Baby Bird: Greatness lurks in the wings

Caitlin Moran on Baby Bird, the band that tries to leave nothing to chance

POP STARS can usually be divided into two categories: the planners and the dreamers. The dreamers are those people with a 24-carat seam of good luck running through their bones. Everything is a happy accident: it is they who are “discovered” while singing absently at the bus stop: who bump into superstars who take a shine to them and guest on their debut album.

The planner is so sure of his talent that he leaves nothing to chance; every detail is carefully worked out. The planner will find out the date of the president of EMI’s daughter’s birthday, and play a gig on a hired flat-bed truck outside her house. The planner will read and understand his contract, and will want to oversee every part of his career, making every poster, record-sleeve and gig a perfect distillation of his vision.

Enter Steve Jones of Baby Bird. “I started off as an actor, kind of. We’d interact with the audience — we hated the way performers pretend that there’s no one there. But I started to starve, and decided to change careers. I’d been recording songs for ages, on a four-track, and I sent out demos to every record company in Britain. No one responded; they thought it was outrageous that I’d sent in four-track demos, they wanted proper, professionally produced product.

“They also wanted a band. So I went out and got a band. Then I set up my own record company, Baby Bird Recordings, and started to release some albums.”

Almost wilfully diverse, each album contains a miniature symphony, a smattering of ballads, several vivid bursts of garage-like pop, and at least three songs that are exercises in simply Being Baby Bird. At their core is a real sweetness — everything seems to be approached with an almost childlike clarity.

The albums led to a feeding frenzy among the big record companies. “I was in the amusing position of being ‘courted’ by people who’d previously sent me curt refusals,” Jones says. “The four-track demos I’d sent them were the four-track demos I was releasing as albums. I did all the art-work myself.”

Baby Bird’s artwork is, indeed, a work of art. The sleeve for Fatherhood has Jones, pictured naked from the hips up, sticking out his delightful beer-belly and looking contentedly pregnant. (“Some of the record companies I talked to wanted to send us to a health-farm to lose weight.”) The cover of Bad Shave shows Steve’s gruesomely lacerated face as he attempts to shave with a cheap disposable razor. “The blood and gore was flour, water and red food colouring. It clings to your hair. I had little red bread eyebrows for two days afterwards.”

So Steve, I say confidently, you are one of pop’s planners. “Everyone thinks that” he smiles. “But we never planned a thing. I just wake up in the morning with an idea, and try and do something about it by the end of the week.”

© Caitlin MoranThe Times, 27 September 1996

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