable drawn in by them. Comparing Kyle’s lyrics to something like the poetry of Wordsworth, Neil excitedly carries on “that’s what I love about his lyrics. You can just read them. Obviously we were on a budget and we had to think how ‘are we going to get on these bloody lyrics on these page’ but our main thought is the lyrics. We’ve got other elements as well but that is the most interesting thing.”

Despite their insistence about the prominence of the lyrics on the album and printed words on the inlay, they still remained fairly relaxed about the rest of the artwork. “We knew we had to have something that presented the words and looked like it had been made but we just let the artist run with it and he just got it. When he sent us the artwork we just really liked it. The Dawn Chorus logo he actually made out of a wood block and the first time we saw it we knew that was our logo forever.” Such naturally real examples of their creative processes only support the authenticity of the band.

The Dawn Chorus do not feel alone in this modern form of folk storytelling and Neil seems enthused about the potential there is. “What gives me hope is that there seems to be a little undercurrent of folk and storytelling. It’s very underground at the moment. I’d like to believe there is sort of a scene though.” Spear heading this potential new ‘scene’ is Frank Turner, someone who has made a big impression in Britain in the last year and who openly, to myself and others such as Radio One, professes his feelings for The Dawn Chorus. “We supported him a while back and he just fell in love with us. We’re basically his favourite UK band…he wants to take us on tour and at the moment that’s where we’re looking because people who like Frank Turner generally like us. That’s about the best thing we’ve got going for us at the moment. He’s promised us. We can’t hold him to it but he’s basically said March or September. I guess he has to see how things go for him. His tour at the moment is selling out all over but his gigs are different from any I’ve been to. The thing about his lyrics are they are so stark. Everyone can relate to it. It’s about life. There’s a sort of punk spirit to it.”

Their current tour, as is proven by their night in Cambridge, is not quite so glamorous. There’s no tour bus only a car. “We’ve been trying to do a tour for ages, trying to string places together. We organised it ourselves. We’re in a position where we are up for playing anywhere. Travelling and then playing to five people – you kind of get used to that but it’s difficult. No-one wants to put an unknown band on outside of their city.” Someone in Cambridge did at least take that risk on them but yet again it was another difficult night for them in front of an empty room.

Aside from the reality of the road they have begun to see some small appreciation for their work. They’ve had some good reviews and been picked up by magazines such as Rocksound. The album is selling and so far they’ve seen over 1000 sales. However, there is still a long way to go before the band reach their ‘Neverland’ and already their thoughts are turning to a bigger and better second album. “I never stop writing really. Me and Kyle have probably got three quarters of an album. Very early stages. They’ll see a lot of changes. This will be the first album where we know we have mandolin at our disposal and we want to use it in an intelligent way. We intend to get a new member every album at the moment…!”

This Saturday, the 7th March, the band bravely return to Cambridge to perform at The Globe. I highly recommend anyone interested in thoughtful and insightful lyrics and music that takes you an emotional journey to go and support them and show them a warmer welcome than the last one they received.

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?