Music and Marriage
Sam and Hannah Hird tell how they combine both in their duo Bird to Beast
Proving that love and music is the recipe for success, singing duo Bird to Beast are touring up and down the country with their psych-folk, retro inspired sound.
Hannah and Sam Hird are a married couple from Trawden, Lancashire, by day and a folk duo, gigging around Manchester, by night. They were married two years ago and formed Bird to Beast 18 months ago. Before that they were both involved in the music scene separately and never imagined performing together.
The pair grew up around Colne. Sam started playing violin when he was four and went on to study at Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester. He then finished a music degree at the University of Manchester.
Surprising himself, after finishing university, he took a different turn and became a sheep farmer in Elslack, near Skipton, for three years.
“It was sheep farming and I enjoyed it,” Sam says. “It was good, it was hard work but fun. There’s no way you can do any music when you’re doing that 12 hours a day, though.”
Sam then lived in Brighton, Essex and London, never really having a set job, but moving from one place to the other for a while.
“I was just travelling around. I was a bit lost really. I can’t remember actually having a job though I did work. I was just dossing about.”
While Sam was dossing about, Hannah had landed herself a prime opportunity touring with chart-topping songstress Ellie Goulding.
Hannah was also interested in music from being a child. She started playing piano when she was seven and sang in a number of choirs before studying music at The University of Salford.
“I did a bit of teaching singing for a while and I also wrote my own stuff as well and gigged around Manchester,” Hannah says. “It was always something that I was just focused on really.”
She sang backing vocals for Ellie Goulding at numerous tours and festivals and TV shows including Later with Jools Holland and The Jonathan Ross Show, and even performed at Kate and Will’s royal reception where, she says, “everyone ate bacon butties.”
After growing up in the same town, it was finally the Blues Festival that brought them together.
“We met at the Blues Festival in Colne,” Hannah explained. “It was at Jim’s Cafe where we were playing and we saw each other play for the first time.”
When they first got together the pair never envisaged they would work together musically
until their now label MUK records suggested it. And so their album was born, just like that.
Living and working together has its pros and cons. Playing at festivals and gigs and being away from home for a while is so much nicer when you have your partner by your side, the pair explained.
Sam said: “We go round doing all these festivals together and it’s then you think this is really nice that we can do it all together.”
The schedule for festivals and gigs this summer has been pretty full-on, with one week seeing them perform five gigs and covering 1,500 miles. It means even when there is time for their feet to touch the ground they still can’t stop talking about performing.
Hannah said: “We need to remember that we need to do other things but every time we sit
down, we do end up talking a lot about the band. We must keep it separate as much as we can I think.”
But when their perfect night in means listening to music and finding new ideas, keeping it separate can be harder than it seems – but this is what they love. It’s their passion, and a passion they can both share.
“We love just sitting and listening to music and getting drunk. We do that a lot,” Sam explains.
Their musical influences are very varied and most music they completely agree on.
Sam: “For me inspiration comes from just listening to music really and getting into different
musicians. We like a bit of everything, at the moment I’m listening to a bit of Andrew Bird
that’s something I really like. I like bits from the 50s, doo wop music and Ray Oberton.”
Hannah adds: “All of our years together have started to alter our tastes and merge them together.”
Most couples may agree to share the washing-up duties, whose turn is it to take the bin bags out, or mow the grass, but with these singer-songwriters they’re more likely to be found sharing the workload of writing songs.
Hannah: “At the moment I’m writing a lot which is really nice as I did have a bit of a block for about a year. And I think Sam has helped me to write better.”
Sam: “Hannah has this thing that when you write you’ve got to find a muse. I’ve always thought that is nonsense. For me it’s something that just comes. I sit down with a cup of tea and start writing.”
And it’s a good job they’re sitting down and writing as they plan to have their next album out in October this year. Since signing with MUK records, an up-and-coming label based in Manchester, they have been building up their fan base and getting their name out there. As Sam explains, you can’t just turn up to a festival and expect people to like your music just like that; you’ve got to work for it.
“You can’t just go out and start gigging. You’ve got to build up a reputation and now we’re at the stage where we can do festivals. It feels good that people are coming to see us and people are asking us to play rather than us asking them. We started off in January and we had no festivals at all and now we have 17 lined up.”
Some of the festivals include the Ynot festival in the Peak District, Cloudspotting in Slaidburn, Kendal Calling and Bingley Festival – and they recently just got back from the Isle of Wight Festival. All this, while their last single Catacombs was out in mid-June. Their song Elephant has been very successful with lots of plays on the radio and a stylish video and their other single Winter Snow which was released at the same time has also got people talking. This song is more emotional and is based on their experiences of life in Colne.
“Our song Winter Snow for instance is set in Colne and lyrics like: ‘Here beneath the smoke stacks of cotton, bricks and coal, I’m laughing with the factory girls and the grocery boys.’ It paints a picture of life here and hopefully pulls the listener into life in ‘our world’.”
With Catacombs they wanted to do something a little different from the video for Elephant. After sifting through old home videos of Sam’s dad, Kevin Hird, former Burnley and Blackburn Rovers footballer, they decided to use the footage which features family members in and around Colne for their video. The scenes are from the late 1970s before either of the
30-year-olds were born and aims to celebrate their hometown where they both met.
Catacombs has also been picked up by car company Volvo for their advertising campaign in the US, taking their music across the pond and earning them a little spending money for the summer.
“We started writing bits and bobs for TV in America and started breaking out a bit and that helps us out financially, along with the band,” Sam said. “More of them would be good. Gigging is something you never get a lot of money for but it’s working out.”
Their debut single was the accordion-led To Lips From Lungs, released in September last year and their self-titled debut album has been hailed as Best Album of 2013 by the Manchester Evening News.
They describe their music as folk and retro, making the sounds from yesteryear fresh and unique.
Their timeless melodies and harmonies pay homage to the likes of The Beach Boys, Kate Bush and The Beatles as well as contemporary singer-songwriters like Rufus Wainwright and James Mercer. And it’s proving a hit, with more gigs and festivals booked than they ever
Success in the extraordinary world of the music business and the all too ordinary world of
marriage under the Lancashire rain are definitely linked. Their chemistry as a couple and as singer-songwriters is evident, and lots of other people are starting to see that too.
Now the pair can just hope that the whirlwind of gigs continues and all the while, they can slip back to their Trawden home, out in the countryside and escape it all when they want to.
Bird to Beast is definitely enjoying the best of both worlds.