Barnbox at The Dukes

The Round at The Dukes might just be Lancaster’s best venue, even before Stephen Hudson decorates it with giant fluffy clouds, and for Barnbox it’s fairly full, which is great to see.

On the floor, Jo Gillot picks her way delicately through her wry vignettes of hesitancy and abstraction.  She has a voice that soars and drops in just the right places, and her guitar playing is equally fine.  Her repertoire contains at least three genuine pop gems: Bit Of Zen, with its chirpy, walking guitar line, the aptly named Spectacular and my personal favourite, the dark yet winsome Staple You.

From sweet folk pop to How’s My pop’s wordy Dylan if he’d grown up in North Manchester in the early 80s pre-baggy indie.  Such a shame about the rubbish name, because when they reach for that widescreen sound to match Andy’s expansive lyrics they tap into a vein of 60s/80s amalgam worked successfully by the likes of The Coral.  Perhaps all they need is that one killer song to step up from good to great.

I’ll be frank, one thing I really don’t get about gigs like this is the urge to have the comedy compere perform.  James Knight didn’t make me laugh and I saw a few other grimaces around the room at his cod-rap pastiches. 

And then there was Kriss Foster, about whom, etc.  Some hail Kriss as comedy genius, but I wouldn’t go that far.  I actually enjoyed some of his material tonight, far more than the previous time I saw him.  (A night Kriss admits wasn’t one of his best.)  I’m puzzled though by parts of his act.  He came on in a leopard outfit, but then didn’t really take that concept anywhere, barely alluding to it at all.  It was as though he was trying too hard, which he really didn’t need to do.  Songs like She Fell Through the Gap and particularly the VIMTO Song use their apparent gaucherie to develop an amusing charm without gimmicks.

Each time I see Uncle Jeff I like them more.  Their Americana tinges get catchier and more effective without blatant hooks.  A neat trick of clever songwriting aided by being tight yet never dry as a band.  Midway through the set the floor is thronged with frenetic dancing as Uncle Jeff subtly enhanced the tempo and Stephen’s vocals take on a grandiose Mike Scott fervour.  On this form Uncle Jeff are as good as any band in town and Barnbox a great night out.


14 Responses

  1. Stephen, do you need a home for them fluffy clouds? Currently decorating my house and think they would be the perfect addition to my hallway!!
    Lunecy, you’re right about the Round Theatre-Dukes, it’s a great venue.
    Looking at doing a Totally Wired night there later in the year.

  2. I agree with Kev that this was a great night out. Personally, I think it was a major coup for Barnbox too insofaras the numbers that they managed to pull into The Round that evening and the professionality of the organisation and performances. I felt I was witnessing another evolutionary step in Barnbox’s relatively short life so far, involving bands and performers that should now surely be counted up there side by side amongst Lancaster’s finest.
    The awe-inspiring aspects of this evening were two-fold. One being that the talent on show that night are only just eking their ways into their 20s – this may sound patronising, but I mean it inasmuch as it is almost scary what they will do next when they are so darned good now; and the other being the sheer determination and no little skill of the Barnbox collective and its main driving forces i.e. Tom Diffenthal, Kriss Foster, Stephen Hudson, and James Knight. The collective have so far released Kriss’s single with How’s My Pop’s (like the name or not it’s too late to change it with a Glastonbury appearance and two albums under their belt) new album pressed and about to be out shortly, but there will follow more before the year is out from Uncle Jeff and others. Far from being a record label only, they have also branched out into film-making and are far from being a ‘closed’ group as they actively encourage absolutely anyone to join them and bring their art, ideas, skills and originality to their circle.
    Being painfully aware of how difficult and nerve-wracking it is to organise this type of event, this was a fantastically successful night at a great venue and I’m sure only the beginning.

    • I agree Paul, but it still irritates me that most of those people wouldn’t have come to exactly the same line-up at The Yorkie, or The Gregson or Storey. It’s the cache of The Dukes and the cliques that associate with certain venues that I would most like to overcome.

  3. We have 3 nights running currently, with many acts flowing and the desire to bring alot more for people to enjoy. Please visit our myspace for updates.

  4. you didn’t mention the fantastic raw egg eating man…

  5. I’m sorry to read that James Knight didn’t get a more favourable write up from Lancaster’s newest latest lit/crit’ vehicle.

    James, in character, seems to have a unique gift in being able to split his audience. Whilst he can ‘go down at parties like the smoking ban’, I’ve always assumed him to be playing quite decidely in the space between grins/grimace?

    I think it was Dumbo xine that said something about his pathetic portraits of young men being both poignant and hilarious?

    If I were a literary cat, and more so, if I were overegging it on a regional/virtual blogspace, I’d say he’s up there with Michel Houellebecq in being able to offer his audience a rich, broad sketch for masculinity in a particularly time and space (-Western European/neo liberal?). Houellebecq maybe hits home for an older man, wheras James maybe speaks more to/more for the younger?

    Both these guys nail their subjects with Masterstroke and inspire as much revulsion as they do enjoyment.

    So, I’m sorry to hear the reviewer missed out.

    James’ performance never – in my experience, abandons a respect for his audience and ultimately, a will to entertain.

    I’d recommend anyone catch him again.

    I’ve enjoyed his compere at the Blue Peter Badge Winners Get In Free nights with the fullness!

    As for Kriss Foster, he was pure gold in The House Of Whimsey.

    • As you say, James seems to polarise an audience, and I didn’t get it. Which is not to say that others wouldn’t like his performances. The same applies to Kriss, and I would add that the first time I saw him I hated his show, but this time I enjoyed some of it. Context matters too. Maybe another time James’ humour and mine will coincide more, or maybe not.

  6. I’m prob gonna get shot for this, but I think Kriss Foster is slightly overrated. Once you get pass the ‘wackiness’, there’s not a whole lot there. The Vimto Song gets old by the 2nd and 3rd listen and the forced eccentricity (IE – Dressing up as a leopard) is just plain irritating. He does have at times an appealing quirkiness, but he needs to cut out the gimmicks and concentrate more on songwriting.

    Uncle Jeff and Stephen Hudson I quite liked when I saw them at The Totally Wired launch night a couple of weeks back. I picked up on the Americana influence too – not a bad thing for sure.

  7. I was gonna add actually that Uncle Jeff/Stephen Hudson’s solo work reminds me of Peter Case’s at times.

    • Interesting shout that Reza. In my notes for that review I wrote Flying Nun Records as they have that sort of sound in full band mode.

  8. I’ve enjoyed Kriss Foster since I came across him.

    If some folk don’t like him, that’s fair enough. He’s proven himself able to charm audiences far and wide (not that this in itself, is any measure of his worth – but to address the charges made above, think it’s worth remembering how successful he is?).

    I don’t tend to think of him as a songwriter, and I wonder if it’s a fair reading to suggest he should concentrate on any one thing in particular?

    Kriss seems to have a decided aesthetic which lends itself to much that he puts his hand to. His poster drawings, newspaper comics, music and theatre performances all share both a distinct and consistent style and whether he’s working as a promoter, a film-maker or a performer, he seems able to deliver the goods?

    To me, he’s a local treasure with an appeal well beyond the region – like the station he sings about in his song.

  9. Hey hey hey. I guess I fall into an awkward category seeing as I am a spoken word artist with the odd relatively amusing line, and only really choose to perform for non poetry audiences, unlike some ‘poets’ who only dare reveal their work to overly attentive literary audiences. I would, however, like to emphasise that, despite being offered slots at comedy nights I have never accepted them. This is simply because I am not, and have never been a comedian, and would not call myself a ‘comedy compere.’ If what I say is at all funny then I guess it’s a compliment, as I only on occasion try to be. What I try to do is highlight the insecurities of modern masculinity as well as parody the ridiculousness of the poetry art form. I guess I get a raw deal because I perform at non poetry events, whereas other poet comperes such as Seagun-Lee French (Apples and Snakes) are sometimes funny sometimes not and are well received at poetry events. As for the ‘cod-rap’ comment, I would like to put it in its plaice…I am not a rapper either!! It seems that by neglecting the word ‘poet’ in your review you have failed to show an understanding of the contemporary spoken word art form, which is a shame. Due to my decision to perform mainly at non poetry events, sometimes people will get it, sometimes people won’t, and sometimes I’ll have to scream above the drunken noise. But after doing this once at a dreadful gig at Pennybank, an old man who had never been to a poetry night came up to me and said ‘fucking top that mate.’ If one person in the audience goes away with that opinion then it means far more to me that any slam victory, journal publishing, laugh, applause or review of any kind. If you don’t like me, just talk over me, or grow a pair and spit on me, that would be cool 🙂

  10. James that raises a philosophical question about the differences between an artist’s perception of themself and the audience’s reception to that audience. If you define yourself as not a comedian but people find you funny is it unfair of the critic to describe you as comedy?
    I didn’t view you as a poet on this occasion because I perceived you as a comedy compere, and if I missed the point, fair enough, but as I said above about Kriss, sometimes context makes all the difference, and on this occasion it was a role as compere that seemed to be key.
    Where I wish to actively disagree with you is in encouraging those who dislike you to talk over you. That would be rude to those who do enjoy your performance, and I’m sure you like me have attended many performances that were marrred by the inane chatter of the disinterested over the voice of the people we actually paid to see.

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