Words by Michael Kabasele
Photography by Will Reid
Angus Rogers is a man who contains multitudes. He is a poet, and in his “nauseating debut” Dog Replica describes himself as many things, ranging from “gravedigger” to “masochist” to “bell tower”. He is also the host of the monthly open mic ‘Blue Shout Poetry’, held at The Social in Peckham. He is also a painter, oil-pastel-user, and occasional colouring marker artist. Opus Kink is the music project for which he is best known, but the more humble Painted Bird is the subject of my article.
Painted Bird has been going since 2022, originating in London. I’ve known of it since August that year, and first encountered the Bird at The Windmill, Brixton. I was there to see the other two bands playing that night, not in the mood to hear another person-with-an-acoustic-guitar act— but while getting a bottle of cider at the bar, I heard the phrase “this song is called ‘Silence’, and guess what I fucking expect during it”. Immediately intrigued by the personality captured within that phrase, I watched the remainder of the Painted Bird set while sipping that bottle of cider.
Painted Bird has a few signatures within the perhaps oversaturated person-with-an-acoustic-guitar genre of live music— one of which is that sometimes he plays a piano instead of an acoustic guitar. Another signature is his penchant for lyricism, where his poetry-writing shows through, combined with the gravelly and emotionally loaded vocal delivery. When he throws his flat cap into the equation, the impression is of a world-weary sailor or farmer, telling you his tales of wonder and woe. Since last year, Painted Bird has appeared at venues across London and Brighton: including The George Tavern, The Folklore Rooms, and the aforementioned Windmill. While I was checking over this article with the man himself, he proudly pointed out that he’d also played at Yellow Arch Studios in Sheffield.
In April this year, Angus introduced a full band into his live performances of the songs. Out of interest in how the change of methodology would affect the music, I decided to go along to Sebright Arms on July 27th, where he would headline a gig alongside Frank Lloyd Wleft and Salomé Wu as support. I got to the gig early so I could get a conversation in about performativity in art and how Painted Bird fits into the continuum of Angus’ artistic output. But firstly, I asked him how he feltabout playing the gig— the first time the full band had performed in London, after their debut in Brighton— and he replied that he felt “warm and nervous”. He then smiled, and the smile reminded me of the very big smile often seen in photographs taken by doting parents on their child’s first day of primary school. I almost expected him to have a tooth missing. He adjusted his answer to “warm terror” when I asked him to elaborate.
Angus explained that Painted Bird exists specifically within the context of Opus Kink and the poetry- writing and performance, serving as a medium between the “contortions” of performing live in Opus and the more relaxed (but still carefully crafted and physically performed) poetry readings. He’s very quick to let me know that the full Painted Bird band sounds nothing like Opus Kink. Painted Bird isn’t as manically high in energy and thus is less physically taxing to play live. His approach to the performative aspect is to not take up so much space in the room himself. Instead, Angus wants to let the songs take up “as much space as they require”. One way I’d summarise his thoughts on the project is: the means determine the output. He also says it’s nice to sit down for a second, adding that he’s “always doing backflips'' in Opus.
Splitting off to get a cider from the bar, I then sat down inside to look over my notes (the notes toward the very article you are reading right now). I could tell that Painted Bird had started soundchecking because the floor and tables started shaking ever so slightly, and I could hear the cello cutting through from the basement venue.
Later that night, after a transcendent performance from Salomé Wu and a country-tastic set courtesy of Frank Lloyd Wleft and his Orchestra, the full Painted Bird band took the stage. The band consists of Fin Abbo on drums, Sam Abbo on bass, Olli Fox on electric guitar, Cristina Munoz on cello, and Angus Rogers on acoustic guitar and lead vocals. The first song— Perfect Green Dirge— starts with a low rumble, building for a while before Rogers’ vocals start. I notice the first change apparent in the new set-up of the project: that the music itself had become part of the storytelling element of Painted Bird, creating the atmosphere of slight foreboding before the lyrics expanded that world. During the solo days of Painted Bird, the acoustic guitar had functioned as a vehicle for the lyrics and vocal delivery— there is only a limited amount one man can do with an acoustic guitar while also singing, after all. Now, the instruments are elevated to equal footing with the vocals and lyrics, all elements now essential and inseparable from the Painted Bird songs.
The music seemed more composed, by necessity and by virtue of there being four more people to coordinate with. Painted Bird as a solo venture had an isolated, vulnerable quality— giving me the feeling that I was overhearing a very sad man expel words from his body, or that I was listening in on something I shouldn’t have been. The songs seemed to spontaneously appear, rather than being performed after months of writing and practice. With the full band, the addition of musical elements still preserves the vulnerable quality of the songs, but it conveys isolation more in the sense of feeling isolated among people and among the noise and drama of London The Big City. The music is more measured and you could really picture all of these people in a rehearsal room— worlds apart from the air of spontaneity of the Painted Bird solo set. Really, describing the full band as an “addition” is slightly disingenuous; it’s more like the songs have been adapted into things adjacent and different, rather than just having additional instruments thrown in. The songs mostly remain slow, carefully rhythmic, and mournful— but in a way that is fresh and new.
Angus’ previous comment about the songs taking up as much space as they require (as opposed to his stage presence) was exemplified in Peckham Nocturn. In its current form, it is almost completely instrumental, which wouldn’t have had the same effect in the project’s previous incarnation. It’s more upbeat yet mysterious-sounding. It made me feel like I was in a Parisian café, or like I was an extra in some Knives Out-esque crime thriller. The music itself filled Sebright Arms’ basement, the low ceiling making the bass tones reverberate through the skulls of everyone there. It was really quite fun to be in the crowd, and the band members all looked like they were having just as much fun playing the music.
A recurring part of the Painted Bird set is the call/response segment during Cascando. Usually, the ‘response’ part of the equation doesn’t yield the most enthusiastic response, but the stronger instrumental meant that the atmosphere of the room wasn’t so fragile that it’d be broken by the crowd singing along (which they very much did). Usually, amid the bustle of punters buying drinks and having their own conversations, you would need to concentrate to be able to hear the set properly, and the previously mentioned isolated air around Angus would preclude crowd participation. He would usually have to jokingly bully people into joining in. The elements of atmospheric fragility being negated, I could now hear the slurred singing voices of the drink-slinging attendees. All the sounds overlapped. It reminded me of the many-layered vocals of a sea shanty. After Cascando ended, a man in the crowd shouted “I love you”.
I’ve compared Painted-Bird-the-solo-project to Painted-Bird-the-band throughout this article partially to demonstrate that the two are, in a sense, incomparable. To quote something I wrote earlier: the songs have been adapted into things adjacent and different, rather than just having additional instruments thrown in. Both incarnations of Painted Bird are well worth seeing, and I’dencourage everyone who’s around to go and see the Painted Bird band while it’s in town.
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