The Demon Barbers
New Milton, Hampshire
Friday June 14th 2013 8 p.m.
Damian Barber- lead vocal, guitar, concertina, tambourine
Bryony Griffith – fiddle
Ben Griffith – drums, vocal
Max (?) – bass guitar, vocal
Will Hampson – melodeon
See also review of THE LOCK-IN at Poole in February this year.
We saw The Demon Barbers’ show The Lock In at Poole Lighthouse a few months ago, and were keen to see the band outside the theatre show as well. Forest Arts is a tiny community theatre venue, and wasn’t full which was a shame, because this was a show worth seeing. How worth seeing? Well, we had tickets for Bruce Springsteen on the Saturday following, and also tickets for a play, The Cripple of Inishmaan, in the West End on the same day in the afternoon. The day looked fraught … two weeks ago it took us well over 90 minutes from the theatre to the M25, let alone to Wembley Stadium. Springsteen is doors open 16.30, on stage at 19.00, then standing, we’d be the last to arrive, so it would be where my five foot tall companion would not have seen anything but armpits. Neither of us fancied seeing him in a football stadium with 74, 998 others, and so we passed on our tickets. And got Demon Barbers’ tickets tonight instead. I’d rather see The Demon Barbers up close and personal with fewer than one hundred people than the Boss with 74,998. And we’re pleased we made that choice.
Damian Barber is a relaxed, confident, funny front guy with a powerful presence. When we got there at 7.30, we could hear muffled sound checking right up to ten minutes before the start. Apparently it had taken them over six hours to get to the New Forest, unsurprising news for locals in June on a Friday evening. The other reason was that fiddler Bryony Griffith had totally lost her voice, which meant there were her three lead vocal songs which they couldn’t do, and the replacements had to be from their back catalogue, stuff they said they hadn’t done for five years. All well and good, but the bass player, Max, has only joined recently to replace the original bass player Lee Sykes, who had been in the band since the beginning in 2000, and was on their first album in 2002. So he hadn’t learned the deep back catalogue. All was explained, but they could have got away without telling … it explains the longer sound check. The bass guitar work was excellent on both the back catalogue songs and throughout. He doesn’t use distortion in the way Lee Sykes did in The Lock In, and it’s hard to replace a well-loved and superb player, but it worked with a cleaner bass sound. I’m harping on about bass guitar because loud powerful bass guitar is a Demon Barbers’ signature, in contrast to other bands like Bellowhead who prefer helicon and bass from the melodeon, or double bass … all unfretted instruments. Like Fairport in days of yore, the Demon Barbers have a first-rate rock rhythm section, with electric bass guitar, and Ben Griffiths on drums. That’s why they can go into a reggae rhythm, or a ska rhythm combined with English folk. Bryony Griffiths is a marvellous fiddle player, and Will Hampson is on melodeon, while Damian Barber plays acoustic guitar, concertina and tambourine.
I wasn’t doing set lists, but they opened with Damian Barber’s own composition, The Good Old Days, and performed most of the Captain Ward album … the title track, Captain Ward, came second in the set. Pound A Week Rise, Three Ravens were in the first half, then Rise Up, Three Drunken Maids, Harry’s Hornpipe, Munchen Fest, and the Grateful Dead’s Friend of the Devil were in the second half, the last as the closing number.
The clog dancing duo are the other signature item in their show, and the number with just the clogs and Ben Griffith’s drumming was outstanding stuff. At least one of the older songs was from Uncut (2002) and (I think) was Ready For The Dance. Betsy Bell was from their 2008 EP “+24 Db”. There was a Martin Carthy song too.
They’re an incredibly hard working band. From New Milton they’re off the next day to Bradford for a lunchtime gig, then Goole the same evening, Sheffield the next day, Sunday, then retracing their route all the way back to the South coast for Fareham on Monday. As Van Morrison and Richard Manuel sang in “4% Pantomime” Mr Booking Agent, please don’t book those jobs so far apart … Then they’re into the Festival Season with The Lock In Dance Show, and their new show The Demon Barbers XL.
It was a great evening. A very good feeling all round, warm, friendly, excellent musically. I wish there’d been more in the audience to enjoy it.