Barnsley’s folk comedy group The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican announced at the start of the year that they were going crowd fund an exclusive vinyl 7” record to be released on International Record Store Day in April. And even though the group asked for fans to essentially pre-order the then yet unnamed record up front and to crowd fund £1000, the amount was met within days and on 26th April, the band released a three track seven-inch featuring an updated version of their song Tarn Life, a cover of Ace of Spades and a version of The Ramones’ Blitzkrieg Bop. The project also saw them team up with Barnsley’s Acorn Brewery to release a special ale named after the record’s title track, sell out two theatres and play a series of secret record store gigs.
If you’re unfamiliar with the band, Scott, Alan and Andy Doonican perform versions of famous songs, using folk and bluesgrass instrumentation and re-write the lyrics with a often comedic Barnsley slant. They have released over twenty albums in the last few years, including a number of studio albums, live bootlegs, EPs and also a Christmas compilation featuring a number of other local acts too.
This summer the band decided that they wanted to go one step further and crowd fund an entire vinyl compilation album. Their target is £2000 and the record itself will cost a £20 pledge. However, the band had a whole host of special incentives for higher pledges such as exclusive recordings, cover versions of your choice and home gigs.
You can view to project and find out how to pledge here.
To help fund the project, The Bar-Steward Sons have re-released two of the tracks from the Tarn Life EP, along with two of the specially recorded cover versions from the first project. But what does it sound like?
For someone who is more than familiar with all of The Bar-Steward Sons recordings, I reckon this is the best thing they’ve recorded in years, and for a number of reasons.
Despite being a three piece, most of the band’s recordings are done solely by Scott Doonican, meticulously building each with programmed percussion, multi-layered vocals (al a his heroes Queen) and many, many banjos, guitars, ukulele, kazoos, melodocia and numerous others.
Opening track Tarn Life – a version of Blur’s Park Life – features new distorted guitars, live drums from ex-Housemartin Hugh Whitaker and replacing Phil Daniels is Barnsley Mick. The sound of this new version has a new energy to it and much more faithful to the live sound of the band. I’ve always thought a lot of The Bar-Steward Sons’ recorded material sounded over-produced, retrained and far-removed from their energetic live shows. This recording though is different.
Their Ace of Spades is a first. All parts are recorded live in the studio, Hugh guesting on drums again, banjo from local bluesman Richard Kitson and blazing electric guitar solos from founding Saxon member Graham Oliver. Scott’s lead vocal is totally different to anything they’ve put on record before, raw, often heavy and totally faithful to the live experience.
The omission of The Bar-Steward Bop from the original release makes way for two specially recorded cover versions. The first is a George Formby influenced take on the Arctic Monkey’s classic I Bet That You Look Good on the Dance Floor but the highlight of the two here is easily Scott’s version of Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World. Influenced by The Beatles and Tom Waits, it has an intro full of backmasked vocals and comes complete with whirling carnival organs, demonic laughter and sixties reverb. While the vocals are multi-layered, they offer something new and freshing.
For a band that has had so much output with a now well-trodden formula, this EP sees them experiment in many new ways. I’d love to see The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican go further down this route and introduce more live and experimental elements to their records as it has taken their sound to a whole new and much-needed level. This is easily their best since Ey Up! Let’s Go and Cpl. Kipper’s Barnsley Trades Club Turn.
Stream and download the Tarn Life EP here.
The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican play the Live in Barnsley festival on Saturday 22nd June.