Birdie – Folk Singer
Now we’re more than halfway through winter, it’s perfectly alright to start looking forward to lazy hot summer afternoons spent lying somewhere grassy with a few ciders, watching people more attractive than you over the top of your sunglasses and enjoying the kind of peacefulness that is only ever interrupted by the occasional wonky tinkle of an ice cream van. I have a certain fondness for soundtracking these rare days with a very particular type of relaxed, sun-spangled pop – Edie Brickell’s Good Times usually gets an outing – but more often than not I just stick Birdie’s Some Dusty album on repeat because it’s easier than doing an entire playlist and to be honest does just as good a job. The song of theirs I love the most is Folk Singer.
Birdie, of course, came to my attention because their lead singer was Debsey Wykes, who I’d fallen a little bit in love with following her appearance on Saint Etienne’s wondrous Who Do You Think You Are in 1993. Yet again I was snared by an unassuming but utterly lovely English female pop voice – and also she danced brilliantly and appeared to be wearing a dress made from those stripy bags you get in corner shops. The other mover and shaker in the band was the occasional ‘tienne collaborator Paul Kelly (who went on to make a series of films utilising archive London footage, often soundtracked by the band). So basically I was never not going to love them, and their record sleeves were really nice too, which is often half the battle with me.
I generally love pop songs where girls sing about other girls – often this takes the form of the advice giving song (Saint Etienne’s own Sylvie, Mel & Kim’s That’s the Way It Is) – but Folk Singer is one of those lovely ‘girl admiring a girl with charisma but wondering if she’s really happy’ records (see also: Almaz by Randy Crawford) that I have a particularly soft spot for.
If this isn’t the perfect record for the dog days of summer, I don’t know what is. Although it clocks in at just two minutes and forty four seconds, it’s in absolutely no hurry to get anywhere – it’s well past its half-way point when it gets to the chorus, which itself is just a beautifully languid “ba ba baaaa” over the guitars, plus some gorgeous harmonica encouraging you to lie down, just for a bit, with summer hovering over you. Brilliant.
Debsey last popped up in my life at Sarah Cracknell’s Red Kite gig in London last year. Much to my annoyance, the boyfriend – and this proves just how well he’s been trained over the years – spotted her in the bar beforehand. “Is that Debsey?” he asked. Yes it was, and I was simultaneously thrilled that he’d recognised her and appalled that he’d got there before me. The welcome she received when she was coaxed from the crowd to perform Ready or Not with Sarah was quite something to witness. One of pop’s finest, I reckon.
Entered chart: did not chart
Who could sing this today and have a hit? She’s past her hitmaking heyday, but I always thought Natalie Imbruglia could do this well.
Bonus pop fact: Debsey was in Dolly Mixture, who sang back up on Captain Sensible’s no.1 hit Happy Talk in 1982.