House of Casks; Barrelhouse Played The Southgate

Easter weekend in Devizes, where aside a canoe race, we’re awash with options for blues music. A diversity of genres debatable, blues is Devizes’ mainstay; a majority wouldn’t wish for it to be any other way. Me? I’m fine too with Billy Walton at Long Street while the Southgate has a local blues band, especially when it’s Barrelhouse….

Hailing from the Marlborough-Swindon areas, I’ve seen this five-piece offering “vintage blues with a hard-edged groove,” before on their home-turf MantonFest, where they rule the day through dependency. I witnessed an expectant crowd swamp the stage area upon their arrival. Such is the limbos of local circuits, while Barrelhouse have graced the trusty Gate before, many there seemed unaware of their excellence, and were pleasantly surprised.

Apt is their self-penned description, they sent us a signature tune about voodoo for our first Julia’s House compilation, with a seriously beguiling blues riff. One has to wonder to the significance of their voodoo affiliation; young, slim lead vocalist Martin Hands appears to have magically exchanged voices with an aged, stout Afro-American, akin to Howlin’ Wolf, to the point it’s possible there’s such a character wandering the Mississippi giving west country tongue, “lush moi luver, praper jarb!”

I use the term lead vocalist rather than frontman, for while last week’s offering at the Southgate was the incredible Worried Men, focus there was on frontman Jamie Thyer with his spellbinding guitarwork bridging every historical variety of blues and rock fusion, the golden element of Barrelhouse is quite the opposite, it’s the unification of the band, and their set style.

Tightly rehearsed, they work as a unit and customise that age-old delta blues formula, to the point where even if other Americana covers are played out, like Johnny Cash, as they did, they’re enriched with that simple working recipe. That’s why the roots of blues are so memorable above later adaptions, it’s the expediency of the rhythm.

So, between their parallel originals, they’re best covering the likes of Bo Diddly, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, Hand’s gritty vocals, coupled with the twang of lead guitarist Tim’s cigar-box guitar bleeds authenticity into it. Though they’re known to also blend the same formula to version other crowd-pleasing genres, such as their celebrated cover of Ace of Spades.

Newly released to a third album, we were introduced to some teasers, and hardly noticeable between said covers, they played out previous album tracks. Mostly upbeat, there were also some sublime moments of smooth downtempo, where as Jim Morrison could, Martin held the audience in his palms. Unusually for typical local bands, Hands plays no instrument, ergo the comparison to someone like Morrison is justified, more so by his somewhat mysterious stage presence, as bass player Stuart Whant seems to take over the stage banter and tune introductions.

Whichever they decide, covers archetypical of their style, adaptions or originals, there’s short blasts of enriching fineness, a working combination flows through them, and the ride is exhilarating.

Precisely what they did last night, and effortlessly won the minor crowd, who broke out in uncontainable bopping; another grand night at the dependable Southgate.


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