Wallis Bird finally made her first ever appearance in Australia last December, which included Woodford Folk festival and several sold out headline shows. Amanda Palmer took to Twitter to declare Wallis as her “discovery of the year …. Wallis Bird at Woodford folk festival f*&$ing destroying it “ and Wallis will be back touring in Australia in November.
It may sound like something out of Spinal Tap that Irish artist Wallis Bird lost all the fingers on one hand in a bizarre lawnmower accident as a baby, but it’s no exaggeration. Though most of her fingers were saved through surgery, one was lost for good. Happily, it didn’t stop her picking up a guitar as a child, flipping it upside down to strum with her damaged hand, and carrying on as if nothing had ever happened. Today she’s a veritable virtuoso on the instrument, and with a chuckle she describes that fateful ‘Lawnmower Incident’ as having given her “her mojo”. That mojo carried her to record deals with Island Records and Columbia Records, several high profile awards and nominations, and tours across the world with the likes of Gossip, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Billy Bragg and Emiliana Torrini.
The two-time Meteor award winner (Ireland’s national music prize), this year’s winner of the German Music Prize (composer of the year) as the first non-German citizen and 2 times Irish Choice Prize nominee (equivalent of the Australian Music Prize) was born into a large family in Wexford, Ireland. She cut her teeth as a teenager playing cover gigs in pubs and learning to deal with drunken hecklers by way of cheeky comebacks and good-natured ripostes. Moving to Germany in 2005, she self-released the single ‘Blossoms in the Street’ which spent twenty weeks in the airplay charts. It grabbed the attention of Island Records who signed her almost on the spot. Her debut album hit the Top 5 UK digital album charts. Over her next three records she continued to chart in various European countries and toured constantly, headlining over 700 shows in the past 8 years, with over 30,000 people attending her last album release tour alone.
Most artists can’t sustain the kind of energy levels that she exhibits on stage. Every performance is characterized by an almost startling passion; one that frequently leaves Bird breathless and her acoustic guitar strings shredded to pieces. Her refreshingly honest, self-effacing manner has endeared her to audiences of every kind, whether her own fans or someone else’s. Audiences will likely be invited to “show me your sweat patches!” when a grinning Bird wants them to throw their hands in the air and dance unabashedly. Or they might be told with a wink before a ballad “this is the one where you’re all going to take a toilet break, isn’t it?” Few can enrapture an audience the way Wallis Bird can, going from delicate whispers to explosive cries in a heartbeat, and inciting rousing sing-a-longs or spellbound silences.
Indeed, when she hit a road-block during the writing of Home, she did the only thing she could think of…something that would be precisely un-thinkable to most artists. “I figured a 12 hour free concert would fix all the issues I had,” she chuckles breezily. Bird stepped onto the stage of Berlin’s Auster club at 1.30pm one cold January afternoon and stayed there until the early hours, raising money for refugee charities at the same time. Afterwards she even found the energy to play two encores. “It was terrifying, demanding, but ultimately beautiful…I was okay after that, I learned a lot!” No surprise, then, that the Irish Times wrote that “the sheer visceral energy of Wallis Bird could kick-start an entire economy”.
Now permanently based in Berlin, a city which has fast become a magnet for artists and creatives, Bird’s last album HOME is such a celebration of the love Bird now enjoys with her girlfriend and muse that she not only refers to it as a ‘thank you letter’ but its cover also features the two of them locked in an affectionate embrace.
Wallis Bird will take a break from working on her new album and returns to Australia this November.