Passport photo taken in June 2001
9 December 1980|
|Died||8 November 2001
Alexander Kingdom Nik-o "Anno" Birkin (9 December 1980 – 8 November 2001) was an English poet and musician. He came from a creative family, which included his grandmother Judy Campbell; father Andrew Birkin, mother Bee Gilbert, brother Ned Birkin, half-siblings David Birkin, Barnaby Holm and Lissy Holm; aunts Jane Birkin and Linda Birkin; and cousins Kate Barry, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Lou Doillon.
Birkin named himself Anno when he was three after his favourite book, Anno's Journey by Mitsumasa Anno. When he was five, his parents bought an old farmhouse on the Lleyn peninsula in Wales, and it was here that Birkin and his brother Ned spent most of their childhood, "living what friends describe as a Bohemian lifestyle where the house was forever full of friends."
With adolescence, Birkin discovered poetry, in particular Walt Whitman, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, T. S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, and, latterly, Kenneth Patchen. He was also heavily influenced by the Zen philosopher Alan Watts as well as Joseph Campbell. His musical taste began with Guns N' Roses, quickly moving on to Pearl Jam, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, then into Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Sonic Youth, Fugazi and The Jesus Lizard. He began learning the guitar at 12, and was soon composing his own songs, as well as writing poetry.
Birkin's first band was called Midstream, which formed in 1994 with his school-friends Billy Scherer and JS Rafaeli, gigging in London until 1996 when it split up. Durango 95 was put together that same year, but split up in 1997. For the next two years, Birkin composed and played on his own as well as working with Scherer. While visiting his father on the film set of The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc in 1998, Birkin fell in love with the actress Milla Jovovich. They wrote and recorded a number of songs together. She later wrote, "I remember the absolute wonder I felt when he first wrote to me. I was bowled over by his choices, his words." His fiancée Honeysuckle Weeks wrote, "I think what Anno was doing in his writing as well as in life was trying to separate the pure from the sordid. Like a lot of teenage boys, he felt guilty about his own desires and he tried to elevate them through poetry."
During the summer of 1999 Birkin wrote and recorded a number of songs, both solo and with Scherer; the two wrote Ultraviolence together, that led to a recording offer from Virgin. They turned it down and in August formed Flying Mango Attack with bassist Lee Citron and drummer Christian Smith-Pancorvo (both formerly of Stony Sleep), recording the album Karmageddon. They briefly broke up after various drummers came and went, and once again Birkin and Scherer spent time recording together in Los Angeles. In September 2000, Birkin, Scherer, and Citron met the Italian drummer Alberto Mangili, and formed Kicks joy Darkness (named after a quote from Jack Kerouac's On The Road).
Kicks joy Darkness (KjD) began performing in late 2000, and in December recorded an EP Ark, produced in Birkin's Welsh studio. The following spring, he travelled around India with his brother David Birkin, writing poetry and songs. He returned to England in April and embarked on a series of gigs with KjD, quickly building up a keen following on the London circuit. The band decided to record Method One — their first studio album — in Bergamo, where Mangili had a recording studio. They gave their farewell gig at the Dublin Castle in London before heading off to Italy at the end of August. Birkin wrote to Weeks, "Everything has fallen into place around my skull thanks to this opportunity [of recording in Italy]. For the first time in my life I feel like I know what I'm doing, and I'm doing what I know. The fear and anxiety and excitement I'm feeling at the moment is bursting me."
On 8 November 2001, after the band had spent the day rehearsing, Birkin, Citron and Mangili were killed in an early-morning car crash on the outskirts of Milan. Birkin was a month and a day short of his 21st birthday. A few days earlier he had written in his notebook, "Let the terminal sleep be a terminal dream, unperturbed by the meaningless noises of nature."
Birkin had created a website for the band in August 2001. Following his death the site has provided a forum for his friends and fans. In 2003, Dreams of Waking — a 2-CD album of songs by Birkin and KjD — was released. Rock Sound called it an "art-rock adventure with hints of early Radiohead and Sonic Youth. … Anno's lyrics are poetic masterpieces in their own right." Later that year, a selection of Birkin's poetry — Who Said the Race Is Over? — was published and sold over 4,000 copies. Tom Payne[disambiguation needed] reviewed it in the Daily Telegraph as "this proud, fresh Romanticism. … Yet for all their brilliance, the poems feel unfinished. It is not just that the words have been left behind as a kind of consolation to those who mourn the author; it is as though they are still going about their tasks, asking the same questions and insolently refusing to settle."
The poet Robert Anthony Welch (Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ulster) wrote, "Anno Birkin's book is utterly devastating. This is a great creative energy, with the authority and force of Rimbaud and the same quality of total honesty. And yet there is nothing mawkish about the whole thing, because the fire of relentless self-interrogation flames continually, purifying the emotion. So what you get is not something raw, but something highly tempered, like Toledo steel. Energetic, flashing, devastating."
Another Magazine published a selection of his poetry in 2005, commenting that "perhaps it is Withnail & I's writer and director Bruce Robinson who offers us the best description of the sheer assault of Birkin's talent. He writes in his introduction to the collection, 'Anno didn't need death to be brilliant. … I love his rage, and truth, and he touches me like I was still young. Anno too is a great poet, a teenage poet, and we can only be amazed by what he could do with half a yard of ink.'"
With the profits of Birkin's words and music, his parents initiated Anno's Africa, an alternative arts-based charity for Kenyan orphans and slum children, with the aim of giving them a chance to express themselves creatively. His mother Bee Gilbert ran a pilot programme in the spring of 2007, with volunteers (who included surviving KjD member Billy Scherer, Anna Nygh, Karen Nicholls, Marie Steinman, Marco Windham and Andrew Birkin) to teach art, music, dance, drama, film, and acrobatics. The Telegraph Magazine published a five-page account of the pilot in September 2007, and an exhibition of the children's art work was held in London which featured over 200 paintings and monoprints. The event was hosted by Joanna Lumley and Ian Holm, and helped raise funds for the next project which was carried out in South Africa during March and April 2008. Bee Gilbert, Billy Scherer and others from the Anno's Africa team returned to Kenya every year since then to carry out further arts workshops, which were the subject of a CNN special feature on 11 April 2011.
- Nik-o was how Nico Llewelyn Davies spelled his name as a little boy - Anno's passport
- The Lost Boy — The Times Magazine, 12 April 2003
- Info supplied by Anno's father, 10 April 2008.
- Info supplied by Anno to his father, 2 November 2001.
- Remembering Anno, You Magazine (The Daily Mail), 30 November 2003.
- "At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver coloured section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night."
- Jessamy Calkin, The Boy Who Never Grew Old : The Daily Telegraph Magazine, 3 May 2003.
- Letter to Honeysuckle Weeks, 30 August 2001.
- Birkin, Anno, Who Said the Race Is Over? Laurentic Wave, 2003, ISBN 0-9545400-2-6 page 63.
- Victoria Durham, Rock Sound, August 2003
- Tom Payne, The Daily Telegraph, 21 February 2004
- Prof. Robert Welsh, Review Page, www.kicksjoydarkness.co.uk, 21 July 2006
- Another Magazine, Winter 2005
- The Lost Boys, BBC Radio 4, 13 September 2006
- "Rachel from Esben and the Witch: The Importance of Words". Drowned in Sound. 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-15.
- "The 405 - Interview: Esben and the Witch". thefourohfive. 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-16.
- Reaching for the Stars, The Daily Telegraph Magazine, 15 September 2007.
- "Beautiful dance in tough neighborhood". CNN. 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-16.
- Breaking Into Heaven — ID Magazine, November 2001
- Dreams of Waking — Rock Sound, August 2003
- "For I Am Youth!" — The Daily Telegraph, 21 February 2004
- Who Said the Race Is Over? — Another Magazine, Spring 2005
- Reaching for the Stars — The Daily Telegraph Magazine, 15 September 2007
- Charlotte Gainsbourg, Vogue (Paris edition), December 2007/January 2008
- Who Said the Race Was Over? — Ultraviolet Magazine, April 2008