SHOW REVIEW: Bringing the house down in predictable folk fashion

The Demon Barbers XL at South Holland Centre, Spalding.
The Demon Barbers XL at South Holland Centre, Spalding.

The Demon Barbers XL, Disco at the Tavern Tour, South Holland Centre, Spalding

The most cast-iron certainty on South Holland Centre’s calendar of events this year was that The Demons Barbers XL would rock.

But this reviewer was almost guilty of overstating just how dynamic, inventive and electrifying a show Damien Barber and his troupe of musicians, clog and street dancers would serve up.

However, there was to be no disappointment as an audience of all ages allowed themselves to be caught up in a flood of folk freedom that had South Holland Centre bouncing in a way not seen since soul diva Ruby Turner in February 2014.

Before the show, Damien said: “We’re really chuffed that it’s sold so well which is weird because we’re all very traditional in our outlook.

“I started out in 1989 when I was 18 and ever since then, I’ve been trying to raise the profile of traditional English folk music by taking a very modern approach and bringing in people from outside the folk scene.

The Demon Barbers XL who predictably brought the house down with its "Disco at the Tavern" show at South Holland Centre on Friday.

The Demon Barbers XL who predictably brought the house down with its "Disco at the Tavern" show at South Holland Centre on Friday.

“For me, folk music is all about making people sit up and listen and whilst I never wanted my music to challenging, I realise that not everyone is going to like it.”

The two-hour Disco at the Tavern show was supposed to break the folk fans of Spalding into a world of high-energy, no-holds-barred folk without boundaries.

But in the end, The Demon Barbers XL easily exceeded expectations under the charismatic leadership of Damien, alongside melodeon (small accordian) player Will Hampson and fiddle expert Bryony Griffith.

Damien said: “If you create music that everybody likes, then you’re doing something wrong.

For me, folk music is all about making people sit up and listen and if you create music that everybody likes, then you’re doing something wrong

Damien Barber, The Demon Barbers XL

“But what happened with folk music, particularly in England, was that it was on the cusp of disappearing completely.

“In Scotland and Ireland, folk music disappeared from lots of people’s lives until the folk revival happened.

“There a lot more people doing it now and it can now move on in more authentic ways.”

Despite the size of the venue putting constraints on the size of Damien’s travelling army of dancers and musicians, the show still proved capable of unleashing a torrent of verve and vibe in “The Heart of the Fens”.

But no one cared as songs like The Bonny Labouring Boy, The Huntsmen of Bromsgrove, The Chemical Workers’ Song and Friend of the Devil (originally recorded by The Grateful Dead) left Spalding shaken from the sheer velocity of The Demon Barbers XL.

Damien said: “The music itself has already been done in the 1970s and 1980s, so it’s not particularly new.

“But we try to avoid the typical folk-rock style by working with hip hop dancers and break dancers to create a more festival vibe.

“It’s been really successful and we’ve had a lot of support from dance teams across the UK.”

At the end of Friday’s concert, enthusiastic fans of The Demon Barbers XL snapped up copies of the group’s latest album, Disco at the Tavern, which Damien and other band members stayed around to sign.

Some of the audience may have come to the show on the strength of The Demon Barbers XL’s success at the 2009 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards where it was named “Best Live Act”.

Damien said: “In terms of promotion and giving the band some credibility, the award is something we can use.

“But the real turning point for us was the introduction of hip hop and street dancers who bring a lot of interesting and new ideas which we can incorporate into our shows.

“Before that, our shows used to be made up of a group of clog, morris and sword dancers.

“We’re going to carry on doing what we’re doing, generating enough interest in our work to be able to tour with a new project every year.

“If we can continue appearing at medium-sized venues like the South Holland Centre, and producing interesting shows, we could attract that next level of expertise which will enable us to take the shows to another type of audience.

The Demon Barbers XL

Review and interview by Winston Brown