Brighton is a pretty good place to live. Amongst the denizens of Muesli Mountain where coconut water is considered a deviation from the environmental struggle, (it’s all about the Maple Juice according to those who rail against unwashed tins), there exists hidden subcultures, from Bob Dobbs to Mod. An invisible republic takes over the waterfront at bank holidays, reminding us that there really is nothing cooler than a well preserved classic 60’s scooter.
Last Saturday I was expecting it to be more muesli than Mod when the family and I arrived at the St Ann’s Wells Free Spring Festival. Bathed in sunshine, the park inspired an atmosphere of laughter, summery vibes, kids enjoying digital free fun, and parents drinking ethically brewed Tofu cider. Keeps you stumbling but yer karma sweet.
We were sat there taking in the rays when onto to the stage walked ‘Little Barrie’, a group I had heard of but had never discovered. Buddha in a disco, what a revelation. I was gobsmacked by how incredible they were. A drummer as good as Reni, a guitar player (also the singer; LB are a glorious 3-piece) as good as John Squire and a bassist …you guessed it… as locked into the groove as Mani. By the way, boy, can Barrie sing.
Little Barrie’s music leaps from the future through sixties influenced Soul and RnB, freak-beat, rock n roll in the classic 3-piece tradition, Krautrock and well, er, ahem…the sound of Little Barrie. A huge genre defying sound. Cutting edge music, extraordinary musicianship and genius song writing. The next day I tracked down all their albums, going deep into the joy of getting lost in four hugely brilliant albums. I then got in touch with the band who were kind enough to send over a biography. It’s a great read and one I wish to reproduce here in full:
Little Barrie will release their highly anticipated 5th studio album ‘Death Express’ on 7th July on Non Delux. Teaser single ‘Love or Love’ was released last December to critical acclaim. New single ‘Produkt’ will be released on 30th June 2017. The forthcoming video has been directed by Douglas Hart (founding member of The Jesus & Mary Chain and video director for the likes of Paul Weller and Primal Scream).
Made up of Barrie Cadogan (guitar/vocals), Lewis Wharton (bass) and Virgil Howe (drums), their fifth album, ‘Death Express’, packs a heavy punch, channelling the three members’ ferocious musical chops into a raw, DIY response to today’s atmosphere of confusion and division. There’s no political message, just lyrical food for thought, and some of the tautest, most incendiary grooves you’ll ever hear, enticing even dancefloor-shy listeners to hip-shake away their cares. High-octane meditations on surveillance paranoia (‘Copter’), devious policing at mass protests (‘Molotov Cop’) and greed (‘Vulture Swarm’) have rarely felt so irresistible to body movement.
For Little Barrie themselves, global events of the last 12 months were a surreal backdrop to their own bold progress as a band. After 15-plus years of underground excellence together, this pathologically questing triumvirate were seeking to up their game, ready for Album No. 5. “In downtime at our rehearsal room, we’d be looking at the news – everybody’s gone nuts!” says Lewis. It was at Boogie Back 2, their practice space in Hornsey, that the sound of ‘Death Express’ was born – and recorded, as they ended up spurning big, expensive studios, in favour of a couple of ancient MacBooks, and an old tape machine.
The album’s genesis kick started, when Little Barrie were invited to provide incidental music for ‘Better Call Saul’, a spin-off series from hip TV phenomenon ‘Breaking Bad’, for which they’d already cut the theme tune. With no time to book a studio, they were forced to do it themselves, in their practice room. The response was favourable, and they began to feel that such DIY takes had a vibrant quality often lacking from ‘proper’ productions. Says group leader Barrie:
"Such amazing records have been made when people are breaking the rules – weird, stripped-down, self-made records like ‘Oar’ by Skip Spence, and ‘There’s A Riot Going On’ by Sly & The Family Stone. There’s a bedroom aspect to it, and a street aspect, too, which felt right for what we wanted to say this time".
Three of their previous four albums were made at Edwyn Collins’s West Heath facility in London. Last year, however, Edwyn upped sticks for rural Scotland, a happy development in his ongoing rehabilitation from serious illness, which left Little Barrie at a crossroads. Back in their rehearsal bunker, they demoed their first two new tracks, including ‘I5CA’, a song documenting an insane tour of America’s West Coast, which saw them pounding up and down Interstate Five between shows. It came out vibey and spontaneous, like a ’60s garage nugget repurposed for a hip hop block party. Instead of then slavishly re-recording the tracks in a hi-tech studio, they sent them on to an Edinburgh-based dance producer called Tom Forrest: he zipped up the mix, in Barrie’s words, “bringing a better spread and width of sound.” In layman’s terms: in your face; live and dangerous.
Self-releasing the two tracks on a 7-inch 45 before Christmas ’16, they got an ecstatic response, and it was a no-brainer to make the rest of ‘Death Express’ the same way. With Virgil’s propulsive breakbeats pushed to the max (his CV includes a rap-rock band called Lunatic, and a secure grounding in drum ‘n’ bass), these tracks leap from the speakers as Little Barrie have never done before, expressing an urgency rare in a band approaching the end of their second decade together. But then, this is no everyday band…
Little Barrie’s grief-free vibe has won them countless friends. They backed Paul Weller on ’08’s ’22 Dreams’ album, and memorably supported the reunited Stone Roses in Paris. They’ve toured with buddies including Dinosaur Jr, Brian Jonestown Massacre and Charles Bradley, as well as several jaunts with Primal Scream (Barrie performing two sets per night). Quite apart from ‘Better Call Saul’ their music has appeared on countless ads, TV shows and movies.
Yet, these irrepressible vibesmen have managed to remain underground, one step ahead of short-lived trends, with all their joy in music-making intact. Anyone interviewing them can expect a colourful conversation, taking in heroes from right across the pop-cultural spectrum, and how that culture’s bonding social purpose is the antidote to our political/industrial fears.
Little Barrie are guitarist and vocalist, Barrie Cadogan, bassist Lewis Wharton and drummer extraordinaire, Virgil Howe. In addition to being in the band, Wharton is also a motorcycle enthusiast and illustrator; Howe, the acclaimed drumming son of rock figurehead Steve Howe, produces and DJs in the UK and abroad; Cadogan is a world respected guitarist and the go-to guy for the likes of Primal Scream, Paul Weller, Edwyn Collins, Anton Newcombe, Spiritualized, Pete Molinari, Charles Bradley, The Chemical Brothers and Paolo Nutini. It is a testament to these three players that as a band they are making their strongest music to date.
On paper, the album’s title looks dark. The title track arose, says Barrie,:
"When I was flicking through my phone to find someone’s number, and I realised there’s quite a few people in there who aren’t here anymore. What with the state of the world, it feels like, as much as you can, you have to be around the people that are important to you. It’s been inspirational knowing Edwyn, seeing how he’s pushed really hard, and got his life back more than the experts expected. Looking at things that way, the title’s positive. Time’s short. None of us know how long we’ve got.” So, yes: the clock’s ticking. Seize the day. Time to jump aboard".
Amen to that.
I will be there, outside the record shop before it opens, the day this opus comes out, a day lost with Little Barrie.
For the beginner, I would recommend getting stuck into ‘King Of The Waves’ and 2013’s ‘Shadow’. Check out ‘Sworn In’ from the latter, a shimmering pop-tastic slice of 60’s psychedelia. As good as The Byrds or The Creation, and like The Roses game changer debut, not constrained by nostalgia. Music happening right here right now. ‘Pauline’ shreds the speaker cones. What a song. Live, this flies from the stage, coming right at ya, a gorgeous slab of dark pysch, groovy as a James Brown duke box. ‘Shadow’ is a killer tune, haunting its way past your opinion shield until the all too brief ‘Waterfall’ inspired ending.
‘Eyes Were Young’ aches its soulful melancholy leaving you wanting more despite clocking in at over five minutes. Echoes of The Roses ‘Something’s Burning’, built on a bass line reminiscent of Hookys finest moments on ‘Unknown Pleasures’, the song whispers, all the time building, seeking intimacy with your heart and soul. Touches of Dylan 66 sweep through the vocals but mostly this is a song rooted in the fret-board genius of Hendrix 67, and soul music.
Little Barrie drench everything in soul. For that, they might well be misunderstood. The Black Crowes got lost amongst the ignorance of folks who placed their records alongside jokers like ‘The Dogs Damour’. Check out ‘Free Salute’ or ‘Burned Out’ and get down with soul music as authentic as the sunrise. A genre beyond the reach of most guitar bands; Little Barrie have it in spades.
The spirit of Love’s ‘Forever Changes’ and the tension and heartbreak twang of surf psych, can be felt in ‘Everything You Want’, whose hymn like haze morphs out of the grooves before disappearing, leaving the shadow of the song still bubbling in your mind. ‘Realise’ is up next; wah wah freak fuzz awaits. Fuck, can these boys play. Check out the single ‘Surf Hell’ and find your new ‘get the weekend started’ number. Not since J Mascis or Ron Ashton, has a wah wah sounded as devilish as it does on ‘Fuzzbomb’.
MC5’s sense of showmanship is apparent in Little Barrie, a band who play music like it’s the only thing in the world that matters. Three fellas who weave effortlessly inside a vast spectrum of sound, offering a taste of Can, Neu! and The Roses, all wrapped up in pop song bomb.
The day after the gig I made sure I bought tickets for their show in Brighton on the 4th of August. A wee venue with a 100-ticket capacity, I can’t wait. If the Park gig was anything to go by, it’s going to be amazing to catch them up close in such a small room.
I arrived at the park looking for the swings and left floating higher than the clouds, held aloft by Little Barrie. Not bad for a day’s work surrounded by climate soldiers.
Get taller – get Little Barrie in your life.
Forthcoming Live Dates
26th May The Attic Torquay
27th May Big Yella Blues Festival Reading
28th May Margate Wonderland (with The Kills) Margate
7th July British Summer Time - Soho Radio Stage - Hyde Park, London
12th Aug UFO Festival Concarneau, France.
12th Sept Portland Arms Cambridge
13th Sept Think Tank Newcastle
14th Sept The Attic Bar Glasgow
16th Sept Trip Out festival Suffolk
19th Sept Deaf Institute Manchester
20th Sept Brudenell Social Club Leeds
21st Sept Studio 2 Liverpool
22nd Sept Trades Club Hebden Bridge
23rd Sept Adelphi Hull
26th Sept Exchange Bristol
27th Sept Scala London
28th Sept Bodega Nottingham
29th Sept Music Hall Ramsgate
30th Sept Actress & Bishop Birmingham
4th August The Brunswick Brighton