Larking around with some very liberated Essex ladies
TO Colchester’s New Town area, in order to attend a mid-rehearsal lunch with four of the five members of singing group, Lady Bird and the Larks. I ask the Larks who lunch about their unusual music.
“We’re serious about what we’re doing, but we like a laugh as well – we approach it all with humour – but we are serious about how hard we work at it.”
There is humour in their repertoire and yet they’re not a comedy act.
It is very difficult to attempt to classify the type of music which Lady Bird and the Larks perform.
Essentially, they are a five-piece female singing group whose harmonies and arrangements frame the witty, sometimes acerbic songs of their founder, musician, Sally Theobald.
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The singing is usually accompanied only by Ms Theobald’s acoustic guitar.
It is easier, in fact, to say what this ensemble are not, rather than what they are.
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They’re not Victoria Wood for instance, although they occasionally mine a similarly domestic seam of humour.
They’re not a straight cabaret act, like say, Fascinating Aida. “Well, you’re not Atomic Kitten, either,” I say to them.
“Atomic Mutton” counters Jeanette, their contralto. The whole dining table rattles with uproarious laughter. “Don’t print, that!” shouts Sally Theobald. But I most certainly will print it. People such as myself will wait all morning for gems like this.
It didn’t look good on paper. A year or so ago, Jeanette Lynes who I’d first met when she was a comedy actress on a local film shoot, told me that she’d joined a singing group called Lady Bird and the Larks.
At first I imagined a slightly parlourish vocal quintet – the sort of thing which can happen when amateur thesps decide to get together to raise money for distressed badgers, or something similar. I was well wide of the mark, as it happens.
Lady Bird and the Larks have the capacity to bring a manly flutter to more leathery old hearts than my own.
They could probably charm the stout hessian undercrackers off a Cromwellian witchfinder.
Old rockers who see them end up inviting the Larks onto the bill as special guests.
Neil Innes of Bonzo Dog and Monty Python fame, for instance, booked them for a four-week residency, which he played in Ipswich last autumn. They ended up on stage with him, singing back-up vocals on old Rutles songs.
Yes, they do have charm. Underlying this charm, however, is a certain steeliness.
Bird-in-chief, Sally, their songwriter, is, at present the only professional musician among them. She has the glint of experience in her eye as she recounts her own hard-won transition from semi-pro to pro.
“That’s the classic dilemma for every musician, isn’t it? From when I used to write a song and think, ‘I should be getting on with something else’ to ‘This is my job now and I’m allowed to.’ It feels fantastic. I’m liberated!”
She recounts a tale from tough earlier days, when she’d attended an open mic night in a pub and nobody asked her to get up and sing because they’d all assumed that she was carrying the guitar case for a boyfriend.
At this, there are groans of recognition from around the dining table.
The Larks who lunch have lively other lives. Two of them, Lorraine Francis and Jenny Allenby are accountants. Jeanette manages an office and Alison Benz is a singing teacher.
There are children and families in the equation too.
How do they manage? The same as men would do, one supposes – possibly a little better, since women are alleged to be the multi-taskers.
Whilst I don’t wholly subscribe to this idea, the Larks did complete a fearsome number of gigs last year.
Work begets work, as we say, and so, at first, they played all the usual weddings-parties-anythings in order to get themselves known.
A man might have been prompted to ask. “Ladies, is this wise?” This man, however, was more inclined to keep his trap shut, lest the Larks tore his head off, kicked it up the road and sang “Goal!” in close five-part harmony.
Sally Theobald has written new songs, which she and the other Larks are currently rehearsing.
They’ve made one live recording and are now in the process of making a studio EP. They have shows coming up at Slackspace in Colchester on February 26 and at The Bull on March 11.
At present, however, they have no high profile record to plug. There is no record company or management publicity-machine fuelling this article, nor is the writer romantically linked with any member of the combo.
This is not a promotion window – in fact, I had to persuade the women to let me write about them. Even then, there first had to be a democratic discussion among them.
Lady Bird and the Larks don’t sound like anyone else and yet, so far, everybody who sees and hears them seems to like them – myself included.
There is any number of over-hyped young indie bands, who’d like to know how to do that trick.
Lady Bird and the Larks are five ordinary Essex women who are doing something a bit extraordinary.
It’s something of their own, something which could be done with or without amplification, either on a festival stage or in a living room.
Finally, I ask them who they think their audience are. “Everyone,” they agree.
I say thanks and leave them to get on with their rehearsal. What larks.
Lady Bird and The Larks headline Colchester Headgate Theatre on Friday April 15.