INTERVIEW: Amateur Ornithologist | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Appropriately, when Daniel Clifford joins Zoom for our chat about his new music project and upcoming album Birdwatching, he mentions he’s currently staring at some birds flying past his window. It’s apparent his new moniker of Amateur Ornithologist is one he’s fully embracing.

Daniel found himself living back in his homeland of the North East at the start of the first lockdown, after spending several years working around the country. While due to the pandemic he may have been back physically closer to his family and friends, he was unable to feel part of the normality of home due to his isolation.

So, as many of us did under government instruction, he turned to walking to combat lockdown worries and found solace in nature and birdsong. “Despite the fear and anxiety, whenever I was going on my daily walk and looking up at the birds, seeing magpies dancing in the fields, it was that stuff that made me happy.”

While many people set themselves things to learn that never materialised beyond binge-watching most of Netflix, Daniel actually acted on his goals: “I felt I had to teach myself to do something, and what I decided was to teach myself how to properly write music.” After a lifetime of loving music, collaborating on projects at local institutions like The Customs House and working with former bandmate Martin Trollope, now better known as producer Harbourmaster, this hobby to stave off boredom soon developed into a fully fledged musical project.

Despite the fear and anxiety, whenever I was going on my daily walk and looking up at the birds, seeing magpies dancing in the fields, it was that stuff that made me happy

I sat trying to write songs while at a desk looking over a telephone wire that birds sat on, listening to birds which nested in the eaves of the house; I never stopped hearing them.” With Harbourmaster’s help, and through a combination of remote studio recording and socially distanced sessions at his studio, before the end of 2020 the music began to take shape.

Fittingly enough, the album itself is bookended with birdsong, from the opening sounds of seagulls on South Shields beach on lead single and summery pop album opener Birds Fly Over Me, to birds recorded on one of his walks on closing track A Labyrinth. While there are moments on the record which confront “feeling lost and directionless in your mid-30s when you’ve lost your direction”, Daniel recognises the positives too, and there’s a feeling of hope which runs through the release. Elsewhere on the album, The Bigger Picture explores having fun while staying in, even in enforced isolation: “it was inspired by the question of how are people going to get through it all”, he reveals. While second single, The Murmuration, shakes things up as a certifiable indie pop bop.

Another commonality of lockdown was the act of reaching out to those names in their contact lists who they’d lost touch with, and this proved to be another step in crafting this project. From working with former college friend Lee Morris, who provides the album’s brass parts. to enlisting South Shields-based artist CocoSoShi (aka Kylie Ann Ford, who is another previous bandmate of Daniel’s) to provide his new logo and single cover designs.

Throughout Birdwatching Daniel charts a journey through a year lost to lockdown; acknowledging its universal difficulties that still remain, but with some soaring glimpses of hope set to indie floor-fillers. Plus, with more recording on the horizon and aspirations to get a post-lockdown band ready to perform live, it’s clear that Amateur Ornithologist has just taken flight.

Amateur Ornithologist releases Birdwatching on 16th June


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