How would you best describe your style of music?
People dream up a lot of complicated terms for it (one of my favourites is “old-school operatic post-punk”) but as far as I’m concerned it’s folk music. There’s a lot of rock and swing in there but at heart I’m a folk artist. Folk is a bit of a dirty word though thanks to the recent deluge of gutless identikit advert music all wrapped up in flatcaps and gingham. It shouldn’t be though, folk music is always about people and people are infinitely fascinating.
When it comes to your own music, what were your influences?
I think my biggest influence is film music. My dad had an LP of the Geoff Love Orchestra playing themes from Westerns, I listened to that a lot when I was a kid. That’s BIG music, full of swells and crashes, but you can still hear the dust blowing towards that long unbroken horizon. I also loved the theatre (my original ambition was to be an actor rather than a musician) and musicals (good ones). I think if I had to give one name as a single influence for my performance style it would probably be Ron Moody playing Fagin in Oliver!
Are they different to the sort of music you listened to growing up?
One listens to things in different ways. There was all sorts of stuff about in the 80s and 90s, some important to me, others more background. Growing up I remember listening to quite a bit of Madness, maybe their sense of fun later crept into my music but it wasn’t a deliberate thing. In my parents’ car it was a mixture of folk artists like Battlefield Band, The Corries and Runrig along with the usual Beatles, Stones, Dylan etc that people usually cite as influences. JJ Cale was also played a lot, I still like his Shades album (bit of a guilty pleasure that one).
What, in your opinion, makes an excellent gig excellent?
The audience. That’s the short answer. And the obvious one. You can tell when an audience isn’t on your side, or isn’t totally convinced, because you feel like you’re pushing against something rather than being propelled along by it. I also really like getting into the audience if I can, breaking the fourth wall. Behind the scenes there are of course loads of things that happen to make a show a success, lots of people who all need to work really hard. The big problem in the UK is that promoters, artists and venues aren’t always on the same side; they don’t always trust each other. There’s a lot of short-term ambition, people aren’t interested in growing a sustainable scene in a lot of places, it’s all about making money quickly, with little or no investment. If there was more honesty and collaboration in this business then more gigs would be excellent.
Any strange stories from the road you want to let us in on?
I hesitate to admit we’re not a crazy band offstage. The tour van is full of books rather than cocaine. The only way to keep getting work is to be reliable. If we’re late or can’t perform or break something then that’s a big problem, we don’t have a big label’s PR department swooping in to rescue us. Our rider does not demand that our dressing rooms be full of live doves and loose women, just some clean towels. Like all bands we have our own little peculiarities though, I have a fond memory of driving through the Austrian alps with Wagner’s Ride Of The Valkyries blaring out at full volume. Biff playing his trombone out of the window during a traffic jam en route to Nuremburg was pretty amusing too. We can also generally rely on the drummer to get into some sort of scrape when we’re on tour.
Any dark secrets hiding in your record collection you’d care to tell us about?
I’m not ashamed of anything. I’m happy to admit that Deee-Lite’s Groove Is In The Heart is a pretty good piece of pop music (anything that can get a swanee whistle into the charts is ok in my book). But mostly I listen to old swing records, Sidney Bechet being a particular favourite.
What’s the best band The Bedlam Six has ever played with?
The Blockheads are pretty amazing, we’ve played with them twice and recently got to know a couple of them. I have a huge amount of admiration for them, they have such a unique balance of being a really tight group but also really fun and relaxed, they make it all seem so effortless, so spontaneous. They lost one of the best frontmen of all time and yet they’re still a world class act. That’s amazing.
What’s your favourite venue? And why?
There’s a gorgeous venue called Parterre in Basel, Switzerland. We played there on the Memoir Noir tour earlier this year. They just got everything right, from the moment we walked in the door to the moment we left for our hotel at dawn the next morning. The manager Andrea is so passionate about the place. Having someone like that who really cares about a venue is so important. The sound was perfect, the audience was great (we got asked to play so many encores we ended up doing an entire extra set outside in the public square – unplugged and candlelit). Backstage there was an assortment of postcards for us to fill in which the venue then posted home for us, the staff had read the band blog and knew it was our drummer’s birthday so brought out a cake for him. I hope that place never feels the scabrous stranglehold of recession, it’s just too good a place to lose.
Ever had a night where everything went wrong?
We played an outdoor event last year where a storm blew up and almost washed everything off the stage. We were propping up the roof with microphone stands as bits came crashing down. The stage box exploded behind the drum kit and we were lucky to get away with all our gear intact. Other than that we usually only experience problems of our own devising – I once got my groin caught on a crowd control barrier as I leapt into the audience: that’s my own stupid fault.
Your videos almost have as much punch as your live shows. How much planning goes into them?
It varies from video to video. “Mother” and “Woe Betide You” involved loads of people and a lot of preparation in making/sourcing props etc, they had at least a dozen crew members each and took a couple of very long days to shoot. “Hold On To Me” used two incredible TV actors who we were very lucky to get and “The Tell-Tale Hound” animation involved countless unseen man-hours from the designers at Plastic Zoo. All of those took a few months planning. But then others like “Living In The Aftermath” came together really quickly, literally one day’s meeting/storyboarding with the director then a couple of days in a wet park with a dog. I guess in pre-production terms the longest was the two years spent growing that beard for the “Deep Enough” video (but then the shoot itself only took about half an hour!). In the music videos it’s always the film-makers who do the most work though, the band and I just have a laugh. Often there are weeks of editing to be done afterwards, it’s a huge process and we’ve been very lucky with every team we’ve worked with.
I absolutely love music videos though. I would make one for every single song if we had the time/money. I think as a format they are utterly unique, a short film that needs no excuse to exist – no message or narrative, just a lot of character. I can’t understand why so many bands make such boring ones. I mean really, who wants to see a bunch of sulky 20-somethings playing their guitars in front of a white background for four minutes? Surely the song is ABOUT something? Tell us a story damn it!
You play at a lot of festivals, are you a tent or a Travelodge man?
We tend to do a couple of festivals each weekend so can’t really stick around long. If there’s any opportunity to go back to Manchester and grab a few hours in our own beds then we’ll do that (even if it’s out of the way). I used to love going to festivals when I was younger but now I’m not so excited by them. When you’re a performer it’s kind of like being the only sober one at a party, it’s hard to soak up the atmosphere in the same way. If the promoter offers a hotel then we take it but that only really happens at continental festivals (we’re not important enough in the UK!). We still sleep in tents – my dislike of them isn’t a snobby thing, it’s just that my joints complain the next day and leaping around onstage becomes a little bit harder!
Any types of music you particularly loathe?
Anything half-baked. Anything that doesn’t seem to be trying hard enough, that doesn’t have respect for the listener. I have time for any genre if it’s done well. But so much stuff on the radio seems to be unfinished – so many sloppy metaphors and lazy riffs, half-hearted delivery and drab production. As a phenomenon music is amazing. Why do so many people make it so irredeemably boring? Shame on them!
You lost what was possibly the most epic beard of all time a few months ago. Do you regularly make sacrifices for your music?
I didn’t see that as a sacrifice. I grew it specifically for that video the way some animals are bred specifically for slaughter. I guess there are a lot of sacrifices in this line of work though. There’s no financial security and there’s a lot of worry that comes with that. Regular stage-diving and general performance buffoonery has led to a lot of pains around my body that show no sign of going away, a few chipped teeth, a dodgy knee and a bad hip but those things are just occupational hazards. The biggest sacrifice I think (and this goes for all musicians) is the way we pin a lot of hope on what we do, there’s an expectancy that things will get better if we just keep going and the sad fact is that often nothing improves. I look at a lot of artists (myself included) and wonder how many would have had children by now if they weren’t trying to make something of themselves in the notoriously unreliable creative industries.
Where do you see yourself musically in 40 years time?
I think that depends on what people want from me and how they consume music. That’s a big leap in time, the music industries are currently in a state of flux, people are struggling to predict what things are going to be like in five years let alone forty. I think people will always want to be entertained though so I hope I’m still writing upbeat tunes that people can dance to with lyrics they can laugh at. I’d definitely like to be better then I am now, that’s for sure. And I don’t want to ever be trying to rekindle something I was doing when younger (as is the curse of so many aging bands). I’ve never been cool or fashionable and I probably never will be so I don’t think I’ll have that problem. I’d like to write musicals and films at some point, actually that’s an avenue I hope to start down soon. Something on a really grand scale.
Why should people go and see Louis Barabbas and the Bedlam Six?
We’re honest. We’re not a brand and we’re not a statement. We’re not something you can pin the hopes of a generation too, we don’t give meaning to the confusion of adolescents and we won’t be sounding the call to arms as the masonry from society’s walls starts crumbling. We are a band in the traditional sense, the songs are about human things and the tempo is upbeat. The orchestrations are complicated but the gist is simple, the rhythm is infectious and the lyrics stand up to scrutiny. We work hard and believe in what we do. We have one rule: Take the music seriously but don’t take yourselves seriously. Above all, we want people to have a good time.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
What’s the best film trilogy of all time?
Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy (A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, The Good The Bad & The Ugly).
Ketchup or brown sauce (HP of course)?
What three famous people would you love to have over for dinner?
Three? I like famous people but I couldn’t eat a whole one, let alone three.
What’s your favourite alcoholic beverage?
Depends on the time of day. Morning: Bloody Mary. Afternoon: Gin & Tonic. Early Evening: Medium bodied Ale. Late Evening: Red Wine. Night: Single Malt Scotch.
For News/Tour Dates visit www.louisbarabbas.com and www.bedlamsix.com
Feature image copyright Andrew Ab 2012