Barbara – The At The Barrier Interview

Regular At The Barrier visitors will be well aware of our deep – and growing – admiration for Barbara – the Brighton-based pop sophisticates led by brothers John and Henry Tydeman. Mildly Entertaining, the band’s 2022 mini-album was one of our Albums of the Year and we were lucky to be in the audience for a pair of fantastic shows in Brighton and Manchester last year.

Just last week, Barbara were back with their first headline show of 2023 when they returned to The Prince Albert, Brighton – scene of their April 2023 triumph – last week. Sadly, At The Barrier couldn’t make the show this time, but we DID manage to catch up with keyboardist Henry for a chat afterwards. Read on, for revelations about new material, possible touring plans, some cracking Matteo D’Ambrosio photos of the show and news of an amazing upcoming show at one of London’s most iconic venues…

Photo: Mike Ainscoe

ATB: We’re so sorry the At The Barrier couldn’t be at your “Spring Soirée” on Saturday.  How did it go?  Would you mind giving us a few setlist highlights?

Henry: It was great fun! We actually hadn’t played live since last year, so we were really looking forward to getting back onstage. Over the winter, we’ve been working on a batch of new tracks, and we were able to perform three of these on Saturday. One of them is a dialogue between a grandson and a granddad – and John had the idea to dress the band up in grey moustaches and bowler hats for that particular song, which I think people found amusing. John’s very good on the theatrical side of things, always pushing the band to do more bits like this, using props and things like that. We love comedy almost as much as we love music, so it’s nice to add little touches like this throughout the set.

Photo: Matteo D’Ambrosio – Instagram

ATB: The Prince Albert is clearly a favourite venue of yours – and I also love it!  What is it about the place that YOU particularly like?

Henry: Well – the official answer to this is that it’s a lovely venue with great character and a wonderful history. And the more mundane answer is that, because it’s quite a small room, we don’t need to sell too many tickets for it to feel rammed and for there to be a real atmosphere in there. So both of these are true! And – don’t forget their Wall of Fame outside too, a great mural with lots of Rock ‘n’ Roll legends painted on!

ATB: Obviously, the fact that you’re brothers had a lot to do with it, but would you mind telling us a little more about how Barbara came to be?  How you chose your musical style?  How you settled on amazing lyrical approach?

Henry: We often played songs together at the piano when we were kids, but it was only four or five years back that we thought seriously about putting a band together. And, as you might expect, we have similar tastes, which I suppose you could define as “serious” pop music, as in pop music with lyrics that mean something, and say something interesting, something different. Of course, without catchy choruses, pop music falls down pretty quickly; but catchy choruses and thoughtful, quirky lyrics combined – that sort of thing has always really appealed to us. It’s why Ray Davies and Neil Hannon are such great influences of ours, for example.

ATB: Last year, you toured with The Divine Comedy, which must have been a fantastic experience.  You obviously created a deep impression because Neil Hannon has been very complimentary about you – “They are so up my street… really tight songwriting, very Poptastic!”  How did you manage to secure that gig, and what impact has the tour had on Barbara’s popularity?

Henry: We noticed they had a tour coming up, and we thought, “Let’s see what happens if we email his agent.” We send lots and lots of emails, most of which come to nothing, but, amazingly, this one found its way through to Neil himself, who then got in touch and said he’d been really enjoying our music! The whole thing was very surreal… And then, we were invited to tour with them. Still can’t believe it happened, to be honest. We’ll forever be grateful to Neil, because us going on that tour was when we first started to develop a fanbase… and the opportunities that have come up since then all stem from that, really.

Photo: Matteo D’Ambrosio – Instagram

ATB: Speaking of The Divine Comedy – they’re clearly a major influence on Barbara’s music and presentation.  I, and several other writers, have picked out other influences in your work (I’ve mentioned Sparks, 10cc and Stackridge in my reviews) but I suspect that some, or all, of these are coincidental.  Who, alongside The Divine Comedy, do YOU cite as your key influences?

Henry: The Kinks are really important for us. ELO, Rufus Wainwright, Prefab Sprout. The Beatles go without saying, but we also love what the different Beatles did, post-Beatles. Harrison in particular – those 70s records are really special. Recently, John’s been listening to lots of Dean Friedman too. And I’ve discovered Deacon Blue, who I like a lot. There are so many…

Phot: Matteo D’Ambrosio – Instagram

ATB: I’ve just had a listen to your forthcoming single, Enduring Love (out on Friday 7th April.)  I love it and consider it to up there with the best of your work.  Please tell us a little about the song.

Henry: It was written during the first lockdown in 2020. I’d read Ian McEwan’s novel, Enduring Love, and found some of the moments in it so memorable and cinematic and they were in my head when I was sitting at the piano trying to write something. There’s one scene in particular that involves a hot-air balloon that you won’t ever forget, once you read the book. Amazing first chapter – best first chapter of any book I’ve ever read!

ATB: You’ve previously said that Barbara won’t be playing live too often during 2023.  What ARE your plans for the short, medium and long term – in particular, can we expect a follow-up to Mildly Entertaining (an At The Barrier Album of 2022) and an associated tour any time soon?

Henry: We have actually just been asked to support Haircut 100 at The Shepherd’s Bush Empire on Friday 12th May! We absolutely can’t wait for this, to get another chance to go and play in a serious venue to thousands of people is wonderful. We’d love to put on another tour sometime. The only thing stopping us is that they’re expensive things to put on, especially when you don’t have management or an agent. Later in the year, perhaps, or maybe next. It’s frustrating as there are now fans of ours in different parts of the country following those Divine Comedy shows – which makes us very happy indeed, of course – who ask us when we’re next touring, and we’d love to do it, we really would… One day, it’ll happen.

ATB: I’ve always been impressed by Barbara’s live sound and how accurately you reproduce the studio sound of your material.  Who are the other musicians in your touring band, and are they the same guys that you use in the studio?

Henry: They absolutely are! They’re all legends, they bring so much to the songs. There’s Jack Hosgood on bass, Lawrie Miller on drums, and Dean Llewellyn on guitar. All brilliant players and lovely lads too. We’re very lucky to have them.

Our thanks to Henry Tydeman for such a detailed and informative interview – and best wishes from At The Barrier for the upcoming show at Shepherd’s Bush – we confidently expect that there’ll be another rush of recruits to the growing band of Barbarettes after that one!

And – don’t forget – Lucky Barbara Patreon subscribers can be the first to enjoy any of those new songs whenever they may be released – a good enough excuse to subscribe here to either the Comfort Club or the Luxury Club

Listen once again to Barbara’s November 2022 single, Waiting Outside Alone, here:

Barbara Online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Youtube

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