Regularly feted by the likes of the progressive music fraternity, Ms Amy Birks has released two albums of superbly crafted music over the last couple of years. The sophistication of her All That I Am & All That I Was is one of those records that fits the classic debut album bill. Proof that to prove that it was no flash in the pan, the Summer of 2021 saw her share writing credits with the Bronte sisters on her In Our Souls album; another striking piece of work.
Amy joins us at the barrier in a slight tweak to the usual Why I Love format, to share the way in which she finds inspiration from the legacy of Charlotte, Anne and Emily Brontë.
I get it, like my own music, the Brontë’s work is not for everyone, it is brutally honest and sometimes difficult to stomach, yet I believe that it is their conviction, their natural leanings towards questioning the norm, and peering into the human soul and dissecting it so poetically that draws me to their work, time and time again.
As a young girl I was taken to the Brontë parsonage and have visited several times since. With each experience, feeling a little more connected to them. You cannot help but be moved by seeing the somewhat stark rooms to which their imaginations ran wild, the petite frocks of Charlotte; a tiny frame to hold such a strong character, and of course, her miniatures. Such extremes on show and ones not too dissimilar to myself. After receiving a homemade dolls house at the age of around 10 from my dad, I have long since been a collector of miniatures. It is now the proud owner of a replica Minton dinner service (I’m also from Stoke-on-Trent, so it was a given that my dolls house would only house the finest porcelain!) and dovetailed dressers of course (I’m an antique fiend!). Having attended art school, I also tried my hand at miniature, and above the fireplace now hangs a miniature portrait of Emily.
Another comparison that I sometimes take comfort in is their relationship with their elder brother, Branwell. I too, know the pain that can be caused by siblings, and the complications that self-pressure, self-doubt, and fear can do. It can be heart breaking and infuriating, but it can also channel the mind and implore you to dig that bit deeper to try and understand different points of view and reactions to situations and opinions, to look at yourself and to forgive those who trespass against you, and, to forgive and be kind to yourself.
Jane Eyre is my go-to novel. I have loved this book for many years and find it incredibly romantic, painful, exhilarating, and, like all the Brontë works, incredibly insightful.
“I ask you to pass through life at my side — to be my second self and best earthly companion.” Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre.
‘Because, my dear, beauty is that quality which, next to money, is generally the most attractive to the worst kinds of men.’ Anne Brontë – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
And, to build on the above quotes, Wuthering Heights would surely show any reader, in my opinion, the ugliest tendency of the human condition: Control, and the need to possess another’s time and what should be done with it. Yes, Brontës in all schools for me. I remember being taught Jane Austen. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am also a huge fan of Austen, and her ability to mock and laugh at the absurdity in high society and wealth is quite beautiful. However, as an early high school pupil it was lost on me. I saw it as purely romantic, and my head was filled with finding me a Mr Darcy! It was not until I hit my later teens and twenties that I could appreciate her wit, her extreme intelligence and empathy behind her novels. For many, surely, the stronger messages of the Brontes would be understood sooner and have more impact.
The self-respect that these three women seemed to possess should be taught in every school. I doubt the controlling behaviour and abuse that you see all around wouldn’t have half the chance if more people read the Brontës, but then again, Instagram wouldn’t be too happy, but hey, surely, we’d have plenty more healthier minds.
Here’s In Our Souls that sees the words of Charlotte Brontë’s poem, Evening Solace to music:
So, considering all my thoughts above, it was only a matter of time before I put my skills as a songwriter, composer and vocalist into a pot and gave it a good old stir with that of the words of the Brontës. I thought about a concept album for Jane Eyre, but I already draw comparisons to Kate Bush, and so it seemed a little too close for comfort. However, when I started to read more of the poetry of the Bronte’s, it was in their natural rhythms that I found melodies and the personalities of the sisters themselves, as opposed to a character in a book.
As a writer of songs this seemed like more of a natural collaboration, so I set about finding three poems that sounded like the sisters as I imagined them to be, and three poems that instantly struck me. Those being, ‘Evening Solace’ by Charlotte, ‘Dreams’ by Anne and ‘A Death Scene’ by Emily. The solitary moments I had with those words and building melodies around them have been real highlights in my career. Letting my imagination run wild, conjuring sounds akin to their characters… I love to perform, I love to sing, but it is in the quiet, thinking hours, where I find the most magical of moments; The beauty of creating something that did not exist before. No one can take that away from you.
Our thanks to Amy for an enlightening piece and maybe we’ll cross paths in Haworth or on the moors someday.
The Brontë Society can be found online here
You can read more from our extensive archive of Why I Love pieces from a wide array of artists on an even wider array of subjects, here.