Talking Heads, Southampton

Chis Barras Band

On the face of it, Torquay born Kris Barras’s route to becoming a blues/rock artist is fairly typical. A young kid takes up the guitar with encouragement from his late father and guests in his cover band before the age of ten. He forms his own outfit as a teenager, but disillusionment sets in when the said band fails to make an impact. After a stint running a guitar shop, which goes bankrupt, a change in direction beckons, and this is where the story takes an unexpected fork in the road. Running in tandem with his musical career, Kris has become a sought-after cage fighter and offers of lucrative paydays abroad entice him to him to forget the fickle world of the music business and try his luck in the ring. Over the next ten years he lived and fought in Las Vegas, Thailand, and Singapore winning fourteen bouts, drawing one and losing only two. In 2014 he decided that he had gone as far as he could go as a professional fighter and retired with the notion of going into coaching and reconnecting with his muse. To that end, he became the co-owner of a couple of gyms, where he trains and teaches and formed a new band. Over the past four years they have released two official albums, 2016’s “Lucky 13” and this year’s well received, “The Divine and Dirty” on the prestigious Mascot / Provogue label, home to blues-rock titans Joe Bonamassa, Eric Gales, Walter Trout, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. The gig at the Talking Heads is the third stop off on an eighteen date UK tour to promote his latest release.

The Outlaw Orchestra
The Outlaw Orchestra 

Support tonight comes from Southampton’s own The Outlaw Orchestra, a foursome who label their southern country rock/bluegrass / cajun gumbo “Heavygrass”. Guitarist and vocalist David Roux, drummer Ryan Smith, double bassist Alex Barter and Stephen Welch on banjo draw their influences from a wide range of disparate sources including The Black Crowes, Black Sabbath, Rival Sons, and Humble Pie. As the band takes to the stage they certainly look the part sporting varying degrees of facial hair, tattoos, baseball caps, raggedy-arsed jeans, and T-shirts, apart from Stephen on banjo who looks like he’s gate-crashed the party from a local youth club. What I was expecting was yet another take on the Hayseed Dixie schtick, you know the sort of thing, take a metal song such as “Ace of Spades”, stick a banjo on it and turn it into a hillbilly stomp.

What we actually get is a whiskey-soaked mix of originals, with a southern fried rock base, overlaid with lashings of dextrous banjo picking. From the off “See You in Hell” sets the tone. The banjo is up front in the mix vying for attention alongside Roux?s snarly guitar and sneery vocals while the rhythm section packs a hell of a wallop. The songs keep coming and they’re all good, particularly “Willie Nelson”, “Back to Georgia? and the closing “Burn the House”, but what really endears the band to the crowd is the humour, not just in the songs but also in the in-between patter. Roux is a natural frontman, he likes to play up the lazy hick from the sticks persona and the audience lap it up. Stories about flat tyres in Georgia, days spent watching cartoons on the TV with his dog, while waiting for his long-suffering wife to come home and cook the dinner and smoking copious amounts of Willie Nelson?s home-grown grass has the audience in stitches. These guys are entertainment personified, catch them if you can, or cop a listen to their new EP, “The Devil Made Me Do It”, if you like the idea of a Faces / Lynyrd Skynyrd / Earl Scruggs mashup, look no further.

Now onto tonight’s headliners, The Kris Barras Band. I have to admit they were an unknown quantity to me until a couple of weeks ago, but a quick look on Youtube wets the appetite for what should be a good evening. The band of Josiah J Manning on keyboards, Elliott Blackler on bass and drummer Will Beavis take the stand closely followed by Barras, who?s tattoos and well-toned physique sums up the night, his playing is muscular yet inventive, the band punch hard and the bike chain entwined around his microphone stand emphasizes that tonight is not going to be for wimps. Kicking off with the hard-hitting “Heart on Your Sleeve”, brings the large crowd on board immediately, he follows with “Kick Me Down”, “Stich Me Up” and “Blood on Your Hands” from his latest CD “The Divine and Dirty”. So far the guitar solos have been fairly restrained, but his bear-like roar shows he’s in fine voice, complementing the catchy, melodic songs perfectly. A new addition to the set list, the short and precise “Way To Go” indicates he?s not standing still and is thinking of his next album already, but things ratchet up a notch with a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son”. Two verses are dispensed with smartish, allowing Manning on the keyboards, Blackler on bass and Barras to trade licks, this incendiary performance draws the best reaction so far.

Kris Barras Band
Kris Barras  1

How do you follow that, with his two best-known songs, of course, namely “Propane” and “Hail Mary”, both were released as singles and both performed well on the iTunes chart. “Small Town Blues”, a knockabout honky-tonk number, brings light relief apart from the tricky guitar/bass passage towards the end which ushers in a short drum solo from Beavis, then “Nothing to Hide” from 2016’s “Lucky 13”. The slow “I Don’t Want the Blues” was dedicated to his hero Gary Moore and gave Kris the chance to stretch out and demonstrate some serious blues chops, while the rollicking “She’s More Than Enough” displayed some serious shredding credentials. ?Watching Over Me? was written about his dad who died from cancer and was brimming with emotion and the rocking “Lovers and Losers” brought the show to a close, apart from the encore, “Rock n’ Roll Running Through My Veins”. I’ve seen a number of the up and coming British blues players over the years and although they all know their way around a fretboard, not all of them have the material to make them stand out. This is where Kris has a distinct edge, his songwriting displays a melodic sensibility and he knows how to deploy a good hook. In an oversubscribed music biz, I would say Kris finally has the tool to punch above his weight. Just a quick postscript, it?s a pity that such a friendly venue will be closing its doors for the last time in a few weeks? time. Places like the Talking Heads and indeed, Mr Kyps in Poole, have been the lifeblood of the local music scene for a number of years and to see their demise within a few months of each other is very sad.

Set Lists
Chris Barras Band
Heart on Your Sleeve
Kick Me Down
Stitch Me Up
Blood on Your Hands
Way to Go
Fortunate Son
Hail Mary
Small Town Blues r
Nothing to Hide
I Don?t Want the Blues
She?s More Than Enough
Watching Over Me
Lovers or Losers

Rock n’ Roll Running Through My Veins

The Outlaw Orchestra
See You in Hell / Devil Woman
Line the Track
Country High
Whiskey Drinking Liar
Willie Nelson
Send Some Whiskey Home
Milk My Cow
Back to Georgia
Lucky Man
Burn the House


Words By John Cherry.