The collected works of whimsy – so far – from Brighton’s satirical pop maestros, Barbara.
Release Date: 22nd April 2022
Label: Self Release
We know about Barbara. In fact, their December 2021 single, Rainy Days In June, helped brighten up many a dull day chez At The Barrier, during that coldest and darkest of months. And now they’re back – with another dose of whimsical English sunshine. The title may be self-effacing and suggestive of the faintest of faint praise, but Mildly Entertaining, an EP that collects Barbara’s output to date, with the addition of a wonderful new song, is a delight.
To recap: Barbara is a Brighton-based duo – brothers Henry and John Tydeman – and, when we first stumbled across their joyous brand of bouncy, infectious English satirical pop, we were, as the phrase goes, bowled over. I’ve previously compared the duo’s sound and intent to the best of Stackridge, The Bonzos, The Divine Comedy and The Duckworth Lewis Method and a repeated listening of Mildly Entertaining also exposes hints of the proggy unpredictability of peak-period 10cc. I’d strongly advise that followers of any of these bands check out Barbara – you’re guaranteed to enjoy them. I certainly do!
Mildly Entertaining is a five-track EP that collects the duo’s four previous singles – These New Communications, the aforementioned Rainy Days In June, A Perishing of Cherished Things and BRB, and adds a brand-new song, Don’t Send Me Messages. We’ll get round to the details shortly… As with Rainy Days in June, the production reins have been gathered up by Tom Rees, frontman with the Cardiff rock outfit Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard, this time with help from prolific songwriter/performer/producer Paul Steel and Brighton-based producer/multi-instrumentalist Theo Verney and, I must say, that it’s nice to see the band’s work assembled under the one single roof.
The Stackridge sentiments are well to the fore in opening track These New Communications, a contemplation of the perils of social media. It’s poppy, with some nice guitar and a lyrical message that leaves the listener with lots to think about and which will encourage repeated plays.
We’ve already said a lot about previous single, Rainy Days in June. In our December review, we used words like “clean,” “punchy,” – “joyous” – even, to describe the song, and I’ll stick by that. I still love the escapist lyrics, particularly the expressed preference for spending holiday time with an engaging book, rather than by partying – a sentiment that resonates ever more deeply as holiday season starts to become a reality. As soon as I heard Rainy Days in June, I knew that it would be a song that I’d want to keep returning to, and I was right.
The delightful A Perishing of Cherished Things is, perhaps, my pick of the crop. It’s a well-structured song, reminiscent of 10cc at their smart-arsed zenith. The song’s lyrics, which concern the tribulations of Wendy, Sharon and Alan – a trio who “Anyway… get to go abroad on holiday…” are confusingly wonderful, and I love the long fade-out around the “There’s a spider in my bed” theme. It’s all splendidly daft, and it has to be heard to be believed.
Tinkly keyboard provides the intro to the collection’s new song, Don’t Send Me Messages, a song that returns to the subject of the “anxiety and disillusionment induced by our over-reliance on apps, emails and social media.” Co-producer Theo Verney brings a measure of wooziness to a rocky number that manages, somehow, to also pay a fleeting visit to Buddy Holly’s Raining in My Heart… and the desire for independence and isolation from electronic social bombardment is perfectly captured in lyrics that include lines like: “Have you seen my electronic self/ worried that he’s damaging my electronic health.”
This wonderful, short, sweet, collection is wound up by early single BRB, a slice of anthemic pop with embedded references to ABBA and repeated lyrical themes that I’m determined to decipher.
Barbara is a band destined to go places – very soon. Their music is infectious and challenging in equal measures but, above all, it’s great, great fun. They’re touring in support of The Divine Comedy – a marriage made in heaven, I’d say – between 26th April and 1st May. If you’re planning to pop along, you’ll definitely see what I mean, and I suspect that you may be leaving your local concert hall after the show with a signed copy of Mildly Entertaining secreted somewhere about your person. And that’s not all! Barbara will be launching Mildly Entertaining at a show at the Prince Albert in Brighton on 26th May. At The Barrier will be there, and we hope that you’ll be able to join us for what promises to be a great event. And, if you’re not able to get to Brighton, fear not, because Barbara are also planning a short tour to promote the EP, with shows scheduled at The Hare and Hounds, Birmingham, on 6th September, Gullivers, Manchester, on 7th September and The Grace, London on 8th September, before returning to the home territory of The Prince Albert on 17th September to round off the tour. Get along there – you won’t regret it.
Watch the Official video to A Perishing of Cherished Things – a track from the EP – here: