Barbara, Brighton’s rising stars, return home to launch their sensational new EP in grand style.
Regular At The Barrier readers will know that I’m developing quite a liking for Brighton’s rising stars, the Brothers Tydeman, otherwise known as the quirky, whimsical (supplemented) duo, Barbara. I was utterly knocked out by their recent EP, Mildly Entertaining, and, when I learned that the guys had chosen to return home after their recent short tour supporting their heroes The Divine Comedy to launch Mildly Entertaining in front of their own crowd – well – I just had to be their, didn’t I?
And I’m so pleased that I made the effort – not just because Barbara were fantastic and exceeded my wildest expectations (although they did – and I’ll tell you about that shortly) – but because the whole evening was such great fun. Three short sets by three bands who clearly enjoyed what they were doing, played in a packed, sweaty, tiny room in a fantastic venue. My word, how we’ve missed events like this over the past two years!
The Prince Albert deserves a special mention. Located just a short skip from Brighton’s Railway Station, it’s a Victorian hostelry, originally built as a hotel for travellers arriving into the city. Externally, there’s no other building like it – the whole east wall of the pub is covered in a mural that’s a shrine to the great cult icons of our music. There’s even an original Banksy in amongst the heroes – the famous “Kissing Policemen” piece. One look at the building and you just know that a good time will be had within its walls.
And a good time was what Barbara and their friends had in mind for us!
Local alt-pop singer/songwriter Lucy Feliz (read her feature with us here) got the evening off to a grand start with a short set that covered an amazing range of bases, ranging from 80’s synth-pop to Fleet Foxes-inspired acoustic introspection, with tastes of grungy rock thrown in for good measure along the way. Current single, Forget Me Not was a particular highlight, as was closing number, Orange Peel, and the still-gathering crown got right behind her. Apparently, her regular bass player was unavailable for the show and the basslines were instead provided by keyboard player, PB. He must of done well – I didn’t notice the join! Lucy already has two albums under her belt, 2017’s Ancestry and Last of the Sun, released in late 2020 and rumour has it that a third album is about to emerge from the pipeline. On tonight’s evidence, it’s certainly be worth a listen!
I imagine that the inspired and eclectic choice of interval music is a treasured feature of a Barbara show – if it isn’t, perhaps it will become so. The version of music hall favourite Oh Mr. Porter wasn’t the Marie Lloyd original, nor was it the famous Norah Blaney rendition. Was it Dora Bryan? Nevertheless, it was as welcome as it was surprising and entirely appropriate to the evening’s proceedings. It sat somewhat incongruously alongside Gilbert O’Sullivan’s Alone Again, Naturally, and the choice of Tom Lehrer’s Poisoning Pigeons in the Park and the theme tune to Steptoe and Son were inspired. These are the tunes to put anyone into a Barbara mood.
Equally inspired was the choice of Bowiesque as the second act of the evening. By the time they made their appearance, the venue just about full, and it was ready to rock. They’re obviously popular and well-known on the Brighton scene, they’re tight and highly accomplished and the singer has David Bowie’s vocal inflections off to a tee. Once again, the set length was limited to half a dozen numbers, but that was really all they needed to crank up the audience for the main event. They went down a bomb – their version of Ziggy Stardust was fantastic and closing number Space Oddity was sublime.
I managed to catch up briefly with both John and Henry Tydeman – the main components of Barbara – before they went on stage. The brothers make no secret of their admiration for The Divine Comedy and for Neil Hannon in particular. They were still buzzing from their stint as TDC’s support on the British leg of their spring 2022 tour – 17 dates that visited such august venues as Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, The Usher Hall in Edinburgh, Newcastle City Hall and, of course, The Dome in Brighton. Barbara were well-received on the tour, particularly – John emphasized – the further north the tour went (with the exception of Brighton, where they were unsurprisingly greeted as homecoming heroes.) They were confidently expecting a surge in interest from their participation on the tour, and that’s an expectation that seems to have been deservedly met – several of the people around me had been enticed to come along after seeing Barbara for the first time during the tour.
And so – to Barbara. They took the stage to Michael Kamen’s Central Services (theme from the 1985 movie, Brazil) – yet another inspired detail that fitted the mood perfectly – and, after a lone “Greetings, all Barbarettes!” went straight into Walking Outside Alone, a vibrant opening number and one of only two tunes in the band’s set not to feature on the Mildly Entertaining EP. I was struck immediately by the immensity of the band’s stage presence; perhaps I shouldn’t have been, but, in my defence, merely listening to their recordings hadn’t prepared me for the magnitude of John’s command of the stage. I’ve already made comparisons to The Bonzos, Stackridge, 10cc and The Divine Comedy whist reviewing Barbara’s music; having now watched them perform, I’ll have to add Sparks to that list – albeit a version of that band where Russell Mael is replaced by Rick Mayall.
Mildly Entertaining had its first airing the evening with These New Communications – the EP’s opening track – and a stonking version it was too! The observant amongst us had noticed that John was toting a sticking plaster across his nose, a feature that he decided to confront as “The elephant in room,” as he went on to blame his mother for its presence, the result of an ill-advisedly applied hot towel to get rid of a blackhead, and suggested that Barbara’s next single will be “My Mother Gave Me a Nose Burn.” You never know with these guys, they may just write a song about that, but, for the present, we made do with Pretty Straight Guy, a wonderful, jangly tune with heavy rock highlights that once again brought the Sparks comparison back to mind.
From the number of people in the audience singing along to the band’s most recent single, the marvelous Rainy Days in June, it’s clear that the Barbara message is spreading pretty rapidly. John urged us on as we sang by challenging us to “hit the cheeky 7th at the end.” I think maybe one or two possibly managed to do that. A Perishing of Cherished Things remains my favourite track on Mildly Entertaining, and tonight’s version was sublime, with a brilliant heavy metal ending tagged on for good measure.
Next up was Don’t Send Me Messages, Barbara’s swipe at social media and texting obsessives and, after an observation about the potential danger of the leaky air conditioning unit at the back of the room John announced the last number, with a wink to indicate that, if we were good, it wouldn’t really be the last one. The version of the band’s first single, BRB was chunky and rocky, with the Abba licks from Henry’s keyboard cutting right through. It was tremendous.
And, sure enough, there was time for one more. Liza and ‘Bowie’ rejoined the party for a closing burst of Bowie’s Modern Love, then that was it. Barbara are a stunning live act – far better that I’d dared to expect, even though their regular bass player was injured and unable to play (instead’, he acted as the evening’s MC, and his stand-in did a sterling job!) Mildly Entertaining is an excellent EP and a great start for these immensely talented brothers and the grapevine is abuzz with rumours that there’s more great music on the way from Barbara. Personally, I can’t wait.
I arrived in Brighton ready to expect the clever lyrics, the quirky tunes and the tight band, but I was swept away by Barbara’s energy, presence and sheer force. Barbara are going places and I strongly advise At The Barrier readers to climb on board the Barbara bus, because this is going to be one hell of a ride!
Watch Barbara perform These New Communications – a track from their recent EP, Mildly Entertaining, here:
Categories: Live Reviews