Birmingham’s Barnesy is less a heart-on-sleeve kinda guy than one who bears everything and bears it to a wonderfully cocksure mix of blues and good old rock and roll. Ahead of his performance at The Sunflower Lounge on Saturday, we linked up via the magic of the internet to find out what he’s been up to since he signed to Mis-Management in March.
Hey Barnesy, where are you as you type – give us a bit of context.
Hey Brum Notes. I am currently sat in my home studio, with a lovely cuppa (rock & roll) listening to the rain. I know there’s been some grumbles lately for the lack of sunshine, being August, but I have to say, there is nothing more quintessentially English, than supping a hot brew and listening to a broken guttering pipe smashing the shit out of your window sill.
What made you pick up a guitar and start writing songs in the first place and how old were you when you began?
It was a family thing. From the age of about four, my parents had this journalist-style single tape recorder and I would constantly be on that. My mom recorded a Bob Marley documentary and I would sit in front of the TV transfixed with the tape deck recording the songs. My first taste of illegal downloading 😉
In terms of actually playing and writing, I was heavily influenced by my older brothers. My eldest brother was a blues maestro and I would sit for hours with my ear to his bedroom door. He played the guitar effortlessly. My other brother had a great set of pipes on him and was never shy in singing a song, so between the two of them I picked up some playing and singing. I was about 15 when I first strung some chords together.
Would you say there was a particular moment in your formative years or a particular musical experience which informed your style and progression?
My brothers were britpop kids so, sharing a room, I would constantly be in contact with that whole scene. I would hear excited tales of seeing Oasis at Wembley, or Stereophonics, Ash and The Black Crowes at Donnington Park. Just hearing these experiences gave me a buzz and an itch to really get into music.
Listening to your songs, you sound like you have a lot to get off your chest…
Ha it has been said… I’d say I’m a narrative writer of the times. I don’t really sugar coat anything. I listen to all sorts of music, but when it comes to putting a pen to paper, I struggle to do the whole emotive thing. It’s not me. Up until the age of 14 I was bought up on a small estate and I saw everything. Drugs, underage drinking. You name it. There was this cycle within every age group where one person would end up in the factory, one in the army, one with a baby at 16, one a heroin addict… it sounds dark but it’s just how it was. I didn’t have a shit upbringing, I had some great times. I didn’t really have to write fiction once I’d got the bug to make music, I just changed the names.. .
Talk to me about your musical influences and what you take from them.
From my brothers I got britpop like most lads at that time, especially Oasis. I would hear these big songs with big choruses that would take over the jukebox and I suppose that got me into guitar music. If I had been in a house full of sisters into Boyzone and the rest of that tripe, things could have been different. From my dad I got Bob Dylan. He loves Dylan and I remember on one occasion my brother giving my old man a spliff. My dad lay back on the living room floor, listening with his eyes closed to Dylan. He went quiet for too long and it proceeded with our kid giving him a slap around the chops to wake him. He opened his eyes, told us to “Piss off, I’m listening to Bob.”
Dylan’s writing really got me into thinking about how to craft a song with words. My mom gave me Motown and soul and, being from an Irish background, Irish folk and rebel songs. Sundays I would wake to the sound of The Dubliners and the smell of polish – that always set me up well for the day.
Who would you consider your musical contemporaries?
I’d have to say the likes of Jake Bugg, Miles Kane and those solo acts from a similar background to myself. I don’t really know much personally about either of them, but in terms of their writing, in particular Jake Bugg, It sounds like he grew up in a place not to dissimilar to myself.
Lots of comparisons to Jamie T in your bio -where do you think people draw the parallels?
I know, over the years there seems to be a sway. I don’t think it has anything musically to do with him. More his bawdy style of playing, and a similar writing style. Up until Jamie T, the solo scene was littered with folk artists singing about tales of lost love in a sickly-sweet way. Jamie T would hammer his bass guitar and roar his lyrics. That’s how my gigs normally go. It’s rare I have a set prepared. It’s a joint thing with the crowd. I play until my fingers bleed and sing until I lose my voice.
You’re based in Birmingham – how do you get along with the city?
Birmingham is a great city in some senses, and in others, it can be its own worst enemy. The whole Digbeth strip is doing the business right now and there’s venues all over the place, but the one thing that gets me at times is how the music scene is a little safe, and gig-wise, the same bands seem to hold each other’s hands. There are not enough guerilla gigs. The only person I can think of, that does whatever he can to light a fuse, is Jack Parker. I just hope London doesn’t steal him because his mindset on how to do things is exciting. We also need a decent label here. We have musical talent in abundance and it ends up north or south. We should be holding on tight and making the second city a force!
What’s the best lyric you ever wrote?
I don’t know about ever wrote, but one of my newish tracks, Fists And Tiffs has a lyric that goes ‘Standing like Christ, getting frisked by a bouncer with a lisp called Goldie. He’s a dentists dream, a sure fire earner, who boldly swaps enamel every quarter.’
And the worst…?
Ha there’s pages of them. Luckily they end up in a ball in the bin. Sorry Greenpeace!
Any strange or funny experiences with fans yet??
The last time I played The Sunflower Lounge, half way through I had a pair of boxers thrown onstageand within five minutes I had a lady’s bra draped off the mic stand. For a moment, I felt like I had made it ha! Earlier this year, I played the Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath and about three songs in a woman fainted. I don’t know if it was me, but I am definitely claiming that one.
You play The Sunflower Lounge this Saturday – for people who have never seen you before, what can they expect form a Barnesy live show?
Expect a busy, bustling sing along. I struggle to do slow so lots of energy and a sweaty lad doing his best imitation of someone who knows what they’re doing. It’s always full, wall to wall, so get down early and join in the madness!
And what are your plans for the near future in terms of recording and releasing material?
The future looks good. I have linked up with Joe Dwyer and Joe Andrews at Mis-Management. We have had an amazing year, playing with John Lennon McCullagh, James Walsh of Starsailor, Ocean Beach Ibiza, Lunar Festival and Moseley Folk at the end of the month. I’ll be in the studio September/October, and we’re not sure now whether we are going to release a single or EP. But whatever the release is, the next step will be a nice little tour from top to bottom.
Barnesy plays The Sunflower Lounge on Saturday, August 16. Tickets are priced at £5 advance and are available here.
Banner image: Richard Shakespeare