Words & Images by Shirin Hodgson-Watt
The Wharf, in genteel Tavistock, was the setting for this night of amped up gritty blues. More of a community hub than a traditional music venue, with its regular cinema screenings, cafe, and art exhibitions, not to mention the kindly older ladies manning the reception. Older ladies, that is, who are in possession of the kind of steely glint that only older ladies who will take zero nonsense from any unruly herbert that might stumble through the door can manifest. Bouncers unnecessary, believe me. It’s kind of comforting and also splendidly English, yet the main auditorium itself is in no way a jumped up village hall, with space for 350 odd punters, both seated and standing, a substantial stage, and an impressive sound and light system. The most excellently civilised pre-gig barbecue in the riverside courtyard was in full flow, but I have to confess that I’m not hardy enough for alfresco nibbles so soon after the last snowfall has melted, but… Pre-gig riverside courtyard barbecues! Come on, you need to step up your game, venues of the world.
Openers The Robert J Hunter Band are a gig-honed electric blues outfit, tempered with a hefty dose of upbeat bar room boogie that, having listened to tracks online post-gig, are gruffer and more raw (and therefore, as far as my dark little heart is concerned, better) than appeared to be the case live – which has to be a first. They clearly know their craft inside out, their innate musicality and smooth air of confidence fiercely evident, and the enthusiastic whooping and fist pumping from the super-fans next to me proved them to be more than worthy seat-warmers for The Kris Barras Band.
Growing up with my father’s collection of gnarly, mainly Delta blues, even though I fought the influence as stubborn, bloody-minded children predictably will do, the foundation of my musical passions were shaped from the dirt and pain of these records, and so I’ve never outgrown my love for a bit of rough-hewn blues, not even at the height of my lengthy death metal phase. Former pro mixed martial arts fighter Kris Barras delivers a palatable edge to his take on the genre, nodding respectfully to the early roots before revving alongside Hendrix and diving headlong into a swamp of Americana biker scuzz. The polite English persona is a little at odds with the elaborate tattoos, bike chain-draped industrial-chic mic stand, and a bassist whose repertoire of fine rock shapes would appear to belie a secret desire to join Rage Against The Machine, although the crowd banter perhaps matched seamlessly, what with the sudden outburst of “we love you, Kris!”, which was twinned almost poetically, with nary a heartbeat missed, with “well, I quite like you…” from elsewhere in the darkness.
With new album ‘The Divine and Dirty’ hitting number one on blues charts hither and thither, and this, their biggest sell out performance to date, it’s clear that Barras and co’s grimy, whiskey-soaked star is unequivocally on the rise.