A midlife crisis of sorts was to blame for Damien Blackburn's decision to leave Oxford for the forest. The Old Etonian classics scholar, who had always felt close to nature, decided to put away his books and pick up a chainsaw, pursuing instead the career of arborist. Along with him went Greek-born wife Mary and their young son John. It was here in a village in Dartmoor, in the south of England, that Helen Felicity was born. Raised by older parents, she was afforded a quiet, comfortable, if occasionally isolated childhood. Helen spent much of her time out on the moors making souvenirs of skinned knees and grass stains, collecting birds' feathers and leaves to make charcoal rubbings of back home.
When John, eight years her senior, left for music school on the back of his prodigious piano playing, Helen's world grew a little smaller. Left to her own devices, it was in solitary pursuits that Helen's creative spirit bled out best; writing weird stories, drawing portraits of her invisible friends and assembling creatures out of pipe cleaners and stick on googly eyes. The best days were spent quietly immersed in her own inner world.
The Blackburns' comfortable financial situation allowed for Helen's tuition as a boarder at Roedean school, an all girls college on the outskirts of Brighton. Though quite bright, she might have achieved more academically during her stay there had she dedicated more time to her studies and less to sitting out of bounds by the white chalk cliffs, smoking and writing bad teenage poetry. Songwriting evolved as a logical progression, and during intimate gatherings in her dorm room (the kind where girls sat on cushions to smoke weed and drink mint tea) she gradually started to play her own compositions alongside the standard Patti Smith and Joni Mitchell covers.
It was expected, after such an expensive education, that Helen would continue on to Oxbridge and years of further academia. Instead, once she had finished school she moved to London and applied for a place in an art foundation course at Central St Martins college. Before long she had set up base in a shared East End flat, her bedroom furnished with little other than a bare mattress and some photocopies of Francesca Woodman photos tacked to the wall. The loud and dirty streets of Hackney were in stark contrast to her fairly sheltered upbringing, but she was never happier or more at home than here. Carving out her own place in the world, it didn't take long to settle in to London's close knit creative scene. There was never a shortage of parties to crash or bands to see on a weeknight. A yearning to drink in the city and all of its experiences meant grabbing on to any opportunity for adventure, be it a spontaneous roadtrip to hike through the woods or a walk to the playground at night to sit at the bottom of the slide and drink vodka from a flask. By the time her letter of acceptance arrived from the art school, she had decided that there were more interesting things in life to pursue than university degrees.
Between irregular shifts at a cafe, Helen cut her teeth as a musician performing acoustic numbers at house gigs and friends' art openings, usually referred to casually on the sharpie scrawled lists of set times as Hel
. As the opportunity to play more serious shows cropped up, she adopted the moniker Blackbird
. Things began to pick up pace quickly once a demo of Helen's found its way to Burberry's PR department, landing her a regrettable eyewear campaign and some polished promotional video clips. Her debut single You Come Down
, produced by Johnny Flynn, was released in August of 2012 on independent label Dirty Hit and after working steadily to release several EPs over the next few years, she was able to quit her day job and travel abroad to open for more established artists.
Blackbird embarked on a national headlining tour with a full band at the end of 2014 in support of her debut album, released in February 2015. Now enjoying modest success and a home with real grown up furniture, she remains happiest when immersed in her own inner world.