Lawry Tilbury has always been something of an odd fish. As a child, he liked to hang around Dorset woodland at night, using a broken nylon guitar and a couple of scratched records to make music only for himself and the animals.

Now, under the moniker Bird Engine, he performs mournful, eerie “freak-folktronica” that describes an uneasy world of dead mermaids, feral children and eyelids sewn shut.

His last release on local label Woodland Recordings, I Fed Thee Rabbit Water, started with the unforgettable couplet: “I spent the summer cutting the heads off dogs/ I spent the winter trying to sew them back on”. It comes as no surprise to learn he lives in a dark basement flat.

Last year, the Brighton-based musician unleashed alter-ego Mortis Tobias. “I grew up in Dorset in a little village and I think Mortis Tobias is a reaction to living in a city,” he says. “Bird Engine recalls my childhood, whereas Mortis is more about dealing with life in a big city... modern life.”

Mortis, the name he uses now for music he considers too weird for Bird Engine, had his first outing on an album Lawry made with illustrator, musician and fellow forest-lover, Daniel Clark, who on this occasion took the name Clara Kindle.

It was recorded in one day in the basement of Oxfam on Western Road, in front of an audience of dolls and old clothes, something Lawry says “kind of suited the record”.

With no specific plan in mind, the two men just let it all out – with terrifying results. The Boy Who Cried Frogs, the track most recognisable as a song on this album of “incidental music”, sounds like the sort of thing you might hear at a ritual sacrifice.

With a pinch of understatement, Lawry says: “It’s darker than my Bird Engine stuff. Mortis Tobias is an excuse to make freer music and not worry about it being released or what anyone thinks about it, as opposed to Bird Engine where I have a record deal and everything.

“It’s incidental music – when we listened back to it afterwards, away from the space it was recorded in, we realised it really was quite weird.”

The album was released in a limited run of 50, each cardboard sleeve filled with treasures for the listener to find – leaves with type-written notes on them and chopped up old letters. “It was supposed to be like a little trunk, full of strange things,” explains Lawry.

For his first live gig as Mortis, he is toning things down, making Mortis more suitable to take home to the parents, as it were.

“Trunks was very different and I don’t necessarily think fans of Bird Engine would enjoy the album, but Saturday’s set is more melody based.”

Joined on stage by guitarist Sam Collins, aka Midwest Blues, Lawry will break from his usual format to play a keyboard and a selection of “strange instruments”.

After that, it’s back to work on the debut Bird Engine album, scheduled for release in July and currently being recorded on a 16-track tape machine at a studio in Hove. It’s going to be a typically homespun affair from the man who recorded one of his EPs using just a four-track and a Dictaphone.

“I think digital music loses a lot of the mystery you have recording on tape or old analogue,” he says.

“It sounds too polished. I like the crackling and the hiss of a tape.”

The modern world seems altogether rather an affront to Lawry but he is making peace with it through his music. He is even getting out a bit more.

“When I first moved to Brighton I completely immersed myself in my own world,” he says. “ I didn’t know anyone. I started playing gigs and I wanted to keep that air of mystery so I didn’t socialise with other musicians.

“It’s different now. I know quite a few people here. I wouldn’t say I’m a recluse any more.”

  • April 4, 8pm, entry by donation