Exclusive chat! Dave Hemingway of Sunbirds, former co-founder of The Beautiful South and The Housemartins

The man who once told us he loved us from the bottom of his pencil case, founder Beautiful South member Dave Hemingway returns with his new band Sunbirds announcing their dates for 2023. Although born and bred in England, the band’s sound predominantly features instrumentation of traditional Americana roots music combined with the occasional outburst of guitar heavy melody more associated with Seattle in the late 80’s/early 90’s.

sunbirds Band members Marc Parnell, Laura Wilcockson, Dave Hemingway and Phil Barton

Band members – left to right:  Marc Parnell, Laura Wilcockson, Dave Hemingway and Phil Barton

Having retired from the live scene at the back end of 2016, Dave has been keeping busy together with erstwhile South colleague, guitarist/songwriter Phil Barton, new discovery singer/violinist Laura Wilcockson and drummer Marc Parnell. Sunbirds’ debut album produced by cult producer Teo Miller, captures truthful, open-hearted, funny and sometimes painfully honest songs, turning the page to a new chapter for Dave Hemingway and The Beautiful South story. 

Fast forward to 2022 and Sunbirds’ new line-up released a brand-new single ‘Every Road’, a vintage sounding feel-good West Coast inspired gem. It features Eagles and Fleetwood Mac inspired guitar licks from Chris alongside the polished production of studio legend Steve Levine.   However, it’s not quite all straight-forward Country Rock as you’d expect, as in places songwriter Phil’s love of Nirvana leads him away from the chord progressions of well-worn Country roads onto the trickier, darker more twisting roads of Alternative Rock.

Enjoy this authentic chat with Dave!  

MC: You’ve had a successful career with The Beautiful South and The Housemartins. The old songs of The Beautiful South are so evergreen and well known that there is no time in my lifetime when I haven’t played one of your songs. What inspired you to start Sunbirds and how does the band differ from your previous projects? Sunbirds’ songs belong to a  completely new genre a blend between Americana and a contemporary fusion. 

sunbirds and beautiful south singer dave hemingway

DH: Although a lot of the songs have an Americana feel, they’re still about life in England. You’re going to feel a bit daft singing about pick-up trucks and low-down honky-tonks when you live in Yorkshire. As to the motivation to start a band like Sunbirds, 

after so many years of playing The Beautiful South music, as amazing as that was, I got a bit tired. I stopped for a couple of years, then we started making our music again without any financial backing. I am proud of how it evolved. We Sunbirds are new and are still finding our direction. We are still ‘young’ as a band and our music is evolving. The songs we are playing at the moment are a little bit different from the first album. We are looking forward to gigging up and down the country to see how our new music will be received. 

MC: Your debut album and single “Cool To Be Kind” is filled with positive messages. I remember when it was released in November 2020 during the pandemic. It has a strong message of empathy and understanding towards others. Can you talk about the inspiration behind the song and the importance of spreading positivity through music?

DH: ‘Cool To Be Kind’ is the result of a few transitional years in our individual personal worlds. It tells tales that cover contemporary themes as well as age-old matters of the heart and soul – all viewed through the bottom of a recently drained pint glass.  

We released “Cool To Be Kind” via our independent label Nectar Records to mark the arrival of Sunbirds with new songs and a new sound. 

The idea behind “Cool To Be Kind was to have an album that would help us forget the pandemic. There’s enough negativity in the world at the moment so we wanted to spread some positive messages out there. We wanted to carry on the tradition of spreading positivity through our music.

Band members – left to right:  Marc Parnell, Laura Wilcockson, Dave Hemingway and Phil Barton

 

MC: As a musician, how do you think your art can contribute to raising awareness for social issues and dilemmas? Are there any particular causes that you feel strongly about and have tried to highlight through your music?

DH: Yes, of course you can get political messages through music as well, but you’ve got to do it in a certain way, through lyrics  as long as you are not preaching to people … There’s plenty of problems I do not agree with at the moment so I get some messages across in my songs. 

MC: Is there any particular song that is more political?

DH: We are currently recoding new songs with political messages. 

As the Sunbirds we’re now free to dig a little deeper into ourselves. Having said that, there’s no exact science here. We’re just enjoying ourselves and expressing whatever we want whether it’s about love, longing, depression or Gary Lineker’s crisp adverts.

MC: Throughout history, rock music has been associated with rebellion and counterculture. Do you think this still holds true today, and what role do you believe rock rebels play in society?

DH: I think it can. Historically bands until the 90s have done that proving that you can change things for the better. Even The Beautiful South have political songs such as Poppy about the war, Will deal with you later also about politics. We are all very left wings, politically. Nowadays bands are not very political anymore. They want to be pop stars without saying anything that meaningful. 

 

MC: Looking back on your career, what are some of your proudest moments or accomplishments as a musician? 

DH: When you get into a successful band like The Housemartins or The Beautiful South you get to do big things including going on Top of the Pops – which I used to watch since I was a child- or playing big gigs on the main stage to Glastonbury with REM in 1999. It was a really proud moment! We had a number one single A little time in 1990. Back in those days it was a big achievement. Today, I would not know what qualifies a number one hit, to be honest! 

Before, people had to go out and buy physical records where you would find the sheets with the lyrics. It was a real occasion! It was better in my opinion. Now I think it’s probably the number of streamings online that count. 

MC: Vinyl is coming back. 

DH: We got our hearts out there in the songs. Becoming famous and successful wasn’t the main thing. It was just about writing the songs. 

 

MC: How has the music industry changed since you first started, and what challenges do you think musicians face today compared to when you were starting out?

DH: The music industry and record companies have always been greedy. They used artists for their own ends. Record companies seemed to rule the roost. These days, I find it hard to see how songwriters and up and coming bands get any money at all. If you want to have a career in music today, you need to make a living from it. It’s much harder now unless, of course, you are in one of those mega bands who make lots of money. Grassroots bands cannot do that.

Nowadays, if you want to survive in the music business you have to do a lot of gigging, because records don’t really pay any more. 

Personally, I prefer being in the studio recording music other than gigging. I am shy, not a front man. But we have to play gigs. That has never changed for me. 

Seeing people’s reaction at concerts is really important, especially now. For Sunbirds’ music, in particular, people are often hearing the songs for the very first time, so it’s great feedback for us. 

 

MC: Can you give us a sneak peek into what you have planned for Sunbirds in the future? Any upcoming tours or releases we should be looking out for? 

Band members – left to right:  Marc Parnell, Laura Wilcockson, Dave Hemingway and Phil Barton

DH: We are still finding our feet. The new songs are different from the first album. If we can afford to continue making music, songs and records, then we’ll keep going the best we can. It would be nice if we could get some sort of backing, because every time we have to go into a recording studio we have to pay for ourselves, which is not an easy thing. For me, personally, a dream would be to be in the studio all the time making new songs. And then going out and play the gigs on the back of that. At the moment it’s the other way round. We play the new songs during the gigs, then we have to go into the studio and record the album. It’s a different approach. We do a live version than an album version later. We are a fresh new band and we are still finding our ground. I hope there’s room in the market for our music. 

While in The Beautiful South, Paul and Dave were the songwriters and did  most of the work, with Sunbirds it is more a collaboration between all of us. That’s how we work now. It’s part of growing up as musicians. A more mature way of making music. 

 

MC: Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians who are just starting out in the industry? 

DH: Go out and enjoy playing your music and people will get on board too! 

 

MC: Lastly, what message would you like to send to your fans, and what do you hope they take away from your music?

DH: Take positive vibes from our music. If they can do that, we would be happy! 

 

Debut album 

Sunbirds ‘Cool To Be Kind’ debut album is out now available on Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Amazon UK & Music, all HMV stores and via the band’s website.

 

New single 

‘Every Road’ is out now available on all digital platforms and also available via the band’s website www.sunbirds.co.uk.

 

Sunbirds – 2023 UK Dates include: 

Saturday 25 March           FOLKESTONE – Chambers

Friday 31 March               HERTFORD – Corn Exchange 

Saturday 1 April               LEEDS – The Old Woollen

Friday 14 April                 SHREWSBURY – The Buttermarket 

Saturday 15th April           MANCHESTER – Lion’s Den

Sunday 16 April               CHESTER – Alexander’s Live

Friday 21 April                 LANCASTER – Grand Theatre

Saturday 22 April             BARNOLDSWICK – Music & Arts Centre

Sunday 30 April               SELBY FESTIVAL 2023, Selby Football Ground

Friday 5 May                   GRIMSBY – Dock’s Academy

Saturday 6 May               MILTON KEYNES – MK11

Sunday 7 May                 ST ALBANS – The Horn

Thursday 31 August          CARLISLE – Old Fire Station

Saturday 2 September      SETTLE – Victoria Hall

Friday 20 October            WORTHING – The Factory 

Sunday 22 October           CHIPPENHAM – Neeld Arts Centre 

Monday 23 October          GUILDFORD – Boileroom

Saturday 11 November      BEDFORD – Esquires

 

Tickets are available from  https://sunbirds.co.uk/

   

Sunbirds are:

Dave Hemingway – Vocals

Phil Barton – Guitar

Laura Wilcockson – Vocals & Violin

Marc Parnell – Drums

Chris Offen – Guitar & Keyboards

Jerry Jobson – Bass

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