(Make Me a) TRISTE© Mixtape Episode 67: Birds In The Brickwork

Birds In The Brickwork

Birds In The Brickwork is the new instrumental project of self taught multi-instrumentalist and producer Benjamin Thomas Holton, who hails from England’s landlocked Staffordshire. Benjamin is a founding member with Rob Glover of the magnificent epic45, which, in the last two decades, released a series of widely celebrated EPs and albums, inspired by their surroundings and the ever-changing English landscape. He is also the mastermind behind the dream-pop and folk project My Autumn Empire, which released six records (five on his own label Wayside & Woodland and one for Sound In Silence) from 2010 to 2018. Ben has previously worked with July Skies, Bibio, Stephen Jones (Babybird), Hood and Ian Crause (Disco Inferno). As well as playing live with Mick Turner (Dirty Three), The Fauns and Riley Walker. Birds In The Brickwork, his latest solo project, focuses on the idea, which was central to the epic45 concept and poetics, of nature and the inescapable man-made landscape in further ways, via the medium of music and photography. In Novembre 2021 the first Bird In The Brickworks’ project, Twelve Months was out: a collection of twelve tracks, one for each month of the year, to accompany a calendar from Ben Holton’s photography.
Recovery, an album and collection of photographs that document the beginning of the recovery process following a severe back problem, is out now on Wayside & Woodland.

What Ben says: “Birds In the Brickwork began life when I first had to leave work due to back problems. I couldn’t actually play a lot of guitar or do anything at all but I was able to build up a collection of loops and sketches that, as my back eased up, I was able to develop into full pieces. As well as this, I began to document the short walks I was eventually able to undertake over those first few weeks. Gradually venturing out further from the suburbs, to edgelands and in-between places and eventually to the open countryside. The project gained a title and overall concept when I discovered the existence of a family of Starlings nesting in the outer wall of our bathroom. This symbolised to me the way that nature can find a way of continuing no matter how the circumstances around them change. It gave me hope. Birds In the Brickwork now feels like a vehicle to express this idea of nature and the inescapable man-made landscape in further ways, via the medium of music and photography. In many ways, it represents the fulcrum of what I have explored with epic45, My Autumn Empire and others over the last few years.

His Mixtape: “As my latest project, Birds In The Brickwork, both with the Twelve Months calendar album and the upcoming book and CD ‘Recovery’, concentrates on guitar based instrumentals, I thought I’d put together a small mixtape of music made by guitarists who have inspired me along the way. Some old, some new.

Anthony Phillips –  Sunset Riverbank

I discovered Anthony Phillips (founder member of Genesis) a few years back when my friend Antony Harding was driving us back from a July Skies rehearsal. We’d pulled up at the traffic lights opposite the neon lit University building in Wolverhampton, whilst an Anthony Phillips track was playing. The crystalline chimes of his guitar synced perfectly with the glowing multicolored lights adorning the highrise. From that moment on, I dug deep into Phillips’ vast back catalogue. This track is from the last album he released ‘Strings of Light’ and I love it. I feel he’s a kindred spirit of sorts and we share a certain approach at times I think. This piece transports me to a long lost Summer, a dusty riverbank reached via a walk through a tree shaded path. A Summer to which you can never return.

July Skies – The Map That Came to Life

Ever since hearing July Skies for the first time back in the late 90s, I’ve been in love. Ant sent me a copy of his first EP and from then on we’ve been firm friends, regularly contributing to each others music and sharing our obscure interests. One of the most enjoyable and rewarding things in my life is playing in the July Skies live band. There’s no way I could deny that July Skies have been a massive influence and my style has definitely been strongly informed by working with Antony. I could pick many but this is a particular favourite.

Michael Cashmore – Sleep England

A fairly recent discovery for me. I know he’s part of Current 93 which I’m not particularly familiar with but this record seems to stand alone in his career. The album is really nice but this track stands out to me, being a slightly more fleshed out and layered piece. Recorded not far from me in Birmingham too apparently. It’s the chimes that speak to me.

China Crisis – Performing Seals

This name may look puzzling to some people casually glancing at this list but what some people may not realise is that China Crisis, as well as being a great soulful and socially conscious ‘new pop’ act of the 80s, had an almost double life as an experimental ambient project. This track is a beautiful, mysterious and chiming (there’s that word again) guitar and drum machine piece, highlighting the gorgeous touch they have.

Durutti Column – The Room

This may seem an obvious choice but, in truth, I don’t count Vini as that greater influence but he’s no doubt a spiritual forebear. I do enjoy exploring his stuff though and I particularly love his smaller ‘sketches’. Rather perversely, one of my favourite tracks of his doesn’t feature guitar at all, but keyboard. This song transports me somewhere in the hazy past. Of frosted glass panels in childhood front rooms, faux wood panelling and hessian wallpaper. It’s melancholia glistens in a way that touches my heart so directly.

Papa M/Dave PajoHand In Hand

A truly massive inspiration and formative influence on me, initially with the first Aerial M album (As Performed by…) and on further exploration of his work with Slint and the various ‘M’ monikers. His use of space and the way he chooses which notes to resonate with each other truly opened my mind to what can be achieved with the guitar. Again, somewhat ridiculously, I am choosing a non-guitar piece by him. Firstly because I think it’s truly beautiful how you can totally hear that it’s Pajo playing the piano, his ear for melody and structure is such that it could be no one else. Secondly, I feel not enough people have listened to this collection of tunes!

Roy Montgomery – Soundcheck (For Adrian Borland)

Roy Montgomery is someone who I’ve been aware of for many years but just not got around to checking out. This is from a recent release of his and, on listening to this track especially, I was very much blown away. The great thing is he has a massive back catalogue to explore so I’m looking forward to that.

Recovery is out now on Wayside & Woodland. Look HERE for more information on Birds In The Brickwork. 



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