Brickwork Lizards
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Brickwork Lizards

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"Tim Bearder interviews and reviews a band with a difference."

Early this year one of my friends and colleagues, the reviewer Paul Carrera from local music magazine Nightshift, gave me a hot tip. A new band formed by Ex Big Speakers rapper Tom o Hawk McDonell was doing something unique and original in the bars and clubs of this fair city.

We listened to the demo, were suitably impressed, and played it on the show. Ever since then we’ve been meaning to get them in to do a live session but somehow it never came to pass. Then Juan the tea boy came hopping in shouting about the Brickwork Lizards on Radio 1! After we’d calmed him down he told us how The House of Lords from The Young Knives had recommended them on Steve Lamacq’s new show. The cat was out of the bag and I needed to get on top of this situation before The Download was left in the dirt.

Fingering through my October edition of Nightshift I located their next gig - it was at The Wheatsheaf. I packed my bag, drank Juan’s tea and set off for a night with a difference…

I got chatting to Tarik (an Egyptian oud player) and Louisa (a classically trained cellist) at the bar. They introduce me to their percussionist for the night, an Iraqi tabla player who fled his country 5 years ago to live with his brother in Swindon. I got the gist then that this evening was going to be a real treat. Later upstairs I was introduced Garry, the band’s Scottish crooner, and their rapper hadn’t even arrived yet! What an Earth was this band going to sound like? Fabulous that’s what.

Normally in this game bands are let down by the vocalist. Surprisingly few people can actually sing and sing well but in this band they all can. Each voice is totally unique, from the silken tones and tremendous range of Tarik Beshir through the retro lounge-room drawl of Garry Curran to the sheer husky brilliance of Tom o Hawk.

The band sound like nothing else around. They have the charm and style of the 30’s and 40’s with the haunting seductiveness of middle eastern music brought bang up to date with the occasional non-intrusive rap elements. The result is a ridiculously seamless and impressive sound that must be heard. And remember you heard it on The Download first, right after you’d read it in Nightshift. Probably.


"Tomohawk's Christmas Extravanga at the Cellar"

It’s the Tuesday before Christmas at the Cellar, and Tomohawk from the Big Speakers has a good thing going on. Not only does he manage to host an evening of some of the best male voices in Oxford music, but he gets to enter the running himself, interjecting comedy Louis-Armstrong-cum-Shabba-Ranks-style rapping on a 1940s jazz track.

For the last act, the crowd surges to the front and it becomes clear who’s brought the most friends tonight. The Brickwork Lizards have a silly name, and in a way, a silly act – but it is the most charming thing you’ll have seen on stage in a while, and, if you’re into singing, also one of the most impressive. This is only their third or fourth gig, and whilst this shows a little in terms of their familiarity with the material, the ensemble’s timing and dynamic range on the deceptively simple-sounding tunes is generally very good, and it’s nice to see their onstage communication. With an unusual line-up of cello, guitar, hand-drum and oud (11-string middle eastern lute), you’d expect them to reel out some quiet, twiddly instrumental numbers at some point – and for the first few tracks, this is exactly what they do, the oud ringing out clearly as the lead instrument on tunes ranging from the Korean national anthem (not really, but it could have been) to the theme from El Mariachi (same again). One unusual feature of the band is that there are two male vocalists, Gary and Tarik (guitar and oud respectively), and whilst I enjoyed the initial twiddling immensely, after three tunes I began to wonder what the mics were there for. This was then revealed in spectacular fashion, Tarik blowing the crowd away with his super-smooth, clarinet-like vocals, with an unbelievable range – from solid deep bass through to crystal-clear falsetto. By the time he had ended one number (sung with the clarity of a member of the Inkspots - whose ‘Do I Worry?’ they performed later) with the kind of ornamental twiddling that would make Mariah Carey look like an amateur - and sung parts of the song ‘Sahara’ in traditional Arabic style - it was obvious that Tarik was an extremely talented and versatile performer (even whilst pissed - which he stated he was before even starting). On top of this, Gary has an excellent smooth jazzy voice, and his solo number also went down well. The paring down of the rhythm section to just hand drum and cello (with its range ideal for convincing rhythmic bass and also lilting melodic treble) was also a masterstroke.

The Lizards were like a breath of fresh air for the soul in a local scene that can seem top-heavy with groups valuing volume, speed and attitude over musicality. Conversely, of course, this gem of an evening also proved that the leads of loud and fast local rock acts can also make beautiful music alone.


"Red Stripe Review at the Cellar, Oxford"

The Red Stripe Music Award hit The Cellar on Saturday with a showcase to help local bands grab the attention of the music industry.

Brickwork Lizards opened the showcase, an original seven-piece band playing a set packed full of eclectic sounds including 1940s ballad vocals, plus Egyptian-influenced lutes, cello, and rap twists. They delivered a unique, polished performance to an eager toe-tapping and jigging crowd, a hugely talented bunch with a lot of different sounds going on. - Oxford Mail

"Review of first gig"

It's the kind of thing Tom Waits would come up with if he were asked to score one of Dostoyevsky's drafty funeral scenes, slowly unfolding its woozy grief as the vodka takes hold. The audience are captured
They've captured that period of jazz with real authenticity and then twisted the frame a little. - Open View Magazine

"Brickwork Lizards - The Port Mahon"

How much more splendid can a band get? When baritone Tom (O-Hawk) McDonnell came out of the dissolved rap outfit Big Speakers, he took the
opportunity to go back to his first love, that of 1940s harmony groups like The Ink Spots, for the foundation of his new project, Brickwork
Lizards. With the kind of serendipity that only the gothic transit camp that is Oxford can pull off, a cosmopolitan set of musicians and songwriters were attracted to this idea, combining into a whole a plethora of world music concepts that would be a musicologist’s wet dream. So when Egyptian Tarik Beshir’s delicate Oud (a kind of
Arabic lute) entwines with swamp
guitar licks, which in turn surf in on Louisa Lyne’s cello and ex-Evenings Bruce Douglas’s basslines, the stage is set for a comprehensive tour of
classic music genres. The astonishing cherry-topper is that Tarik and Tom have wonderful voices, so while the former leads vocals, Tom’s bridging rap style injects a superbly judged splash of modernism. Already in the short life of the band they have
penned two of the most infectious hits I’ve ever heard; ‘Blame It On Me’ should be the national
anthem of office staff and the finger-pointing circus that is the hallmark of the modern workplace. ‘When She Whispers’ blossoms out of its opening Mediterranean tenor croon into a
jaunty sing-along paean to appreciating your lover. With flavours of the Camague, China and Cuba
pervading the instrumental numbers, and a top cover of The Ink Spots’ ‘Do I Worry?’, Brickwork Lizards are never once predictable.
Their self-produced album sells out at every gig they play and to be honest I can’t see anything stopping that happening on a wider stage.
- Nightshift


2 self-recorded cds: Blame It On Me and Wondrous Nights. A 3rd is being produced at the moment and we will be touring it later in the year



The Brickwork lizards were brought together by rapper Tom o Hawk in the summer of 2005.
For years he had a vision for a band that could combine and write original world music, 1940s style jazz ballads and rap.

He put together an unusual ensemble of musicians of whom he had met in a social context - and found he had realised his ambition, with a result even better than he could have envisaged.

The head-turning band comprise of singer and oud player Tarik Beshir, cellist Louisa Lyne, guitarist Spencer Williams, trumpeter and pianist Steve Preston, bassist and percussionist Bruce "The govenor" Douglas, drummer Andrew Mack, and of course Tom o Hawk.

During the reasonably short lifespan of the band they have attracted a large following, recieved great reviews, been on national and local radio (championed by the Young knives on Steve Lamaqs music show on BBC radio one, Oxide, BBC radio Oxford), courted record company interest and played various high profile events (Oxjam, headlined Cowley Road Carnival, Redstripe Music Showcase), and are set to perform festivals throughout the year.