CD Review – Ms Amy Birks – All That I Am & All That I Was

Amy Birks first came to the attention of the prog scene as a member of Beatrix Players, for whom she was lyricist, co-composer and lead vocalist. The band won Prog magazine’s Limelight award in 2017, Amy herself winning best female vocalist in the same magazine in 2018. Now on her own, Amy releases her first solo album All That I Am & All That I Was on 3rd April.

If there’s any expectation on Amy to produce material of note with this release she has met that with ease. This is an assured, literate, often beautiful release that quite often refuses to be confined to a particular style. There’s some folk in there, but also pop, rock and lots of chamber music. It is the blend of these styles that keeps the music interesting and fresh. On first listening, what hits you is the lack of traditional rock instruments. There are low key drums here and there, very little electric guitar or electric keyboard screaming out a Moog solo. Momentum is maintained throughout by the lilting nature of the music, which often has the feel of a lullaby. For Amy ” this has been a really personal and full-on experience that has pushed me further, emotionally, technically and lyrically than I ever thought possible, which has enabled me to become the writer that I have been wanting to be.”

Many women working in progressive music inevitably find themselves compared to Kate Bush and while there are occasional similarities here these are few and far between. Amy has a distinctive voice of her own, and multi-layers it at times to achieve a kind of choral effect. Not having the usual band line up, it is the strings, reeds and piano that dominate. It is the clever use of these in various combinations that gives the music momentum and helps give some of the tracks an epic feel although they are all relatively short with only four slipping over the four-minute mark.

Lyrically this is a very assured and often poetic album. There are obvious literary associations, such as Jamaica Inn, and there are references to Rossetti. There is also a historical narrative particularly on Catherine, with its story of Catherine of Aragon’s plight, followed by All The Fault Of Lady Ann which seems to refer to Ann Boleyn. Amy does not just story tell in the lyrics though, she draws out the inner feelings of her subject. This continues in the other songs too, which seem almost confessional at times. There’s melancholy in there and the psychological element gives an almost gothic feel. The lyrics though are very literate, tasteful and have the beautiful sadness that many poets manage to create.

Although the line-up of musicians is not given, there are some interesting guests. Caroline Lavelle, the cellist, composer and singer-song writer makes an appearance. She has previously worked with Vangelis, Massive Attack and Peter Gabriel amongst others. John Hackett also appears, bringing his wonderful flute to proceedings. Brother Steve Hackett appears on the excellent I Wish. Steve plays a very impressive acoustic guitar here, which has a very Latin feel to it. The words are based on those of Christina Rossetti, poet and part of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

A variety of formats of the album are available. Limited edition CD package in a six panel 7″ gatefold sleeve accompanied by twelve-page photo book available to mail order customers and from the merch stand at shows from 5th April while stocks last. There’s a vinyl album in 12″ gatefold sleeve. Initial copies of both formats ordered from The Merch Desk will be signed by Amy. The album will also be available via all the usual download and streaming services.

This an impressive, tasteful, colourful and often beautiful release.

Track list:

Jamaica Inn

Unlike the Heart

More

Not every Night

With All That I Am

Say Something

Catherine

All the Fault of the Lady Anne

Road to Gordes

I Wish

Keeps You Guessing

Full musician line-up not given

Amy Birks – vocals, composer, producer                                                                                                                                     Steve Hackett – acoustic Guitar                                                                               John Hackett – flute                                                                                                 Caroline Lavelle – cello (?)

Amy will be undertaking at tour this year including a string of trio and quartet shows opening for That Joe Payne and the John Hackett Band and a rescheduled full band date in London celebrating the release of the album All That I Am & All That I Was. More dates featuring songs from both her debut album and Beatrix Players’ “Magnified” are to be announced in due course including an appearance at a major festival for fans of progressive music.

UK Tour Dates

Sat 7th March 2020          The Court Theatre, Tring (special guest of That Joe Payne)

Sun 5rd April 2020            The Troubadour, London (Headline full band show)

Fri 17th April 2020            The Acorn, Penzance (special guest of the John Hackett Band)

Sat 18th April 2020           The Wharf, Tavistock Penzance (special guest of the John Hackett Band)

Sat 25th April 2020           Hanger Farm Arts Centre, Southampton (special guest of That Joe Payne)

Sat 23rd May 2020            The Met, Bury (special guest of That Joe Payne)

Sat 30th May 2020            CCA, Glasgow (special guest of That Joe Payne)

Sat 20th June 2020           Crescent Theatre, Birmingham (special guest of That Joe Payne)

Fri 20th Nov 2020              Artrix, Bromsgrove (special guest of the John Hackett Band)

The first single I Wish (featuring Steve Hackett on guitar) is out now – Watch the video here: https://youtu.be/pf4F9jQVz_E

https://www.msamybirks.com/

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