Five dates into their national tour with the re-formed Haircut 100, ATB favourites Barbara rolled into Manchester – and swept all before them in a sensational show at the O2 Ritz.
We’ve never made a secret of our admiration for Barbara, the imaginative, quirky fop-poppers from Brighton who have brothers John and Henry Tydeman as their nucleus. Indeed, it seems that, every time they take a step – be it an EP release, a new single, a live show or – in this case – a major tour supporting a revived British Institution – it turns out to be a massive step in exactly the right direction.
Back in May, the guys were invited to open for Haircut 100 at the prestigious O2 Apollo in Shepherds Bush, London for what was ostensibly a one-off comeback show. Well – Messrs Heyward, Nemes, Jones, Blair and Cunningham must have been mightily impressed because, having decided to take Haircut 100 back on the road for a 16-date British Tour, they asked the Brighton Barbara Boys to join them. And what a wise decision that is turning out to be.
Barbara first attracted our attention when a copy of their 3rd single, the delightful Rainy Days in June popped through our letter box back in December 2021. We loved it, and we were even more thrilled when the Mildly Entertaining EP – a collection of the band’s whimsical works to date – followed in April 2022. Since then, We at ATB have been pretty avid Barbara-watchers and, by our attendance at live shows in Brighton in May 2022, and in Manchester four months later, we’ve initiated ourselves into the growing band of committed Barbarettes. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – Barbara are a band that are really going places.
And, the good news is that their forward momentum shows no sign of abating. At Manchester’s Ritz they were simply breath-taking – and that’s a view that seemed to be shared by an almost-full house of Haircut devotees in the famous somewhat-more-than-intimate Manchester venue. There’s no doubt about it – Barbara made a lot of new friends on the evening of 18th October 2023.
The audience demographic was an interesting one. Probably 60% female and predominantly of an age that I’d put slightly below that normally referred to as ‘certain.’ In other words, an audience likely to be charmed and invigorated by the fare that Barbara have on offer. And, judging by the raucous reception, the whoops of recognition as particular songs were announced and the (sadly) unrequited cries for “more” at the end the band’s set, Barbara’s charm and invigoration did, indeed, hit the spot.
As always, Barbara took the stage to the fanfare of Michael Kamen’s Central Services (theme to the 1985 movie, Brazil) and away they went – straight into last November’s glorious single, Waiting Outside Alone. John was wearing a souped-up version of his signature prep-school boy clobber (he’s replaced his tweed jacket with a snazzy-looking velvet number), whilst Henry was back in the green stripy tank top that features on most of the band’s best-known publicity shots, and it was clear from the outset that the whole band was right on top of the game. Their stage presence and confidence – always massive – seems to have grown even larger and the sound was rich and full. “What an absolute dream to be your little starter, before the big, juicy, main course,” yells John – by way of a welcoming greeting.
By the time Barbara kicked into These New Communications, they had the Ritz crowd eating out of their collective hand. Henry’s backing vocals seemed to be more prominent than I’d ever noticed them to be and Dean Llewellyn’s guitar solo was outstanding. Incidentally, Dean was dressed in what looked suspiciously like Haircut 100 clothing – was he undertaking a surreptitious audition, I found myself wondering…? Recent single, Pretty Straight Guy, was next and the sprung dancefloor was leaping. I’ve often compared aspects of Barbara’s work to 10cc, and that’s a comparison that applies particularly to this song – it might just be be best thing that they’ve done so far in their short career.
John’s announcement, “This one’s a song about a bit of ‘solo’ time – but not like THAT, Manchester…” drew a few knowing sniggers, and the band launched into Rainy Days In June – the song that started our admiration of this most singular of bands. It was a sumptuous burst of summer sunshine on a wet, windy October Manchester night, and the crowd basked and sang along to the la-da-da-da chorus, with John conducting heartily.
The a-cappella opening to A Perishing of Cherished Things was precise enough to have had The Beach Boys gaping in wonderment and, as ever, I found myself relishing the inter-relationships described in the song’s lyrics and the dashes of sheer surrealism that are never far away. “There’s a spider in my bed – imagine that; imagine that!”
Realisation hit that Barbara’s role here tonight was as a support act was starting to dawn, and with it, the inevitable truth that the band’s appearance onstage would be a comparatively brief one, and that realisation was confirmed as John announced that Barbara had “Just two more ‘hits’ – sorry, ‘songs’ to play.” Both were, of course, belters – both from the Mildly Entertaining EP. Enduring favourite, Don’t Send Me Messages – Barbara’s dismissal of the role that social media feature increasingly in modern life – was first, enlivened here by John’s shuffling dance along the edge of the stage, before Barbara bade their farewell with a stonking version of BRB, complete with jangling ABBA licks. there were cries for more but the stage had to be prepared for the evening’s headliners, Haircut 100 so that was that – at least for now. But be in no doubt, Manchester loved Barbara tonight and, judging from comments I picked up around the merch stand after Barbara’s set, Barbara loved Manchester too. They’ll be back, that’s for certain and I suspect that it won’t be too long before they’re drawing capacity crowds into venues like this one in their own right.
It might have been short, but it was oh so very, very sweet.
Barbara are the perfect support act for Haircut 100 on this tour, but, in reality, they’re far too good for that role. Barbara – we love you. See you again, very soon…
And, if you haven’t yet managed to pop along to the Haircut 100 + Barbara tour, there are still plenty dates to go. Why not get yourself along to one of the remaining shows – you sure as hell won’t regret it:
Enjoy a blast of Barbara – here’s the band performing Don’t Send Me Messages – one of the songs they performed at The Manchester Ritz tonight:
Categories: Live Reviews