Friday, October 27, 2023

Barbara Brings the Bling to Birmingham

Exploding onto the stage in a tornado of pinstripe, wool and corduroy, Barbara showed the fans of Birmingham a slick, polished performance blending the visuals of bands such as Pulp with an easy listening, toe-tapping, lively delivery of their own catalogue of well-rehearsed songs and high kicking moves.

The opening introduction music which played as the band entered the stage was taken from the film Brazil, in particular the Central Services scene in which men in woollen tank tops push carts of paperwork around in a dystopian bureaucracy to a soundtrack lifted from the 1939 song ‘Aguarela do Brasil’. Perhaps the scene was chosen simply for the wardrobe choice, perhaps for its incongruous yet infectious bossa nova beat, perhaps the band just like the film. All in all, it set the scene perfectly for a truly fabulous warm-up show.

Opening with ‘Waiting Outside Alone’, Barbara’s stylish Britpop themes aligned perfectly with the band they were supporting - 80s icons Haircut One Hundred. Describing themselves as purveyors of “Fantastical, rich ‘n’ syrupy PERFECT POP”, Brighton brothers, Henry and John Tydeman are the heart of Barbara, supported on tour by a small yet cohesive band which brings the concept to life thanks to their full commitment to the cause. If those names sound familiar to you, they were previously known as the band Big Cat, one of the NME’s emerging picks back in 2018. Before Big Cat, the brothers called themselves Orange Soul, scoring a track of the week on BBC Introducing. Whatever they were searching for through those identity changes, they may well have found it in Barbara.

Lead singer John leaps about the stage, strutting and pouting with corduroy swinging in the style of Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker. The latest single ‘Pretty Straight Guy’ even seems to reference Pulp directly with the lyric, “They were only looking out for common people”. It’s a catchy, disco-influenced dancefloor filler, perhaps a social commentary on the state of British politics. It’s hard to tell, the songwriting pairing such distractingly smooth melodies with potentially pointed lyrics.

There’s a clear 70s theme running through all of Barbara’s work. Their most popular song, ‘BRB’, channels influences from 70s orchestral/soft/glam/rock pioneers Electric Light Orchestra and features a clear nod on the piano to Abba’s ‘Mamma Mia’. ‘These New Communications’ is a beautifully crafted singalong with a touch of Daft Punk’s own 70s reintrepretation.

The whole set comprised only seven songs, one short of their entire Spotify catalogue. Their body of work isn’t extensive yet it’s deep, thoughtful, polished and absolutely enjoyable to listen to. A new single, ‘Master Narrative’ is due for release in November, expanding their body of work to as much as 112.5% of its current size.

Hopefully, Barbara will build on the momentum of their supporting tour with more exposure of their own - they definitely deserve it.

Peter Freeth



Images: Peter Freeth

1 comment:

  1. An excellent review of a tremendous band. Barbara are surely on the way to achieving something very special


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