And so Live In Barnsley rolls around for a third year and I have the opportunity to see quite a number of local bands perform there for the first time, a few old favorites and a tonne of bands from outside of town playing too. I’d drawn up my itinerary a few days before; listing possible bands to see every half hour. My wife and I had decided that we were going to try and venture out with our three-month old son too – an early first festival experience for him. We’d even pre-ordered some mini ear-defenders for him. We get to the Walkabout for quarter to midday and find a sofa at the far end of the pub. By this time the pub was quiet enough to manoeuvre a pram around.
The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican‘s played the first set of the day at the Walkabout, to quite a sizable crowd considering how early it was, but then they do have a big and reliable following. This is fleshed out by a good number of curious punters looking to experience all things new at Live in Barnsley. The trio (Alan Doonican was away for this one) was joined on drums by ‘Mousey Doonican’ and opened with a rip-roaring Bar-Steward Bop, their take on The Ramones’ Blitzkrieg Bop. That was followed by Arse On Fire – a regular festival number for them and a Kings Of Leon number with plenty of toilet humour. I took the opportunity to run on over to The Underground to catch a new band on my radar, Cubic, as I knew that I’d be seeing more of The Doonicans later in the evening’s finale.
I believe it was Cubic‘s first gig and was also the first gig of the day at The Underground. When I got there, the trio were playing Rocket Ride. Fans of The Glavins or Exit Calm would lap that one up. However, it’s that one track of theirs I find least favour with, but that’s only because much else of they do makes them stand out from many other local bands so much. While the singer was giving cues to the drummer and feedback was still being ironed out, there was reverb a plenty and song writing to be admired. While both guitarist and bassist swapped vocalist duties, there wasn’t much difference between them and I think that as fantastic as they were, they’d have sounded even better given more time to sound check. There was lots of later period Jesus And The Mary Chain in their sound and on Blinded – my favourite of their tracks – they sounded like Joy Division’s rhythm section playing with The Black Lamps. Definitely a band to watch if you’re a fan of late 80s, early 90s Shoe Gaze or Indie.
I got back to Walkabout to see that my son had woken up and had discovered he was wearing ear defenders and the muffled sounds of the pub overwhelmed him. He burts into tears and we left for a walk and a feed. I then made my way alone to The Courthouse to see Manchester band Demur. Previously called Bull In The Whisky Shop and featuring a Barnsley-ite amongst its ranks, I was already familiar with the quality of this band. The five piece were squeezed into a corner of the pub, while a gang of lads dressed as golden-age WWF wrestlers threw back pints in the carpark – Brett Hart, Bushwackers, Ultimate Warrior and Co.
For a venue that’s on the edge of the circuit, they had pulled in a good crowd. The five-piece pack a punch, with three guitars churning out Sonic Youth-esque fuzz heavy melodies, too-ing and fro-ing between shoe-gaze and grunge. They’re at their best when both James and Emily battle it out at the mic. They complement each other perfectly, and as they do I recall Arcade Fire’s Win and Regine. Lion Real is easily the stand-out track for me.
I met my wife and little one outside and we made our way to The Arcade to catch festival charity Creative Recovery and their pop-up Piano Stage. Pitched up outside 8oz Burger was an upright piano and the charity’s organisers and members singing and playing instruments. Local acoustic grunge duo The Rolling Down Hills also played a set. They were accompanied by a guest on cajon drum. Despite being entirely unplugged and being surrounded by the hum of the surrounding shops, the band sounded full and their songs came over like they could have easily cut it played by a full electric band. Their songs are of a high standard and fuse everything from Pearl Jam and Neil Young to Tom Waits and Gomez. Take It As It Rolls is mellow, Butterfly is tender and Victorious is anthemic.
Just so happens, the band were already on my list of acts to watch for later in the day, so that flash live set was a nice surprise.
It was at this point that my son started to get tired and restless, so it was his time to exit for home. It was nice to have him with me for part of it and proof that even Live In Barnsley can entertain all ages, including babies.
I made my way to Esmeralda’s next to watch Fat Spatula. Emseralda’s is one of the new venues for this year and like many of these stage-less venues, the bands play in a fenced off corner of the pub. In Esmeralda’s, the band is right by the entrance and opposite some steps that lead down onto a small dance floor. I’m was with friends who sat at a table by the window. I went to get a pint and it was four pound bastard twenty-five for a Guinness. In Barnsley! And it wasn’t even draft. It was a chuffing can. I reckon you should never pay more than £2.50 for a can of beer. For that, I should have at least got a complimentary pack of scampi fries as well!
Anyway… Fat Spatula are a York four-piece who play a kind of mid-90s American Slacker Punk. Fans of Crywank would be up for this lot. Think Pixies, early Weezer, Zappa and Minuteman. They’re fun, loud and chaotic. On one song there was a hint of Crust Punk and on another there was even a bit of Jello Biafra in the vocals. I wondered why they sound very American. Turned out the singer/guitarist is American. Fantastic!
Next up was another new venue for the festival, Igloo. Barnsley Folk Club was running this stage and supplying half of the acts for it too. Zoe Bottomley is one of their own. Daughter of Barnsley Folk Club organiser Dave Bottomley – who played guitar for her – and now an organiser of her own folk club in Hull, Zoe has an absolutely beautiful voice. Her set mixeed traditional songs with versions of songs by the likes of Richard & Linda Thompson, Big Star, Tom Waits and Gyote. The setting wasn’t the usual folk club fair; in fact some hardened traditionalists would balk at the idea of it. However, the audience was a mix of folk club regulars, attendees of various local open mic nights and random visitors exploring the festival. Because of the latter, it meant that normal folk club etiquette of silence during performances wasn’t adhered to, but despite the loud chatter, folk appreciated and enjoyed the performances, and Zoe got lots of love and applause.
I nipped off to Greggs to get a quick bite but all I could find was a manky Mexican chicken baguette. I did bump into official Live In Barnsley videographer Giannis Kipreos, who gave me a quick interview for a forthcoming documentary. I rushed back to Walkabout to see Servers at 5pm.
By the time Servers hit the stage, I was up at the back to ensure I could see all of the show they were about to put on – and I also needed a proper pint of real ale too. A lot of people there were seeing Servers for the first time – some toldell me they’re really good but not their kind of thing. Others I see in the crowd I know were hardened fans and had seen the band countless times before (including myself). We fans got what we wanted; a handful of tracks from the fantastic debut album and also a taster from the forthcoming new album, with ‘My Enemies Are Friends’. The sound quality is good and the band use the venue lighting to its full potential, being draped in red and black light. A surprise to many, including myself, was the graphic video projection that accompanied the set, which showed archive film footage of the Heaven’s Gate Massacre – cults being a running theme throughout the band’s songs.
Liam from The Black Lamps told me it was ‘good to see that there are still bands out there being influenced by Killing Joke’. Add to the mix Mastodon, Baroness, Therapy and The Doors, and you’re somewhere close to the sounds of Barnsley’s Servers.
I got front row seats for Mark Jacksons Criminal Waste of Talent at 6pm. For those of you familiar with Mark’s sets, you’ll know that the song they started the set with this time round was the song they normally end on, the sing-along Real Men Have a Shed. And folk did sing along too. Mark looked quite the dandy too, in his black suit, complete with Primark tag hanging from his jacket label. A number of new songs were played, whose swagger confirmed the Ian Dury comparisons I’ve offered in the past. Mark later told me that it was one of the best gigs he’s played. He and the rest of the band were certainly on form and the new songs easily stood up alongside old favourites like Dumped By Txt.
I rush over to catch The Rolling Down Hill‘s full set at Igloo, missing just the first five minutes. It seemed they have adopted the percussion player as a permanent member now. As before, the quieter songs weren’t always suited to the volume of the chatter, but luckily for the band they also had a number of louder songs like Victorious, which pricked the ears of the audience. They certainly gained a few more fans too.
7pm is a real dilemma. Del Scott Miller at Funky Buddha, Antesaint at Esmeralda’s or Aztec Doll at The Underground? I go with Aztec Doll who are already on stage and about to start by the time I arrive. I got the last bottle of that specially brewed Live in Barnsley ale and got to the front of the dance floor. The band were on form. Blood Red, Flower and Rag Doll were accompanied by tracks from the forthcoming EP, such as Through Our Veins and Bring the Storm. Over the last six months, the band have really come together with their new line-up and are heading towards something really special. I can’t wait to hear the new Ep later this year. Both band and the new songs sound fantastic. They have all the right moves on stage too. Warpaint basslines and Depeche swagger, leopard skin collars and red leather boots. This all makes up for the fact that the band were unable to finish their last song due to severe technical problems and the bass amp cutting out. Despite all that, they’re still possibly my favourite local band.
My feet are aching and so I decide to stay where I am and pass half an hour catching up with old friends before Faerground Accidents take to the stage. This Sheffield band have received a lot of acclaim over the last year and have even been signed to Louder Than War. They are touted as one of the best live bands in the UK and I’d been looking forward to seeing them for some time now. If their videos were anything to go by, then I knew I was in for a treat. There are elements of many bands that I like in their music; Mansun, King Adora, Rachel Stamp, Soft Cell, New York Dolls, The Smiths and also hints of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Divine David.
There was quite a crowd gathered as the band climbed the stage. Early on in the set, the band are plagued by sound problems. Vocalist Bomar and keyboardist Henrie were shouting and signalling for help from the soundman, as feedback fired back from the stage at the audience and it seemed that the band were also struggling to hear themselves in their monitors. Two songs in and you can see the band are frustrated but they feed that energy into the songs. It’s a blistering performance. Anger is an energy, and all that. We get to hear Woeful Small Town and We Hate the Same Things and it’s great to see some people in the audience singing along to every single word. It’s frustrating that the sound never really clears itself up, but through all that I heard beautifully crafted songs of kitchen sink glamour and mascara tears – equal portions of glam punk and torch songs. As I write this, I’m listening to the band and looking into to booking them to play Barnsley again later this year.
I got to Stereo just minutes before Hands Off Gretel are due to start. I’ve supported this band since the start and so it was great to see that the venue is absolutely rammed. However, I was clearly too late to get any kind of view at all. Heck, I couldn’t even get to the bar. From the door, I do hear them launch into tracks from their debut EP, including Be Mine and Other Town, but I’m lacking the visual treat that the band always offer. At this time, every venue is rammed not only with festival goers, but now those coming into town for their regular Saturday night.
I consider crowd surfing to the bar for a pint but instead head over to The Londoner to catch Sky Valley Mistress, another band that I’d been really looking forward to seeing after checking out their videos. And the band did not fail to live up to my expectations of a Black Sabbath/The Kills hybrid. The vocalist has an awesome voice and is reminiscent of bands like Blue Pills, Blood Ceremony and Jex Thoth, and the band played like a young Zepplin. Their sound is timeless and their songs absolutely kill it… absolutely blew the audience away. I’ve since downloaded their two EPs and looked into booking them for a future gig too.
And so… the finale. Once again the organisers have plumped for We Are the Bands, fronted by Scott Doonican, who was joined by various musicians and guest vocalists from bands who have performed throughout the day. Some wonder why a ‘big headliner’ isn’t attracted to play the festival but this finale keeps perfectly in line with Live In Barnsley’s ethos of supporting local talent and once you’ve watched it, you’d definitely appreciate that.
First up was Scott himself, backed by Bjorn Doonican, Jane McKinney on keys and Monotones members Paul Heckingbottom on bass and Matt Townsend on drums, who stay throughout the entire set. They whisk through The Bar-Steward’s Tarn Life before inviting Taxi For Bob’s Tom Jackson up on stage. They run through a raucous version of John Denver’s Country Road, which included a mass sing along. In the last two years, Tom has gone from fronting a young punk covers band to a credible original punk rock band and as proven here, a brilliant front man too. He moved around the stage and commanded the audience with ease, and he didn’t even have a guitar to hide behind.
Next up was Ryan Lauder who sang a fantastic version of Neil Young’s Rockin In The Free World, followed by Cow Punk band The Sweet Chunks Band and a glorious Drunk In The West Country (a take on Born In The USA). The Rolling Down Hill’s vocalist Lewis Ryan (Scott Doonican’s real brother) was invited up next to run through a version of The Doors’ Five To One, channelling Jim Morrison in both voice and look. Up next was Chris Sammon who delivered a faithful version of Bob Dylan’s Wagon Wheel and Stray Target’s front-man Shaun McMaster who like Tom Jackson earlier, really worked the crowd with his version of Pinball Wizard.
Pocketful O’Nowt’s Mike O’Brien is a regular performer with The Doonicans. He stormed the stage dressed in gold lame cape and hat box on his head. He mounted the amp stacks and ran around the stange like a whirling dervish, while he sang a brilliant rendition of The Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz – one of my favourite songs and a highlight for me. Toby Hanmore, vocalist with West Yorkshire band Conflare was totally unfamiliar to me up until now and sang a great version of The Beatles’ I Saw Her Standing There.
What followed was another highlight for me. Mark Jackson sang Ian Dury’s Sex and Drugs and Rock n Roll. Another funny performance, made even more so when the band segued into Superstitious, when Mark blatantly didn’t know the words.
The other half of The Monotones came on stage, with singer/guitarist Martyn leading the way through A Town Called Malice before Scott Doonican took lead again to finish off the set with their song The Devil Came To Barnsley, and although Scott sung lead, it was definitely Bjorn’s firey fiddle who was the star of the song.
My feet were killing me at this point and I made my way to the back of the venue as Scott Doonican worked up the crowd for the encore. They play their regular finale of Jump Ararnd and then many of the previous performers jumped back on stage for a final run through Kaiser Chiefs’ I Predict A Riot.
That’s it! Done! The audience loved it. And so did the musicians. Only Scott Doonican could put together a line-up as good as that, and in such a short amount of time too. I’m aware they had only two rehearsals to learn the songs, so I am doubly impressed.
What a smashing festival! Spirits were high throughout the day. As usual it was great to see so many people of all ages coming to town to see both local and national talent play their hearts out. Roll on next year. Bigger and better I’m sure.
Thank you to Craig Hargreaves and Avishek Choudhury for their photos.