‘I always thought it would be really cool to start a band that was like the Spice Girls of trad’ - BIIRD frontwoman Lisa Canny

Set to make their Belfast debut this summer, Sophie Clarke chats to BIIRD’s Lisa Canny about transforming trad


GIRL power might not be something that we immediately associate with the world of trad music, but BIIRD – a new 11-piece all-female collective - hopes to change that.

“I always thought it would be really cool to start a band that was like the Spice Girls of trad,” says founder Lisa Canny.

“I was a massive Spice Girls fan - I’d go to my banjo classes and then come and listen to a Spice Girls album from start to finish. I think that’s where my fantasy of putting a girl group together came from.

“But then life took over and steered me in a different direction but it was always kind of brewing in the background, so BIIRD has really been in the making for over a decade.”

Although Lisa can’t quite remember where the name of the band came from, she explains how over time it has taken on multiple meanings.

“The name is almost like a double-edged sword,” she says. “The word ‘bird’ is widely understood to be a derogatory term used by men but in my circle of friends we would use it to describe someone who’s beautiful or class.

“So, it’s about reclaiming the word for us and using it in an empowering way. Then the two I’s are used to represent the 11 members... and also two middle fingers up to any haters - so it makes sense on many levels.”

An established musician in her own right, Lisa is a seven-time All Ireland champion on harp and banjo. She began her career touring the US, Canada, Russia and Europe extensively with groups like Celtic Crossroads and The Young Irelanders.

However, it wasn’t until she came home that her dream of starting a band began to take flight.

“As I was travelling back and forth to Ireland playing festivals, gigs, and going to after parties and I was being introduced to and befriending all of these incredible young, female musicians in the trad world.

“Each of them were so individual and so inspiring in their own way so I started to pluck the birds from there - pardon the pun.”

The band aims to change the narrative around women in Trad whilst staying faithful to their roots. Made up of accomplished and revered musicians, between them the supergroup have 600,000 followers and 65 million views across their social media platforms.

“The Irish music tradition is alive and well, we just want to give it a different form of representation,” says Lisa.

“It’s important to keep trad traditional at its core but it’s also important to show that you can express yourself in other ways.”

She explains that it was also her move to London and experience with gospel singers that inspired her to form a more contemporary trad band.

“Gospel musicians and traditional Irish musicians have so much in common,” she explains.

“Now in fairness we often play in a pub and they’re more likely to practice in a church, but we do both grow up playing in a group environments. But with gospel musicians there’s the potential for them to go on and have these huge careers playing with major artists.

“And I started wondering why that hasn’t happened for trad in the same way; why are traddy fiddlers not being brought on tour with Beyoncé and I think a huge part of it is because we haven’t updated the image, which I think is another exciting element of BIIRD.”

In addition to recruiting 11 musicians Lisa also enlisted the help of Irish designer Ríon Hannora, who is the group’s head stylist as well as a “real trailblazer in Irish fashion”.

“Combining Irish traditional music with Irish design has never been done before, which is crazy because they’re two things that are very much connected in terms of art and expression,” argues Lisa.

“It just made complete sense for us to collaborate with designers like Ríon and use our platform to showcase the talent of Irish designers and also for them to help us achieve our goal of reimagining the narrative and image around women in trad too.”

Donned in their ethereal outfits, BIIRD will make their Belfast debut this summer.

“It’ll be like nothing they’ve ever seen before in trad,” says Lisa on why people should come to the show.

“We’ll be making history on that night so come and be part of it.”

Catch BIIRD at the Mandela Hall on Saturday July 27. belfasttraditionalmusic.com