Ian Smith • vocals
Billy Cowie • keyboards 
Simon Lewis • drums
Rob Hayes • guitar
Ian Porter • bass

Formed in 1980 when the five members were all students at the Art College and Sussex University, they developed a post-punk funk sound around a tight rhythm section: Smith’s sneering, theatrical vocals and music teacher Billy Cowie’s imaginative keyboard arrangements. 

With influences from afar as Viv Stanshall, 60’s west coast r & b and poltico-dance bands like the Gang Of Four and Pigbag, Birds With Ears originally had two vocalists, one of them a female. She was Laurie Morris, who left the band in late 1980.

Around the time their bizarre ‘Head In My Bag’ was included on the final Attrix compilation album Vaultage 80. When the Chefs hot-footed it up to the big smoke in the new year of 1981, Attrix Records saw Birds With Ears as their salvation and risked all by funding an entire album, which was full of songs about cannibalism, grave-robbing, decapitation and, er, Danny Kaye.

Popular live, the band played to packed houses in Brighton and London with an outrageous show featuring Ian Smith decked out in a bird-shit spattered tux, strobe lights and amazing sound effects. But sadly John Peel didn’t dig the album, and although an unreleased single was recorded, Attrix couldn’t afford to issue it. The album, ‘Youthinasia’, didn’t sell – although it has now become a cult item.

Preview or download a lively piece by Stewy on the BWE October 2008 re-mastering sessions

Read a 1980 interview with the band in Voltage fanzine as downloadable pdf. Voltage was formerly known as Situation Butane, compiled by the Atrrix shop team of Stuart and Shaun Jones and Robin Banks. Interview conducted by Trish Franklyn.

Ian Smith RIP - August 2014
Born: January 2, 1959; Died: August 1, 2014
Stuart Jones reflects on the death of the BWE front man. Also read his obituary here
Read his career details here
Read Our Mail for more tributes

Ian Smith | 6 Feb 2011
R.I.P. Simon Lewis, BWE original (and only human) drummer, who Rob Hayes in Thailand, via Ian Porter in Brighton, told us today had popped his clogs due to serious illness, which is a very bad shocker and deeply felt. A very funny obstinate and obtuse and utterly charming skin basher with camel lashes and a wry Chester take on everything. Best thing I can think of to salute him is the track Wonky Bonks on Youth in Asia, where he batters merry hell out of the skins in the closest number we ever got to a 'Killing Joke' stylee. Ta ta 'La'...pleasure playing and rehearsing with you....in the musty rancour of a Hoogstraten basement ... happy days...

Daniel Rubinstein | 4 Nov 2011

So sorry just yesterday to hear of Simons death...after BWE he was a stalwart drummer for our band Christians in Search of Filth (punk-funk anyone?) including appearing on our John Peel Session broadcast August 1982. Simon was so approachable, easy-going and affable, but knew exactly the sounds and textures he wanted and the music he liked (ie the Simon Lewis Project, with his samba beat underpinning all - I still have the cassette). I hadn`t seen him now for some 15 years but knowing the guy he was, he will be much missed by those around him these days. 

back to top

Birds With Ears early posts

Ian Smith | March 2007
Just a note to say how chuffed I am to be included on the new improved website - I was wondering why I had been getting a few very nice e-mails from giggers who remember Birds With Ears and are now investigating the nonsense done since then - must be something to do with your site.

Also - you've got a downloadable track of ours (Fit to Burst) that I haven't even got myself, so I'm well happy. God knows where you lifted the portrait painting from, I don't remember that being 'out there' - someone's done their research!

Anyway, the site is fantastic, absolutely brilliant, and please send regards to Stuart, whose memoirs are a great read. What with the Zap Club shortly producing a memoir book of 25 years, I hope my contribution saluting the Tuesday Night Veterans gets in, because the punky spirit was certainly upheld by the likes of Captain Stupid (sic) and Gary Hawke through their regular raving platform spots during the eighties.

We're all history, baby! Warmest regards to all the survivors. Anyone wanting to check out current nonsense can explore www.mischieflabas.co.uk which apart from anything else, might encourage 'youngsters' to have faith in the fact you don't have to get 'a proper job' - or fall for the audition pop idol crap system - just form a band, dance company, circus whatever and get on with it. Make mischief. Ian Smith

Gareth Simmons | July 2008
Inspired by finding your website I dug them out from my photo album last night poor quality crappy cameras in those days! Feel free to use them on your website. Here they are taken in Toby's Night Club, Folkestone 5th March 1982. Regards, Gareth

Gareth Simmons | July 2008
Hey, very nice to see this site. I saw BWE a couple of times at Canterbury Art College when I was a young 15 year old roadie for the PA company that did the sound there. I had been thinking about where my Youth in Asia LP had got to, it's probably in the loft! So very pleased to see the downloads and listen again to those tracks of my youth. Ian mentions in the interview about Fit to Burst as a download - where do I find that please? I Remember hearing that track played very well. Regards, Gareth

Rob Hayes | April 2008
Demo recordings were probably done at the music deptartment at Falmer (Sussex Uni) with Billy Cowie. I certainly wouldn't remember dates really. It may be more likely that some of the demos were done on Billy's portastudio. He did those on his own, or just with Ian Smith. That was their way of presenting songs to the band; pretty much all sorted out as a basic track with drum machine, keyboards  and vocals.

At a rehearsal we'd add our parts to it and arrange it between ourselves. If it was a song that I had a hand in creating it was done in a very different way. Danny Kaye came about from the opening guitar riff; from me and Simon Lewis (drums) jamming together and saying, "oh that sounds good, let's do something with it".

Ian Smith wrote lyrics which were amazing, Ian Porter came up with that bassline for the 'inch worm, inch worm' section, and the whole thing gelled into what was my favourite song to play live, certainly. But it truly was a nice piece of collaboration. Love Rob

back to top

This site is dedicated to the memory of Rick Blair
The Punk History of Brighton © punkdaddy 2000-2015 • All Rights Reserved