The Barbers have pulled out the stops on an album as thrilling as their live shows.
Colin Irwin 2010
Few acts can hold a candle to The Demon Barbers on stage. A richly entertaining, high-energy jamboree of song, dance and musical surprise, the Yorkshire-based Barbers can certainly put on a good turn, and were justly rewarded with the Best Live Act gong at the 2009 BBC Folk Awards.
Recording, though, is a different beast – many great live acts have withered attempting to convert natural stage chemistry into something that melts the coldness of the studio. Clearly attuned to this, the Barbers have pulled out the stops as they bid to make as thrilling a racket on CD as they do on stage and, to a large degree, they’ve succeeded. Driven by Bryony Griffith’s deliciously rustic fiddle and Damien Barber’s up-and-at-‘em vocals, they’ve assembled a rampaging collection of mostly traditional material that affords plenty of scope for their maverick tendencies, particularly in rhythms that variously employ clogs, beat-boxing and trip-hoppery to maintain the freshness and unpredictability of their tunes and song structures.
A constant deluge of ideas tumble from the speakers, some of them even brilliant enough to overshadow the times they teeter on disaster. The title-track, for one, is a sparkling take on a song associated with the late, great singer Peter Bellamy – himself a slightly eccentric performer and the original source of front man Damien Barber’s “Demon Barber” epithet – and he’d surely approve of their slightly unhinged approach.
Occasionally wayward drumming and a horribly crude Three Drunken Maids that seems to have escaped from an intimating skinhead mob of 1970s football fans drag it down, but the genuinely inspired arrangements of the two tracks that follow, Calling On Song (clogging meets hip hop) and a darkly gripping effect-laden version of the Grateful Dead’s outlaw tale Friend of the Devil swiftly obliterate its odour. Throw in some vigorous tune sets, the stirring political steel of Pound a Week Rise, the irresistible chorus of Rise Up and a gloriously passionate Bryony Griffith vocal on Bonny Boy and you have something of a spectacular.
Who dares don’t always win and sometimes fall flat on their faces, but here the Barbers always come up smelling of roses.