John Lennon once said “a dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality”. Although the former Beatle wouldn’t have known it, his throwaway aphorism perfectly sums up the long and winding road taken by folk-rock tunesmiths King Of Birds, or more specifically their co-writers and principal players, brothers Charlie and Stirling Gorman.

Currently riding high on the critical acclaim of their debut album Eve of Destruction, the group are rooted firmly in the Americana genre both in sound and image, indeed the siblings’ stage look – waistcoats, white shirts and hats – evokes The Band circa 1969.

However, their music, while serving up sounds of the heartlands, is unique to them, with occasional knowing winks to their musical heroes – the Fab Four, Dylan and Young – along the way. Although themes of loneliness, a world gone wrong, bereavement and loss of connection may at first glance suggest a gloomy set, the record swirls together in a surprisingly upbeat and ultimately uplifting mix that blends rock, country and balladry.

Reviewed in glowing terms in this paper before their sell-out album launch in Stereo, Glasgow, in September such high praise appears to be universal, while they are certainly causing a stir in Glasgow’s live music scene. Veteran music journalist Billy Sloan describes them as simply “fantastic”, while adding their album is one of the best of 2019. Ricky Ross has featured them in a live session on his BBC Radio Scotland show Another Country.

Gritty voiced frontman and guitarist Charlie and his younger brother Stirling (lead guitarist and harmonica) are driven by their love of their art and belief in the songs, a meeting of the minds that translates well on record, and a bond that carries over into everyday life. The Gallaghers they are not – mutual respect for each other’s talent is acknowledged in spades.

However, the affable Charlie – a remarkably youthful-looking 55 – explains it could all have been very different as he recounts how they came within touching distance of success a quarter of a century ago. The memories are clearly etched in his mind, but any bitterness, if any existed at all, has long since dissipated.

Their story begins in the Renfrewshire village of Elderslie, a close-knit community famed as the birthplace of William Wallace – a place distant enough from its neighbouring city (13 miles from Glasgow) to perhaps instil the same sense of separation experienced by those living in small-town America. Growing up in a one-bedroom flat in the 70s, Charlie recalls: “I remember lying in bed, I don’t know what age I would be, hearing Hey Jude blasting out.” Indeed the impact of The Beatles during those formative years continues to make “life worth living” he adds.

Then in 1993, they got their break, or so they thought. Playing as part of the four-piece Murmur – along with drummer Stuart Brown, also from Elderslie, and bass guitarist Steven Crawford, from nearby Paisley – fate took an unexpected twist.

Charlie explains: “We were doing a gig in [Glasgow’s] Nice and Sleazy and a girl at the end came up and said I’m from A&M Records in America and I’d really like you to sign with us. We thought she was pulling our leg. She had missed her flight home and she was stuck in Glasgow for the night and happened to come in and see us. So she came back about a month later with her boss, a guy called David Anderle. They came over and saw the band again and we got a deal.”

Talent manager Anderle, who had previously worked with acts such as the Beach Boys, Frank Zappa and The Doors, had the clout and the connections to make things happen and soon enough, along with their manager, the former Silencers drummer Martin Hanlin, the five of them were jetting off across the Pond to spend four months in Austin, Texas to record their would-be breakthrough album Derailer. Says Charlie: “They got us an apartment, a car, basically . . . it was fantastic.”

Sadly the album’s moniker took on a rather more literal meaning as their fairytale trip to the big time came crashing off the tracks. Charlie recalls: “We did it, in my mind, maybe a bit quick. The demos we did in Glasgow were better than what we did in Austin, because we spent a lot of time there in Glasgow. A&M Records heard the rough demos we had done. They said we don’t think we’re going to pick this up, we just don’t think it’s there. And of course we were totally devastated.”

Despite the crushing setback, a saviour came in the form of music giants Warner Brothers who took on the album where A&M left off, signing them to subsidiary Mesa Blue Moon. “So the deal was that if we got a tour with a major band they would put the album out here and they would promote it. If we couldn’t get a major tour they would just put the album out but they wouldn’t back it, promote it. Because obviously there’s a lot of money involved.”

Album review

However the band never received the promotional backing for the album they expected, despite securing a UK tour with one of the biggest bands at the time, Simple Minds, and playing T in the Park. A gig played at Negociants in Edinburgh to an empty room on the same day as the Derailer album’s release in America seemed to sum up the futility of the situation.

Stirling explains: “We started playing to nobody, apart from the barman. Two, three songs in, no-one had come in.” Charlie adds: “Then the barman goes upstairs. . . It wasn’t the best night of our lives. I remember driving home.” “Depressing”, sighs Stirling.

The band staggered on a few more years before finally unplugging their amps for good in 1999 as lacklustre sales, “creative differences” and family commitments took their toll. The option for a second album was never picked up.

With their career now resembling the dustbowl Texan landscape they had left behind, Charlie wound up working in music therapy at hospitals and care homes, while also doing occasional solo gigs across the country. Stirling, meanwhile, kept his hand in as a session player, before taking a job with an airline.

However by 2014 the creative juices that had been sidelined for so long were flowing into a raging torrent. Fortunately, changes in their working lives meant the brothers were able to find time to write songs again and pick up from where they left off, but this time with a very different approach.

Charlie explains: “The idea was, why don’t we write songs for other people. To try and sell them on. So we got a publisher involved. We’d got a few musicians in to record some of these songs, recorded them in a studio out in Bridgeton called 45 A-Side. Recorded the demos and they did sound really good and these are the songs that are on the track

“We didn’t really see ourselves as being in a band or anything like that. We did the songs in three batches. We got a lot of really good feedback – people saying they’re strong songs. Probably the best way to market them is to do them yourself.”

So having pulled together the talents of friends and professionals, the brothers put their years in the wilderness behind them and embarked on a new adventure, but this time on their own terms. With the core of Alan McEwan (drums); Davie Holland (pedal Steel); Stuart McInnes and Gerry McDermott (bass); Andy Lucas (piano) and Cori Cola (violin), King of Birds took flight. The name, borrowed from a track on REM’s Document album, also relates to a native American parable (similar in essence to our tortoise and the hare allegory) and resonates with the brothers’ own circuitous journey.

Key contributions from sound effects expert Paul McInally, who mixed, and Frank Arkwright at Abbey Roads in London, who mastered, took the record to another level. Recalling their trip to the creative centre of the Beatles universe, Charlie, who became a father for the first time only days earlier, adds: “I had a wee boy on Monday. . . that is the best day of my life, but Abbey Road is maybe second or third.”

Describing the internal workings of the band, he explains: “Murmur, I didn’t want to go into that again. It was more of a collective, four guys, a manager and everyone making decisions. So right from the start we thought, avoid any bother, any argument. If it’s just the two of us – then we can bring characters into the scene. And do it that way, rather than having a collective band.”

The Gorman brothers are a rare breed in today’s celebrity-obsessed culture – refreshingly modest about their achievements and talents despite the obstacles they have faced along the way. It hasn’t been easy – even during the stop-start recording process over four years they encountered both serious financial difficulties (crippling self-funding to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds) and technical disasters (a breakdown in the studio meant hours of demos were wiped). Charlie recalls: “That was a really difficult time. I thought do we keep it going?”

Thankfully, they continued, proving that with enough hard work and determination dreams can become a reality, and we, the listener, are all the better for it. “We genuinely believe in it. I think it’s a strong album, it’s a wee bit different, there’s an edge to it, but I’d like people to hear it through osmosis rather than punting it on to somebody,” says Charlie.

Stirling adds: “Me personally, I’m happy we’ve created it, Charlie’s proud of it . . . I think we’ve done the best that we could at this point and couldn’t have bettered it, so if there is a second one . . . if people react to this one, then maybe.”

King of Birds are supporting Caezar on Saturday 23 November at Glasgow St Lukes.

Eve of Destruction is out now.

The Gorman brothers' musical influences


1. The Beatles: By far the biggest musical influence for me has been The Beatles. The quality of songwriting, the melodies, the vocal harmonies, the speed of change and progression from album to album we're all unbelievable, to me they are light years ahead of anything else and the other influences here are all very much secondary.

2. Bob Dylan: Dylan has been a huge influence, the writing quality on every album through to Desire in the mid 70s was as good as it gets for me. Highway 61 Revisited is probably one of my top 5 records of all time.

3. Frank Sinatra: I was introduced to Sinatra by our original bass player Stuart McInnes. Apart from Sinatra's vocal sound I learned so much from listening to his phrasing, his breathing and his interpretation of a song... although he didn't write his own material he was able to make every song feel like he'd really lived it... Stuart described it as he 'inhabited the song'. His album 'Only The Lonely' is an album I've probably listened to more than any other.

4. Bruce Springsteen: I remember hearing Springsteen's album 'Born To Run' in high school and it literally changed my life. The sheer power of the songwriting and the performance levels were something I'd never heard before. For me he's one of the greatest songwriters, Tunnel of Love probably being his best album.

5. Willie Nelson: Willie Nelson was probably one of the first singing voices I ever heard, I remember 'I Love You Because' from the LP 'Country Favourites' blasting out of my dad's old radiogramme in the flat in Elderslie. I've always loved Willie Nelson as an artist, he's one of my favourite guitarists and has one of my favourite voices.

6. Radiohead: For me Radiohead are the finest and most important band of the last 25 years. The craft of their songwriting is streets ahead of anything else, the ground breaking musical progression of their albums from Pablo Honey their debut has for me been the closest to that of The Beatles.

OK Computer is again one of my top 5 albums.

7. R.E.M: I first saw R.E.M on The Tube in I think 1984, they completely blew me away... they had a deep mystery for me that they held right through till drummer Bill Berry's departure in 1997. I saw them live a number of times, most memorably in 1984 in Rooftops, Glasgow. It was the best gig I've ever seen and their debut album Murmur is again in my top 5 and in a number of music polls (including Rolling Stone), beat Thriller to album of the year for 1983... for a relatively unknown independent band this was incredible.

8. Neil Young: Another amazing artist from whom I learned so much about singing... I realised his vocal style never followed perfect pitch, which technically to a vocal coach would probably be a complete nightmare, but I found it a really beautiful style, I realised it was this very thing, the delicate vocal balance he has of walking the thin line between being in tune and out of tune that gave him his magic. Again his songwriting is just fantastic, Harvest and After The Gold Rush being two timeless classics.


1. The Beatles.. basically everything about them influenced/interested me, their songwriting craft (Lennon, McCartney and Harrison) is absolutely incredible the way they used certain chord progressions over melodies, I read where someone described their songwriting ability as making the unthinkable sound predictable. their lyrics, their sound, the harmonies, their social outlook. Their back catalogue has and never will be equalled for quality and diversity in my opinion.

2. Neil Young, I love him as a writer, guitarist and as a harmonica player, he has such a unique feel and voice, there is no one quite like him which is inspiring, his guitar solos are almost ramshackle in style which is great, his work is so diverse from album to album. He switches from folky singer songwriter, through electronic to heavy rock. It’s difficult to think of a genre he hasn’t attempted.

3. The Everly Brothers, the harmonies. Being brothers in music and being able to achieve the blood harmony was something we wanted to emulate.

4. Willie Nelson, I’m not a huge country music fan, there is a lot of music in that genre which I find unlistenable but growing up Nelson’s music was always on in the house, his guitar tone and style was what attracted me to his music, He is obviously a country music star but I think he has something else about him which is spellbinding. Then in the mid 90s when we spent a few months in Austin Texas and found out more about his life and his work that really galvanised our love for him.

5. Vangelis, His cinematic qualities have been influential. I like the fact he is one of the few composers who I don’t analyse. Musicians tend to listen to music in an analytical way but Vangelis’ music I think of as dream music "La Petite Fille de la mer" particularly just makes you close your eyes and fall into a different world.

6. R.E.M. I was around 16 years old when I first heard this band, an influential age, I loved the way they took their influences (the Byrds, Beatles, Patti Smith, Velvet Underground) and forged their own unique style and sound from that in a way which didn’t sound revivalist or dated. I also liked the fact they didn’t compromise, which influenced me very much. The landscape of the music world in 1983 was completely opposed to their way of doing things but that didn’t dent the path they wanted to go in.

7. The Everly Brothers, the harmonies. Being brothers and being able to achieve that blood harmony was something we wanted to emulate.

8. Toots Thielemans harmonica playing was a big influence on me, I loved the sad, haunting tone he got. I also like John Lennon’s harmonica playing on the early Beatles records, ‘Please Please Me’, ‘There’s A Place’, ‘Love Me Do’ all relatively simple melodies but so affective.

9. Dave Davies (The Kinks) Again brothers in bands, his guitar playing in the early records was so aggressive. We in King Of Birds, don’t have many songs which require this style but he definitely was an influence.