|How's My Pop - just one of several Lancaster bands involved in Barnbox.|
Photo: Jill Abbot
Tom Bramhall profiles local music label Barnbox (www.barnbox.co.uk), the fruit of several friends efforts to self release, distribute and raise the profile of locally produced music. Formed in 2008, the label has since hosted a high count of themed evenings, curated an all-day festival - there's another coming up on Saturday 9th October at the Park Hotel - and chronicled its recorded output via several charismatically designed short-run CDs...
|Tallulah - Steve Hudson's|
first CD single. More info
The above checklist gives some sense of the how the label have racked up a tasteful and committed roster; having proved itself both a solid asset and resource for local artists and musicians alike.
In the lead up to the second annual Barnbox all-day festival taking place October 9th, I asked as many “Barnboxers” as I could to share their thoughts on the label’s origins and achievements to date. My loose aim in this was to plot a kind of oral history which would celebrate the their efforts whilst drawing attention to the same in time for the festival.
Since they were kind enough to respond, the following brings together accounts from Barnbox mainstays Kriss Foster, Tom Diffenthal (How’s My Pop/Uncle Jeff), studio wizard Craig Palmer and singer/songwriter Stephen Hudson - all of whom have helped establish the label and continue to take on dynamic roles as it enters its third year.
As Tom says "I help put the records out, sometimes I record the record, sometimes I produce the record, sometimes I play on the record, sometimes I help with the artwork, sometimes I just find some cash to put the record out".
This sense of a multi-talented, independent spirit comes across in their individual accounts which sit together as a record of Barnbox’s strengths and limitations as its contributors look towards the future …
Stephen: The label came about through a gathering at the pub with a load of friends and musicians. I couldn’t tell you exactly what was said as I was away that weekend, but I imagine it went somewhere along the lines of: "Doesn’t it seem s*** how no-one outside of Lancaster seems to notice all the exciting music the city is making?"
"And I’m a bit bored of waiting for jonny label manager to come and snap us up… Shall we just have a go ourselves?"
"...‘Yeah, why the f*** not".
|Kriss Foster and mate Alan. Photo: John Freeman|
Stephen: We originally got some help and support from The Dukes DT3 project with the first release, the (Kriss Foster) single and after that, we’ve self-funded all our output.
So it was set up to put out records by our friends and bands in the area, to bring people together (if you were a producer, made posters, could make stage sets, operate a camera - we had a job to do together) and to throw some tip-top parties. The idea was an old one, that one band on their own in a small town can make a lot of noise, but a few bands together and we can be louder.
Kriss: In the last eighteen months we put on lots of nights and events, from film-nights to poetry and many music events as well as releasing cds. In 2009 we put on over 50 events.
Strengths and limitations
Tom: Barnbox’s strengths lie in the fact that there is no quota to fill. We can put out as many or as little records as we like for any occasion and of whatever type of music we like. It’s allowed to be rough and ready but it can also be lovely and polished.
Stephen: Unlike a lot of labels, there was no conscious decision to concentrate on promoting a specific musical style, but we all shared a love of bands that sheltered under the broad branches of indie, alt rock and pop, so naturally gravitated to the best groups in the area who appealed to those whims.
It didn’t have a Tony Wilson or a David Geffen calling the shots. As Tom D says, "It’s like a bus – you can get on it, and get off again whenever you want."
Craig: Barnbox's strength is also its biggest limitation, it only releases records from friends. Also its emphasis is on fun, Barnbox gigs have always been a giggle and never a chore, the gigs are never a self-conscious effort to promote the next big thing, just a good old fashioned night out.
Tom: Time is a huge limitation. I guess money is also as it buys time. Everyone has to work and at the moment there’s lots of working and not as many releases as we would like. Everyone who is involved is very capable and applies themselves as much as they possibly can, we just have to work as well.
|Bear Around Your Neck|
Tom: It’s great when we get a wide range of people coming to see what we are doing. It’s ace that the people involved are involved at any level … People who love music and gigs but don’t play can help make an interesting set for the bands to play in.
Personal highlights so far
Kriss: Blue Peter Badge Winners Get In Free was a personal success, offering a night of alternative, new fashioned cabaret. the range of artists we had on always ensured an interesting evening.
Tom: Every release party seems to be as good as the last, it makes it worthwhile and puts a nice end to the product we have created. It’s fun holding something you have done. It was a great moment when Ste was finalising his piano shaped record case and we got to hold the first copy before any more were made, like the holy grail.
Kriss: My personal highlights were the all-dayer last year, nineteen bands over nine hours. My other personal highlight was the release of the Thyme Machine cd, and we look forward to releasing another in October 2010.
It has been great to have so many people involved and to have done a varied amount of things.
Craig: My first involvement with Barnbox was babysitting the Thyme Machine in the studio, you should have seen them, drunk on the success of their recordings, claims of a new Beatlemania ending with Kriss throwing a bottle at robins car. Showbiz.
Next up was the young Jimmy Osmond-alike Stephen Hudson who asked myself and Tristan (Clutterbuck) if we wanted to record his first foray into recording his solo output. Many Mariah Carey tantrums later, over... Well who knows. Anyways the resulting single release was well worth it, with more recordings to surface. Hopefully.
More hopes for the label’s future?
Stephen: It would be great just to keep putting on gigs that people in the area want to come to. For our releases, it would be nice in the future to build up a wider network of contacts so more people can hear about what we’re doing. It would also be grand to hook up with people in other towns treading a similar path.
Above: The Magnificent James Knight, a recent risque addition to Barnbox
Barnbox is growing out of several friends mutual desire to see local music enjoying an audience. An aim to offer inclusivity to people with similar interests has allowed a pooling of skills and resources to make things happen for people investing their energies and commitments.
Not wanting to restrict themselves to any one genre of music in particular, Barnbox have built up an impressive roster of dedicated and talented artists. The Magnificent James Knight, for example, has brought a continued element of risk and risqué to the mix, whilst Homemade Lemonade’s Tristan Clutterbuck and Craig Palmer have offered invaluable technical input in the recording and mastering of more recent releases.
The demands of running a record label in addition to holding down respective work commitments has invariably curtailed the speed with which Barnbox have been able to carry out their aims - that said, in 2009 alone the label hosted over fifty themed nights to showcase their interests both near and far and with several strong releases under their belt and more to come, Tom’s statements are arguably modest.
To break away from the parochial, Stephen Hudson has suggested it would be useful for the label to connect with similar projects in other towns and cities and build a wider network to support Barnbox’s efforts. In this regard the challenge they face, as much as anyone playing and producing local music; will be to build on an already dedicated and supportive audience beyond Lancaster and Morecambe.
One way the label are forging wider connections is in their showcasing bands from further
afield. Liverpool’s Married to The Sea, for example, have featured at previous Barnbox events and are set to perform again at the all-day event at The Park Hotel, Lancaster on Saturday 9th
October as just one of the many out-of-area acts the label have showcased for local audiences.
Of the all-day event itself, Tom says "It should be a really fun day. Last years all-dayer was great. The line-up looks great already. All our favourite bands are down to have a good day. It’ll be a good knees up".
• The Barnbox All-Day festival takes place at the Park Hotel, Lancaster on Saturday 9th October 2010 from 15:00 onwards - with nine bands set to perform including The Thyme Machine and Stephen Hudson. Further information can be sought at: http://lancastermusicfestival.com/images/events-2010/BarnBox-AllDayer2010.pdf (PDF)
• Tom Bramhall writes and performs for po)))nies. A selection of po)))nies recordings can be heard at www.myspace.com/poniesetc