Alex Roberts at The Barge, Honeystreet 

by Ben Romain and Victoria Stanley

We ventured out to the Barge to catch Alex Roberts after first seeing him at The Southgate, Devizes on the highest recommendation of Devizes favourite Vince Bell. That was an introduction to an artist well worth following; so we duly did! 

The Barge has had its challenges in years past with unique past owners and misplaced concepts of what this particular Inn’s place in the community actually is, but happily this experience was more like earliest memories of folk gigs there twenty years before and a great venue to visit once again.

There was a warm welcome into a crowd of characters, some from miles away, pleased to follow Alex and regulars of the Inn and many boaters amongst them. A good foil for a talented folk singer, this crowd knowing as many on the cut do, how to sing and encourage willing musicians! 

Alex loves the Barge, and settled into the ‘stage’ corner with a plethora of instruments, we were treated to interpretations of many great songs in the folk/blues traditions and of course brilliant songs of his own pen. 

Pyramid – Alex Roberts a fantastic song of his own writing, my favourite from his songbook this gig. Then covers such as ‘Girl from the North Country’, Bob Dylan delivered with such warmth and sensibility and a lifelong Dylan fan (such as myself) was enthralled.

So a lovely return to a great local venue and a great gig; everything you want from a Saturday eagerly awaited for this very reason. 

The Barge has a very active Facebook page and many gigs / events, we will certainly be making more of an effort to fit some in following this gig. 


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Boot Hills Take The Barge

If there’s one business to be in during this period of paced easing of lockdown, it must be the marquee business, it’s another for pubs to adequately comprehend what to put inside them. Establishments erect a tent and furnish it with tables so punters can eat and drink alfresco, and some might have an acoustic singer compliment it, but supplying entertainment to suit a crowd eager to get social lives up and running again is the tricky part.

For the Barge at Honeystreet, with its unique combo of a pub, wharf and campsite, historically it created a perpetual mini-festival atmosphere, ergo they’re no strangers to understanding how to accommodate restrictions and still throw a mind-blowing party.

What the now-owners have done is nothing short of miraculous; to enhance this ethos, and create an apt space to house the original concept.

With fields-worth of camping pitches, tipi glamping zone, the derelict barn transformed into a tremendously decorated arts and performance space, a brilliant children’s playpark, suitable showers and washroom facilities, the many vast improvements have made the Barge something folk could only dream of in years gone by. And for which they should be extremely proud.

Glamping in the bell tents at The Barge

Naturally, I had to check this out myself, improvements already underway prior to lockdown when I last paid a visit, for Knati P and Nick’s Skanga sound system. Of course, back then we danced inside the pub, and given when I booked tickets for this Boot Hill All Stars extravaganza, we were under the impression restrictions would be fully lifted.

To maintain decorum and keep everyone seated while hosting a gig from a scrumpy and western, Wurzels-meets-the Specials in a kind of frenzied gypsy-folk-punk band of misfits, eagerly anticipating their first performance since lockdown, was never going to be easy. Yet through sheer respect for what the owners of the Barge have achieved, restrictions were adhered to and the best made of a bad situation.

Junksville Geetar!

Crowds remained seated, within the huge airy marquee, though were aching to break out in dance fever, as the celebrated Boot Hill All Stars did their thing, with bells on, corsets, fluffy dusters and frontman Flounder wearing a testicles necklace and sporting a new twin-tooth Ripsaw Resonator made from recycled and renovated material from Junksville Guitars. All revealed as they disrobed from their “lockdown attire” dressing gowns!

But this was not before support came from the bizarrely unique jack-hammered blues duo, Dry White Bones. Unique I say by way of a Dave on harmonica, and a washboard dangling from his neck, with metallic camping mug, and a variety of homemade percussion features attached, to compliment his other half’s rusty but powerful blues vocals plus acoustic guitar. The pair make quite a show, with entertaining banter and an improbably unpredicted sound; Dave breaking into a sublime harmonica solo of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald’s Summertime, only as an intro to their own composition, for example, is nothing short of genius. Yet, if you feel a guy tapping a camping mug sounds a bit silly, this is something you really have to witness yourself to fully appreciate.

To the main event of the show, and it is a show, rather than a gig; think vaudeville in a gypsy caravan, circus at Madstock to just go part of the way. It’s an expression of unabashed folly, where Toots & the Maytals’ Monkey Man, can befittingly follow a frantic cover of Dolly Parton’s Jolene. Props such as chairs for Cossack dancing, and handheld signs, one reading “tiny Jesus,” the other, “on a hot cross bun” correspond to their original and humorous song titles. A gig where if dancing is not allowed the gang encourage items of clothing be waved around instead, ending with a pair of bloomers landing on Flounder’s guitar headstock.

Classics known to Boot Hill fans, the comical female masturbatory subject of Devil’s Doorbell to ska-fuelled Night Bus and Monkey in the Hold and were accomplished, (the latter I plug is on our 4 Julia’s House compilation,) but not before a few new, lockdown-related tunes were presented; one of the NHS, the second concerning the Homer Simpson practise of drinking alone in your underpants. With twelve years of doing this under their belt, though they confessed nerves to me prior to going on, it seemed like riding a bike to the punters, stimulated by the epic routine.

There could be no act more apt for The Barge at Honeystreet, yet with a restaurant, and passing activities along the canal or campsite like paddle boating, The Record Deck longboat record store, and Stephanie and Simon’s traditional printing press from a pink milkfloat to name but a few, there’s always something happening, and it’s usually bonkers. As for gigs, the show must go on, and for a mere fiver ticket stub, next Friday sees the arrival of Grizzley and the Grasshoppers, Saturday night will go off with local legendary resident DJ and producer Rich the Ditch and friends on the wheels of steel, and Somerset hip hop outfit, Monkey Bizzle’s album launch on the following Friday 9th July, in this pocket of resistance from our affluent conservative corner of the universe.

Me? I got out of the rut and had a blinder, thanks for asking.


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Back at th’ Argy Bargee

Ahoy, took a journey across the downs to Honeystreet Saturday, the ol’ stomping ground never looked so good.

Amidst affluent villages of the Marlborough Downs few pockets of counter culture hide. Notably, none more renowned than The Barge at Honeystreet.

With memorable days of yore, the pub, its adjoining wharf and campsite has always thrived with the spirit of a mini festival. If this lively reputation has been dubious recently, with changes of ownership and a community buyout, it’s now confirmed; the once jewel in our live music scene has regained its dynamism and essence.

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On adding gigs to our calendar, I’d noticed a consistent drift of local acts adding regular nights at this scenic old mill house, and with our prime sound system attending Saturday, I couldn’t hold back any longer, the desire to investigate was paramount; fetch my tie-dye tee.

Rammed carpark, a straggler sitting on a sarsen stone with a can of Strongbow took it upon himself to police parking, and kindly directed me back towards the sawmill. Sauntering the track on foot, familiar sounds of a gypsy boater’s haven blessed my ears; jolly laughter, dogs barking and the compulsory thunder of bass.

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The front lawn was chock-full of revellers upon my arrival, dogs and kids running wild, drinks flowing merrily around a strategically positioned speaker by the door. Struggle to ascend to the bar without smiling greetings, welcoming hugs, and the customary handclasp from Razah heading the controls to a tower of speakers. The bass is positively throbbing inside as merrymakers mingle and skank, I’d expect no less.

I observed, design wise things looked fresh; same ol’ extensive bar, retaining the previous open-plan renovation. Wow, must’ve been my stag do last time I was here; complete with charred sausages from a drunken campsite barbeque, perpetual rounds of tequila and a druid grudgingly cast as the wizard-o-gram.

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Speaking to the site manager, who’s name escaped my lobes (Dylan?) due to the sweet reggae vibes of our local purveyors of sound system culture, Razah and Knati P, I’m informed most Fridays and every Saturday is dedicated to live music. Where the crop circle centre of the world identifier perhaps waning with trends, the inescapable music scene is blossoming once again.

 

This Saturday evening as lively as ever before, if not more, engrained what I’d anticipated, The Barge is back on the circuit and the news is out. With the rotting neighbouring barn replaced by a plush wooden extension with showers and camping washing facilities, upwards there’s a community arts space, which opens up to the rear garden.

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Outside table areas are equally as jam-packed as the front, beyond, the fire-lit campsite resembling a free party of days gone by. A basic play area for kids and table tennis balances something for all here, yet the icing on the cake is eternally unchangeable, the stunning surroundings of Alton Barnes and the White Horse on Milk Hill.

What a wonderful setting for a gathering of any sort, but with the inimitable radiance of the inhabitants of the Pewsey vale, and the ethos of bringing the best local live music acts, you know it’s going to go off. Any normal night will cost £8 to camp, and good homecooked food is served, so despite its middle-of-nowhere location, you need not fuss about getting home, even to feed the dog. The site is dog-friendly, if you haven’t got a dog, you’ll be issued with one for the weekend.

From those twisted masters of the dark Somerset blues, The Black Wood Redeemers, to Devizes-own indie-pop People Like Us, and from Swindon’s skanking hip hoppers, The Tribe to Avebury’s star George Wilding, The Barge wasted no time whamming its pin back in the map.

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Coming Friday (2nd August,) sees the ferocious and whimsical galloping of gypsy boat folk, with Calico Jack, while reggae vibes return Saturday with both a live set from The Urban Lions, a band who campaigned and fundraised to get this Barge back on waters, and their dub sound system Lionheart Vibration. In contrast, perhaps, I’m equally pleased to see indie-pop upcomers, Daydream Runaways headlining August 17th, with Ben Borrill supporting, and a suburb bank holiday festival line-up.

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With Punjabi style Bhangra outfit, RSVP, headlining, The Argy Bargee Weekender on 23rd-26th August, set in a marquee in the camping field, may come at a £12.50 day ticket stub, or £30 for the whole weekend, but also promises People Like Us, Matt Cook, Phil Cooper & Jamie R Hawkins, Panacoustic, Tripolar and The Tribe, with Knati & Razah’s sound system too. And of course, the given notion they’ve got the know-how-to-party t-shirt, it’s more than tempting.

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So, topper-most respect t’ Brenden ‘n co, th’ new crew o’ th’ Barge, th’ acts ‘n that crazy crowd; yeâd be a land-lubbin’ mug nah t’ bookmark th’ destination this summer!


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