Review by Gary spiller for MPM
This evening’s destination, Frome, is a most welcome departure from the ‘norm’ of battling the end-of-week motorway traffic heading along the M5 and M4 to get to a gig.
A pleasant, leafy, drive up over the Mendips and right across the width of Somerset lifts excited spirits further. Motoring to appease the inner soul.
Nestled in the far eastern reaches of Somerset Frome is oft overshadowed by its neighbours, the glitzy and rumbustiously quirky Glastonbury or the historically notable and cosmopolitan vibrancy of Bath. This is a town that does things in its own refined tranquil manner; after all, in 2019, it was declared the most difficult to pronounce town in the UK by the team of linguists behind language learning app Babbel.
Dating from the 7th century, Frome can proudly boast the largest number of listed buildings in Somerset outside of Bath. Its sinuous streets, lined with fine sandstone architecture, snake down to the namesake river – crossed by one of only three bridges in Britain that have multi-storied shops constructed upon them. The other two? Lincoln and, you’ve guessed it no doubt, Bath.
Whilst Glastonbury has its world renown festival out on Worthy Farm Frome possesses a top-notch venue hidden away on the fringes of the town centre. Housed in the one-time New Market Hall, that was opened in 1875 for the sale of the products that give rise to its delightfully idiosyncratic name, The Cheese and Grain has garnered a reputation for quality within the industry. A not-for-profit, member owned social enterprise the venue occasionally benefits from the aforementioned festival by hosting intimate gigs for the likes of the Foo Fighters (in early 2017) and, most recently, legendary Beatle Sir Paul McCartney. With the octogenarian rocker reflecting upon the gig, the night before his festival headline set, as reminding him of his early days of being “hot and sweaty”. Words that would prove to ring true through the course of this evening too.
In their last headline show of the year, the on-fire Kris Barras Band roar into town – fresh from hugely successful slots at Download and supporting Thunder at Wembley Arena – with wheels smoking and their v8 engine emanating pure kinetic energy to be part of Frome Festival 2022. Supported by the rapidly ascending talents of Llanelli’s Scarlet Rebels, who have hot-footed it across the bridge from their Welsh homelands, this promises to be a veritable roof-lifter of a show. In fact, this is a billing that worked so well a few months ago over in Cardiff’s Tramshed venue that reprising it made complete sense.
Appearing inside the Somerset boundaries for the first time since 2020 Scarlet Rebels are clearly in determined mood. With minimal fanfare and absolutely no fuss they kick right into gear. Pink lighting, punctuated with the odd blue light, bathes the stage as frontman Wayne Doyle, in typical understated style, enquires “How we doing Frome?” prior to hitting the opening riff. Adding, as way of introduction, “We’re Scarlet Rebels. Let’s go!”
The memorable sense of a band being taken into a collective heart that was strong during that triumphant Giants of Rock main-stage set nearly two and a half years ago has clearly prospered since. There’s a defined nucleus of Rebels’ fans here to raise the party spirit and they’re soon joined by a very healthy percentage of the overall crowd. Such is the infectious power of the Rebels’ output that the Cheese and Grain is rocking to its rafters in double quick time.
There’s no time to catch breath during their opening onslaught. A well-balanced hat-trick constructed of anthemic Welsh hard rock quarried by hand takes Frome by storm. A double shot from recent boisterously chart-denting album ‘See Through Blue’ is knocked back with a further measure from the Rebels debut long-player ‘Show Your Colours’.
The thundering ‘I’m Alive’ rolls headlong into a frenetically paced ‘Take You Home’ before the AC/DC infused strains of ‘Take My Breath Away’ leave the foundations reverberating in seismic fashion. The latter certainly doing precisely what is inscribed upon the tin; with hammer of the gods skinsman Gary Doyle exclaiming to me afterwards “After those three songs I needed a drink and breather!”
Seeing a large number of hands raised in response to his crowd study of people who hadn’t seen the Rebels before Wayne observes “Oh quite a few Rebels’ virgins” before promising “We’ll be gentle.
Sublime six-string wizard Chris Jones, brandishing his new gleaming black Gibson Les Paul, smiles broadly as he points to the crowd before striking licks from its fret. The crowd are right onside for ‘Let Me In’ being captivated by its anthemic magnetism they clap along unified. Singing loudly as Wayne, flanked by Chris and steady-as-you like bassist Wayne ‘Pricey’ Esmonde, lead their charges.
As the set progresses along at a supercharged pace so each track is greeted with louder cheers than those before. Quite clearly this band does, indeed, have rocks in it. If there were any doubters remaining inside the Cheese and Grain, then ‘Save Me’ surely quells any remaining incertitude. Seamlessly segueing into a mid-song deviation of ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock n’ Roll)’ galvanizes the ranks out front into fine participation and extolling the virtues of being ‘double-parked’. Encouraging those with a drink in each hand to raise them both, “You’re gold level Rebel status!” he proclaims.
Given the various goings-on at Number Ten and Westminster just the previous day the emotively charged rock n’ roll libretto of ‘These Days’ hang in the, by now, hot and sweaty environs with even more poignance than usual. Although he’s heading towards the door marked ‘Exit’ Boris is unshakeably there in the appropriately readjusted firebrand lyrics.
Wayne, shadowed in minimalistic lighting with dry ice billowing, initially abetted by the gentle strains efflorescing from Chris’ Les Paul gives an almost ethereal feel to ‘Heal’ the final track of a fine set. Notching through the gears, as Pricey and Gary re-join the fray, the four-piece bring proceedings to a crescendo that the crowd give their audible appreciation for. The Rebels’ camp continues to grow apace ahead of a short German tour supporting US Southern rockers Goodbye June and a much-coveted Friday slot up the mountain at Steelhouse.
The hot and sweaty Cheese and Grain assemblage, well and truly warmed up, patiently anticipating the arrival of the Kris Barras Band. Passing the time by amusing themselves in singing, word perfectly, along to blues standard ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’ that issues forth from the PA. The stage lighting darkens, and a loud roar erupts as Kris’ band tread the boards. Strobes rapidly flash as powerful drummer Billy Hammett – strongly rumoured to be the only person to have defeated his frontman in an arm-wrestling challenge – threatens to batter his kit into neighbouring Wiltshire. Hi-energy bassist Kelpie McKenzie rumbles about whilst highly accomplished guitarist Josiah J. Manning encourages the crowd as a precursor to thundering his opening riff. A suitable head of steam has built up by the time Kris – in a cut-off Skindred t-shirt – strides forth.
Many artists would rest on their laurels and save their signature tracks to the last but not Kris and his band of hard rocking troubadours. Left foot tapping to the contagious beat Kris leads the way through the anthemic ‘Hail Mary’. From the a cappella intro to the stampeding finale via a precision six-string solo this is right out of the top drawer. Kris emboldens the sizeable gathering – a close to sell-out crowd is packed into the Cheese and Grain – with a rally call “Right you fuckers I wanna hear you sing!”
Launching with ‘Hail Mary’ is a signal of belief in the material released on the two subsequent albums; a defined statement that there’s plenty more where that originates. It’s a well-stocked arsenal which a huge amount of high calibre rock n’ roll to be issued by the quartermaster.
Like the Rebels the Kris Barras Band got in on the chart action earlier this year with the delectable ‘Death Valley Paradise’ deservedly registering in the UK Official top 30. The bulk of this long-player including the four singles plus the recently Planet Rock listed foot-stomping ‘Chaos’ (played live for the very first time tonight) form a large percentage of evening’s dauntless 80 minutes plus set. A raw and caustic ‘Dead Horses’ and the bluesy carnivorous ‘These Voices’ neatly bracket a pumped up ‘Rock n’ Roll Running Through My Veins’, the sole offering from debut lp ‘Lucky 13’.
With a glance into the broiling furnace of the underworld Kris delves into ‘Light It Up’ and pulls out a bone-crunching ‘Ignite (Light It Up) that has been mollified into a fiery perfervid mass. This re-working goes down well with the crowd who sing from the very bottom of their aggregated heart and emphatically roar at song end.
Noting the undivided passion of the worshipping rock n’ roll congregation Kris notes “You guys are in fine voice this evening. Are you ready to sing some more?” His banshee-driven solo in ‘Devil You Know’ lifts the roof a little more whilst his compatriots set about reducing the foundations to dust.
Written just five days before going into the studio to record ‘Death Valley Paradise’ Kris explains that he wrote ‘Wake Me When It’s Over’ to bring a chilled element to what is a really rocked up offering. Like the majestic river that gives life to its fertile plains, so this serene blues-rocker flows effortlessly.
Kris has a penchant for dropping a reworked cover into headline slots and this evening we are treated to rock standard ‘Going Down’. Originally penned by American rock and soul songwriter Don Nix and first recorded by pioneering Memphis blues-rock outfit Moloch in 1970 this track has been reworked by the likes of The Alabama State Troopers, Jeff Beck, John Lee Hooker and Supersonic Blues Machine. It’s a blues-drenched extended rendition that is given forth this evening and it’s lapped voraciously. Kris steps back giving Josiah opportunity to carve out a fine solo from his Parfitt-like white and black telecaster.
The hard riffing demons stretch their leathery wings and fan the inferno raising the temperature further with a tempestuous ‘Not Fading’ offering lightening solos, solid riffage and tumbling beats. Strobes flash violently as the track is ramped up into metalliferous realms. Searing licks are unequivocally traded between the two guitarists before they couple up for a twin-lead segment.
The full-throttle momentum eases off as Kris dedicates the heartfelt ‘Watching Over Me’ to his late father. A massive influence upon his career it’s evident the depth of feeling within this most emotional of tracks. An innermost glow is perceivable within this evening’s wondrous extended version. A sea of lights from phones illuminates the arena, a touching respectful moment.
A stirring ‘What You Get’ completes a triple salvo from ‘Light It Up’ before the remaining two singles off ‘Death Valley Paradise’ bring the main set to a vigorously exuberant conclusion. The slick blues edged ‘Who Needs Enemies’ conforms tidily with the inspirited ‘My Parade’. The latter’s chorus sung with vigour as clenched fists punch roofwards.
The crowd call, loudly, for one more as the band exit stage right and following a brief pause the foursome return to end the night as they had begun, hitting Frome with a classic from ‘The Divine and Dirty’ album. “Right then you buggers, I wanna see those fucking hands in the air” Kris orders as the southern grooves of ‘Lovers or Losers’ are unleashed. A slight underpinning of primetime Bon Jovi works well, and the masses depart homewards sufficiently buoyed by a the emphatic feelgood factor despatched by two bands both on their respective A-games. McCartney was quite correct in his assertion that the Cheese and Grain is “hot and sweaty.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM