Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'
Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.
June 2nd, 2016watch now
by Neil Nisbet
In our music section's very short history we have come to the conclusion that it is simply not possible to become a musician unless either of your parents was a piano tinkler, guitar plucker or general all round tuneful noise maker who subsequently inspired their offspring to start hitting things with rhythm and cause a ruckus! Such is the case with the third recipient of a music feature here on Article19, Steve Bird.
It also begs the question; ‘which came first, the musician or the teacher?’ That discussion is for another time however.
The 33 year old musician currently based in the ever changing landscape of Newcastle upon Tyne - which seems to change shape almost daily - has created music for a broad spectrum of creative platforms from television commercials to professional contemporary dance.
His entry into the field reads like the opening chapter of ‘How to Become a Musician in 10 Rather Difficult Steps’ - if such a thing existed!
“My dad’s a musician”, he tell us, “so obviously [I] was surrounded by a lot of music when I was young. my dad used to play a lot of different types of music, so I would listen to reggae, 60’s, folk, just a wide variety of stuff.
Then I started playing [guitar] in bands. I bought myself a 4-track, Tascam tape recorder (our younger readers can refer to a link and the end of this article to find out what a tape recorder is!) to start recording the bands but then got more into the recording and technology side of it and went to study that at college. I just went from there really.
I’ve been doing music since I was fourteen so I guess it's about 18 years I’ve been playing now.”
Practicing the Art
As with those practicing the art of contemporary dance Steve has trouble locking down his particular style;
“I write a wide variety of stuff. A problem I’ve always had [is describing my music], the stuff I’ve had released is primarily instrumental hip hop but then I’ve also had stuff released that is more house [orientated] and some ambient stuff.”
You can of course listen for yourself as we feature two tracks from Steve’s repertoire of creations. Have a click, have a listen. A brief perusal of the Mr Bird website reveals a creative portfolio covering as wide a spectrum of music creation as one could hope for in a career. Meandering from commercial via dance to theatre and film.
There is no doubt in his mind however about the career highlight so far, a session, in 2001, on the late John Peel’s Radio One show here in the UK. If you are unfamiliar with the ‘Peel Sessions’ then a quick bit of Googling will reveal a massive amount of information on this most ubiquitous and respected of radio dj’s.
Peel was credited with helping to break artists such as Pink Floyd, The Undertones, The Sex Pistols, Pulp, The White Stripes and many more bands with ‘The’ in the title onto the international music scene.
Simple persistence brought Steve Bird, under his musical monicker ‘Mr. Bird’ to the attention of Radio One's ‘keeper of music’;
“That came about [by] me sending John Peel some of my stuff, the label had sent him some stuff and one of my friends, who is friends with John Peel’s son, had given him some stuff so he ended up with three copies of my first album so he played a few tracks from that and may mates were saying ‘you should try and get a session’.
[Personally] I was just happy that he a played some of the music. Then eventually, to shut my mates up, I did, I just wrote him an email saying ‘look, I know it’s a bit cheeky but is there any chance that I can come and do a session?’ Three days later his producer rang me up and said “I’ve had a chat with John and we would love you to come down to Maida Vale Studios and record a session’, which was broadcast twice on Radio One.
Since I was 13/14 I used to religiously listen to all of his shows and one of the reasons that I’m into what I do now and the reason I do what I do is through listen to his [John Peel’s] show and for me that was how it all started. To do a session for the guy that inspired me to start doing music was I think a definite highlight.”
You can hear a brief audio intro by John Peel on the Mr Bird website, sadly the session itself is not available on the BBC Radio website.
Fame, Fortune, Not So Much!
Despite what some people may think, immediate fame and fortune do not always follow such an event, even when that event is being broadcast on national radio, as Steve explains there is a lot of work to be done in promoting yourself and not a lot of time to do it;
“[The follow up] was a bit of anti-climax. I did obviously try to capitalise on having done that but because I’ve never really had a manager or an agent, I was doing it all myself and there is only so much you can do if your writing music all of the time, trying to make a living and do all the management stuff as well. It just tailed of a little bit after that.”
Un-perturbed by such highs and lows, Steve continues to create music for all manner of projects both dance related and completely unrelated but he does profess a special place in his creative heart for dance;
“The TV stuff has been people using music that I’d written already because they liked it rather than me writing specifically for it. I’ve done a lot of adverts and stuff like that but dance [is] the most rewarding because its the most challenging.
Choreographers have always got very strong ideas and very good ideas and for me that is the skill and the challenge of it, to find out what they actually want, so that’s something that I want to get more into at the moment.”
Although he plays guitar, what many would call a ‘real instrument’, Steve is no stranger to the digital side of music production and performance;
“I’ve done both. I have performed within dance pieces as a DJ, on stage, playing records, playing bits of music I’ve written and that’s something I want to get into a lot more. Now I’m using this software called Abelton Live which is enabling me to do more electronic stuff live which in the past [I really couldn’t do].
When I was writing a lot of music for dance I didn’t really have the access to that so it was a matter of doing whatever i could with whatever i had. Because technology has moved on it’s a lot easier to say that I can do this live on stage.”
The next step is to release a new album via Frequent Sounds label based in Brighton and another album under the assumed name of the Evil Dr B. (apparently the inhabitant of a long lost island of the coast of Mauritius)
You can keep up to date via no less than three websites, all listed below.