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Woodpecker Wooliams: Night And Day, Manchester, 29/10/12

I have to admit that I had never heard of Woodpecker Wooliams until 9 weeks ago. Then her single jumped out of the internet and bit me in a big way; ‘Sparrow’, what with all its chopped up buzzing rattling take on a fantasy fairground on the south coast of somewhere. It was rapidly followed by the album, ‘The Bird School Of Being Human’, supposedly a very loose conceptualisation of what avian psyches might make of us. Or at least that’s my take on it, no-one has put me right so far. And to my great delight, thus it came to pass that Woodpecker Gemma announced that she was going to play a few dates up and down the country. I’ve got to say I was both impressed and surprised, her music being so far as I could tell, well loved but still very much ‘niche’. Such dedication could not fail to be repaid, and we therefore wound our way up the rainy motorway to a windswept Oldham Street on a Monday night, made all the worse by the changing of the clocks so that the early evening drive had the air of dead-night. Once there though, it felt like friends. In fact there were mates there to meet us in the Night And Day Cafe. I don’t know why but it’s literally years since I’ve been to a gig there, but it’s glory days were just that. St. Vincent and Stars have both trod its boards for my benefit, and frankly it was great to be back.

The three supports (count them) were pleasant if conventional. It’s my utter belief, based on overheard conversations, that Jim Adama, talented though he is, put together his stage band walking up to the venue that very night. Glass Ankle showed promise but it felt as though, from a line-up of four members, three of them should have been in one band and then three of them in another. Focus. If only they had that, they’d be fine. All of which was actually kind of ideal for tonight’s mood.

Woodpecker Wooliams turned out to be Gemma and a thoroughly nice chap dressed in London hipster mode. I’m not carping, I take enough stick for my own attire in these northern climes, but it’s an observation. Gemma had with her a neat travelling sized white harp, and took up station on that while ‘Mr Woodpecker’ (I wish I’d asked his name, but that’s what she seems to call him) prepared to hit drum pads and trigger sounds. They struck out into the night with ‘Red Kite’. It’s one of those songs that sounds at first take like a charming little tale about chatting with friends on FaceBook, but on closer listening is a horrid story of how her darling, who she’d really thought was a good person, had smashed her face in, and worse, left a rash where he’d spat on her face three weeks ago. The Red Kite of the title refers to a badge, but also seems like a mental escape, an allegorical taking of flight.

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My fascination with the record, nearly the entire reason for its personal appeal to me, is in the way it half drowns in scratching found noise. It’s a latter-day take on what shoe-gaze did for 60’s doo-wop harmonies, and to me this sort of thing is as addictive as the Mary Chain ever was. We’ve got a theory in our house that music that traps you like this does so because it’s a puzzle that the subconscious part of your mind is compelled to work on until it’s solved. It was therefore like the crossword clue of all time to be able to see exactly where some of these sounds were found. We all know the story about Joy Div recording the sound of an aerosol can and cutting it up into percussion. Tonight it was just as fascinating to see a balloon blown up, to then have its mouth stretched wide so that it farted tunefully into a microphone, its timbre carefully controlled by the degree of neck-stretch. I’m still puzzled by the wind-up toy placed on the speakers for ‘Sparrow’. How did it make all that noise? Oh, don’t spoil that one for me, I’ll have to go back again to find out, won’t I?

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It was all rougher than the record, without the benefit of smoothed out sound engineering, and that made it both slightly startling and at the same time more affecting. We were very much in the same sound-space as Mr and Mrs Woodpecker, no high-falutin’ fourth wall of the stage tonight, they clunked around the stage, changed places and made it all happen before our very eyes. Keep music live, that’s what I say.

Friends had turned out on my say-so, eschewing rock bands somewhere over the rainbow Pennines. Hell, my better half had even been persuaded out and I was nervous for reactions, which when they came were a mixture of ‘not yet sure’ and ‘hell yeah, let me buy the back catalogue’. For me, it was over much too soon, although when I looked at my watch we hadn’t been short-changed on time, it just felt like that. That’s always a good sign, right? What is actually a very good sign indeed is this: In these jaded times, I sometimes put a musician to bed after, you know, we’ve had the single release, and then the album, and then they tour… Not so with these, today it’s been back on with the headphones and the same seven track album on semi-repeat, and I’m still crushing just as hard as I ever was on the noise within.

It would seem that while we ate falafel instead of going home, the Woodpecker duo let their hair down so far into the night that, come the next morning, their hangovers had removed their ability to spell on FaceBook updates. Come back soon, or else we’ll have to come to Brighton. Now there’s an idea.

As well as a few more headliners, they’ve got dates coming up at the promising-to-be-excellent The End Festival, then on the same bill with the lovely Meursault at the Shhh Festival, and in between times supporting Novella. All of these are just the ticket right now to put Woodpecker Gemma’s eclecticism, undoubted charm and talent in front of a few more people.

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God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.