February 23, 2023

Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms is turning 20 this week and it is touching to see local talent turning out to showcase their skills in such an intimate setting and celebrating music and Nottingham’s rich musical heritage. As much as there are nods of appreciation for what is happening in ‘Acoustic Rooms’, the considerable queue that has been patiently waiting is here to see one man – Kris Barras and his band.

With a bustling venue packed front to back, it is difficult not to hear conversations and there are clearly new comers to the world of Kris Barras. From the ones that have followed Barras’ career so far there are knowing nods and phrases such as “no spoilers” as to extolling the virtues of an evening in the company of the Devon born musician turned ex-MMA/cage fighter turned musician again. There may be this thing called ‘the Internet’ but word of mouth clearly still plays a major part in creating a buzz and people turning up to gigs and to hear existing fans talk to new ones is genuinely heart warming.

The sparse stage gives the venue more depth and threatens to swallow up whoever may walk upon it as trio (with a drummer) Dea Matrona take the stage. The Belfast band began in 2018 by school friends Mollie McGinn and Orlaith Forsythe and garnered attention with viral busking videos which gained a staggering 8 million views on YouTube. With sassy and smooth guitar licks and funky bass grooves, Dea Matrona – in Celtic mythology meaning “divine mother goddess” – takes shades of classic rock from Cream to Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin. It is the cover of Fleetwood’s Mac Oh Well where McGinn and Forsythe swap guitar and bass with each other. Following a thumping I Wanna Rock, the drummer leaves the stage for latest single Glory Glory (I Am Free) before taking on a rendition of Simon And Garfunkel’s Homeward Bound. The mixture of material is engaging and well performed but Nottingham is a tough crowd and the call to arms to have the room clapping only reaches the front row. Fun to watch and with plenty of energy, Dea Matrona is definitely an act to watch out for.

Kris Barras – Photo: Ian Jenkinson

After what seems like an age, the stage lights begin to pulse as The Kriss Barras Band members take their places on the stage and before the man himself actually appears it is down to second guitarist Josiah J Manning and bassist Kelpie McKenzie to dual it out before Barras enters with raised arms and gives a four word address that is enough for any rock show “make some fucking noise.” Barras straps on his guitar, stands on a flight case and just…plays; those fingers becoming a blur across the fretboard. Breaking into the perfect opening of Hail Mary from 2018’s The Divine And Dirty, Barras’ slide control is seriously impressive and making it look incredibly easy. With some sensational harmony on the vocals which adds a major singalong to get the crowd loosened up too. In one single song, there are two things that are apparent: Kris Barras’ band is exactly that, the way that the musicians interact with each other is a joy to watch whether it be McKenzie’s foot on the drum riser or his hopping around the stage or Barras joining his fellow guitarist or all of them coming together for a mid stage head bang, no-one is stood still making the show a feast for the eyes as well as ears. And the other is how heavy it is – as in chest crushingly heavy. Dead Horses is the first song aired from latest album Death Valley Paradise and sees drummer Billy Hammett baring down on the skins. These Voices continues with latest album songs with a seriously funky bass workout from McKenzie.

Barras states that he does not want the older material to be forgotten before breaking into Heart On Your Sleeve which gets the whole venue bouncing and as Barras stands on his flight case he breaks out a solo making the instrument wail until it bends to his will. With four more newer songs in a row, it is Wake Me When It’s Over that Barass explains was written during the covid-19 lockdown, a slower song that has frustration and the fact Barras felt lost is filtered through its musical DNA but it is the long vocal note at the end that is simply stunning. Hostage brings back the pace whereas Devil You Know has a serrated groove which brings out Barras’ bluesy voice. Going back to the The Divine And Dirty, Barras introduces Watching Over Me, a heart wrenching blues number in honour of his late father who never saw his son living his dream and sees emotion etched on Barras’ face and across every single note he plays.  Following Who Needs Enemies is My Parade which is yet another singalong. While drummer Hammett keeps the beat, Barras asks the crowd to sing the chorus back to him and promptly getting it wrong, Barass shakes his head and says “it’s my fucking name on the wall, don’t go making up your own lyrics.” Barras promptly jumps into the crowd and splits them down the middle with each side singing a line back to each other which practically raises the roof and much to the joy of Kris Barras. With a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Rock N Roll, the Rescue Rooms becomes like a jam room where the band totally lets loose and the set closes on a rabble rousing Ignite (Light It Up).

A near 90 minutes and 14 song set list and no-one is left disappointed because a Kris Barras show is more than entertainment, it makes bottled lightning look dull by comparison.

To say that Kris Barras is a great musician does him a serious disservice because he is an incredibly talented artist, an insanely impressive guitarist, a soulful and powerful vocalist and an expert in stage craft and interacting with his audience. Not only that but his band has major talent of their own with real mastery of their instruments and the way that the four piece knits together is how all bands should aspire to be – no matter whose name is above the door. With the Kris Barras Band currently on a mammoth tour that has stretched the length and breadth of the country, it is a band that is more than a well oiled machine, it is finely tuned and in its absolute prime.

As the crowd files out of a sweaty Rescue Rooms, the new comers acknowledge the fact that those nods from the regulars were right and there are new utterances of “should be playing in bigger venues.” With the ongoing word of mouth and continued success, charting of albums such as Death Valley Paradise and with the accolades already thrown at the Kris Barras Band, that is more than likely to become a reality for this utterly superb artist.

3/4 of The Kris Barras Band – Photo: Ian Jenkinson