My Dad's a BirdmanMusic for My Dad's a Birdman

In early autumn 2010 Chris and Neil wrote three songs as well as some instrumental pieces for the children's play My Dad's a Birdman, written by David Almond and performed at London's Young Vic theatre for a run from November 25 through January 1, 2011. The story concerns a young girl and her widowed father, the latter of whom enters a "human bird" competition with the objective of flying under his own power. The Boys—or, as they prefer to be billed in this context, "Tennant/Lowe"—intentionally composed the music to be performed with very simple instrumentation: keyboard, percussion, and marimba.

In addition to the three songs described below, Neil and Chris also wrote an instrumental theme for a character named Mr. Poop (who is apparently an official in the human bird competition) and another instrumental for near the end of the show that they've described as "raucous."

It took only seven days for them to compose the music. "It wasn't a struggle," as Chris put it in the December 2010 issue of their official fan club magazine Literally. It proved, in Neil's words, "quite a fun project."

Night Song

Writers - Lowe/Almond/Tennant
First released - 2010 (as a download)
Original album - (none)
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

This ballad—the third Tennant-Lowe song in My Dad's a Birdman (but listed first here because it's the only one that has been officially released)—has been described by Neil on separate occasions as both "beautiful" and "elegant," while a reviewer of the play for The Independent called it "an enchanting song about the approach of evening." Chris wrote the music, while the lyrics were written by both Neil and the playwright, David Almond. A bit of actual dialogue from the play appears mid-song.

Although it is truly a lovely, somber song about the coming of night—in fact, it surely qualifies as a lullaby, and the Boys have described it as such—it's not without a dark element of humor that seems a hallmark of the play itself. The most notable expression of this dark humor is the recurring couplet of the refrain:

Then all will be dark
Like in the belly of a shark

Not exactly a wholly comforting way of describing nightfall, especially to a child. Then again, there's a long tradition of less than wholly comforting children's literature, ranging from Grimm's Fairy Tales (which are often quite grim indeed) to the Harry Potter novels. Still, as gifted a lyricist as Neil is, I somehow can't imagine him coming up with that particular simile. And, sure enough, according to what Neil said about the composition of the lyrics in the October 2011 issue of their fan club magazine Literally—that the playwright wrote the first verse while he wrote the remainder—that imagery can be attributed to Mr. Almond's pen.

As a 2010 Christmas gift to members of their official fan club, the Pet Shop Boys made their demo recording of "Night Song" available as a free download—accessible only through use of a special code—from their official website. At this time it's the only music from My Dad's a Birdman that's slated for official release.

Annotations

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The Dumpling Song

Writers - Lowe/Almond/Tennant
Unreleased

The first of the songs written by the Boys performed in My Dad's a Birdman. It was described on the official PSB website as "funny," and a reviewer of the play for The Evening Standard just as succinctly said that it was "quirky." Neil surely sings on their demo, but in the play itself it's sung primarily by the character of Auntie Doreen, although she's joined toward the end by her niece.

While Chris wrote the cheerful music, the lyrics—which consist largely of different flavors of dumplings, different ways you can prepare them, and different things you can do with them—were written by both the play's author (the first verse) and Neil (all the rest).

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Wings and Faith

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
Unreleased

The official PSB website has described this My Dad's a Birdman song as "aspirational," an adjective that fits it perfectly. Neil has described the song as "very Disney," essentially for "five- to ten-year-old children," although it sounds as though the story's titular dad may be singing it to bolster his own confidence as much as that of his daughter. Its first verse goes:

With wings and faith
You can fly
Into the sky
Far away
All that it takes is to believe it
And you'll achieve it
One of these days

Unlike the other two Birdman songs, "Wings and Faith" was composed entirely by Chris and Neil without playwright David Almond's lyrical direct involvement. It appears second among the songs performed during the play, but it's reprised near the end.

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