Home Gigs Gig Review : Kris Barras with Dea Matrona: KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton.

Gig Review : Kris Barras with Dea Matrona: KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton.

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Review by Pete Finn for MPM

It’s the first trip of the year together to this great venue for MPM Tog Manny and myself. The drive over can be hell sometimes with the never-ending roadworks, but the venue makes up for it.

Easy parking and sensibly priced drinks, a welcome plus point. Tonight’s show sees Kris Barras’ 27-date Headline Tour roll into town, supporting on most of the dates (he’s thrown in a couple of Festivals for good measure too) are Northern Ireland’s Dea Matrona.

We’re met at the door by the ever-smiling and friendly Tice Taylor who provides us with our passes, and we’re in. Tonight, we’re in the Main hall complete with its sloping floor. It’s a bit cold inside but the throng of people soon warms it up, along with the atmosphere the temperature increases with the excitement.

Dea Matrona (meaning “divine mother goddess” in Celtic mythology) was formed in Belfast by school friends Mollie McGinn (lead guitar/bass/vocals) and Orlaith Forsythe (lead guitar/bass/vocals). The band developed their electrifying act by harnessing the energy of classic rock legends like Cream, Led Zeppelin, Joan Jett and Fleetwood Mac, as well as a contemporary flair from influences like Tame Impala and Royal Blood.

With their hard-hitting riffs and musical intensity, they have established a rare, sound – gritty and real but loaded with melody and style. Packed with the genuine knack for rock music that comes from two best friends who grew up busking to their favourite rock ‘n’ roll anthems on the streets of Belfast, reaching an online community of 200,000 followers and a total of over 6.9 million views on YouTube.

Their debut EP ‘Away From The Tide’ was released in 2019, and the most recent self-titled EP was released in December 2022. Performing with Mollie and Orlaith on this tour is drummer Jamie Hewitt, he was chosen by the duo to dep whilst regular drummer Mamie (Mollie’s younger sister) is studying at university.

The house lights go out and ‘Dea Matrona’ is displayed on the huge screen and the rear of the stage. Opening with ‘Stamp On It’ which was released during 2021. Jamie Hewitt gets the crowd clapping. Orlaith Forsythe’s funky bass beat and a tidy riff from Mollie McGinn gets the show going. McGinn’s vocal is crystal clear and grabs the attention. Hewitt supplies a supportive drum beat. Forsythe and McGinn are bouncing. The tempo is high, spontaneously it gets the foot tapping and head nodding.

Orlaith asks “Are you ready to rock?” which is met by cheers. Up next, we have the track that got Dea Matrona ‘noticed’ whilst busking on Belfast’s city streets. ‘Oh Well’ is a cover of the Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green era hit from 1969.

Not only have McGinn and Forsythe swapped lead vocal duties, but they have swapped guitars with each other too, something that is extremely rare. I like it. It’s a great version of this classic, powerful riffs with punctuated lyrics, the start/stop pace executed seamlessly. Unfortunately, Forsythe’s guitar has picked up a crackle, one of the Tech’s soon has it sorted and the professionalism of all is appreciated.

After the band introductions, we’re away with ‘It’s Only Music’ which is a feisty sounding track, upbeat with neat guitar breaks weaved in. The bass is heavy, guiding the listener through the sounds.

The slower ‘Get off my Mind’ is next, a bit bluesy with a simple effective beat. Orlaith has the bass, Mollie lead guitar, she also has a slide on her left hand. The vocals showcasing Orlaith’s talents, Mollie joining in with the harmonies.

Orlaith Forsythe tells us that they are really enjoying the tour with Kris Barras and his band. ‘Nobody’s Child’ is from the ‘Away From The Tide’ EP, a Shadows-esque intro followed by a steady drum beat from Hewitt gets the heads nodding inside KK’s. The vocal is slightly haunting in its tone and clarity. The bass of Forsythe as she plays it one-handed, burbles behind her lyrics. Mollie McGinn is at the stage edge crouching down as she plays the solo. The crowd enjoyed that one.

McGinn tells KK’s that she wants to see them “Groove”, ‘So Damn Dangerous’ from the self-titled ‘Dea Matrona’, has a slightly sleazy sound with a funky bass, and emotional vocal tones. Forsythe is leaning back, and is in the zone as she plays the solo. A well thought out track.

With something else off ‘Away From The Tide’ it’s ‘Just Wanna Rock’. A brilliant summer rock sounding track, visions of The Runaways or The Beach Boys playing on a summers evening on a beach with a backdrop of the sun disappearing into the sea. The girls are duetting and stand back-to-back as they play. Some in the crowd are dancing. A real feel-good sound.

Jamie leaves the stage to Orlaith and Mollie, Mollie tells us he’s off for a well earnt beer. The ladies bring us the acoustic ‘Glory, Glory (I Am Free)’, a track that demonstrates all the essential ingredients for success. Musical ability with classic instruments, thoughtful lyrics, vocal control and the talent to bring them all together. I look around the crowd, no-one is talking, everyone is listening.

We’re told that the next track is one of their favourites. ‘Homeward Bound’ is a cover of the Simon & Garfunkel hit released in 1966. Two vocalists, with two guitars played perfectly. Judging by the response of the crowd at the end, they liked that one a lot.

Jamie Hewitt returns to the stage and settles down behind his kit, the crowd give him a good cheer. An ‘Eye of The Tiger’ style intro to ‘Red Button’ has the foot tapping. McGinn has the lead, and Forsythe is wielding the bass. A modern sound in comparison to the earlier classic sound, it’s a great contrast. The sound is rich and full as the stage lighting is a pulsating red. Hewitt flexes the arm muscles and the tempo increases.

We’re straight into the final track. The Glam Rock era is visited for ‘Make You My Star’, Joan Jett at her finest is revived in this belter. Attitude, beats and riffs straight between the eyes. KK’s is clapping as the ladies line up for a Quo rock out. Mollie McGinn is lying down Jimi Hendrix style for the final solo, a flash of strobe lighting brings the show to a close. The crowd are cheering and clapping with genuine appreciation.

It’s easy to make comparisons (as I have) to other artists, you think of Joan Jett, The Runaways and Heart amongst others, there are some similarities with tiny parts of Dea Matrona. But maybe the biggest compliment should be is that they are Dea Matrona and nobody else.

Setlist: Stamp On It; Oh Well; It’s Only Music; Get Off My Mind; Nobody’s Child; Glory, Glory (I Am Free); So Damn Dangerous; Just Wanna Rock; Homeward Bound; Red Button; Make You My Star.

We have a 30-minute changeover, Manny has made his way back to me. He is proving very popular with the ladies as he shares his fizzy worms. Actually, I should have said jelly sweets, but where’s the fun in that?

Originating from Torquay in Devon, Kris Barras has led a life that a biographer would dream about writing. As he grew up influenced by his father’s band and huge record collection, he started to learn how to play a guitar, whilst around the same age he began training in martial arts. Over time the martial arts won and he became a renowned ‘Cage Fighter’ living in Las Vegas and Thailand, fighting in front of up to 8000 people in Asia. But music was his real passion and in 2014 he quit the cage, then in 2016 the Kris Barras Band released their debut full length album ‘Lucky 13’; the band have recorded a further three albums with 2022’s ‘Death Valley Paradise’ the most recent.

The band consists of Kris Barras (lead vocals/guitar), Josiah J. Manning (guitar/backing vocals), Frazer Kerslake (bass/backing vocals) and Billy Hammett (drums).

The house lights go out, the volume level from the crowd goes to 11, there’s a lot of excited people in here. AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ fills the hall, the glowing Kris Barras Band sign is illuminating the crowds faces. The band appear, Josiah J. Manning starts a heavy riff, a few moments later the flame cannons go off and they are joined by a grinning Kris Barras, wearing a sleeveless top displaying his impressive ink.

It’s all systems go as we start with the narrated intro of ‘Hail Mary’ from ‘The Divine and Dirty’ released in 2018. The steady beat and lyric gets the crowd bouncing, as Barras and the band reach the chorus the crowd take over lead vocals, punching the air in time. Frazer Kerslake is pounding his six-string bass, Barras’ solo is crystal clear as it leads the band to a powerful finish complete with smoke cannons. Awesome way to start.

It’s something from the new album ‘Death Valley Paradise’, it’s ‘Dead Horses’. The beanie hat wearing Frazer Kerslake and Billy Hammett give the track a hard funk feel as they crash out the beats as flames fire upwards. Kerslake is charging around the stage. A steady riff, Barras cups his mic, his chanted lyrics are filling the hall with sound.

Staying with ‘Death Valley Paradise’ we have ‘These Voices’. It’s slower, there are clear different layers in construction, each musician adding real texture, this is clever. The crowd mouthing the words are swaying in time. The atmosphere is brilliant, real fans enjoying their band.

Kris Barras tells the attentive crowd that they decided to “Rock up the set” for this tour. It’s a step back in time to the beginning for ‘Heart on Your Sleeve’, from the debut release ‘Lucky 13’. Barras gets the crowd jumping. Hammett’s drum beat is quick, the track has a ‘swamp-rock’ feel, a real toe-tapper. Manning’s riffs are heavy, the band are bouncing around the stage. Kris Barras comes to the front of the stage as he rips out the solo, foot up on the monitor nodding along, Manning and Kerslake are up on the drum riser, before leading to a heavy riffing jam outro.

Josiah J. Manning is gently strumming. Barras says that the new album is a lot heavier, and he wanted to add something softer to it, so, we return to the new album for ‘Wake Me When It’s Over’, Hammett’s careful beat is accompanied by Barras, he’s speaking the words slowly and passionately. The tempo increases as Kerslake pushes the track forward. The arms around the hall are waving. The track finishes with a huge scream from Barras that echoes around The Steel Mill.

The Police radio tape intro and flashing blue lights signifies the start of ‘Hostage’ which is taken off ‘Death Valley Paradise’. It’s classic heavy rock sound reverberates around the hall. Kerslake’s bass, like Hammett’s drums are pounding the senses. Old confetti is falling from the lights overhead. The outro is thunderous as the band rock out in a line and surrounded by flames. The crowd are headbanging along. That was brilliant.

Again, ‘Death Valley Paradise’ provides the next track ‘Chaos’, this is slower with a thumping rhythm, a marching tempo, the guitars of Barras and Manning grabbing the attention with clever breaks and a solo that has you starring at the fret work. The crowd in front is a sea of nodding heads.

“Are you ready to sing?” cries Barras. Hammett’s bass drum and a sing back starts ‘Devil You Know’ from ‘Death Valley Paradise’. Apparently, we sound “Pretty fucking amazing”. Manning provides a down and dirty riff in the background. It’s a clever mix of sounds, almost two tracks being played simultaneously, the music and Barras’ vocals. It works brilliantly. The crowd are clapping as Kris Barras leaps down into the crowd, walking around us as he sings. Manning rips out a solo as Barras makes his way back up onto the stage.

From the 2018 ‘The Divine and Dirty’ album, next we have ‘Watching Over Me’. Josiah M. Manning gentle strumming starts the track, Barras relates the story behind the track, the passing of his father who sadly died of cancer at only 54, it was the first song Barras wrote, it’s written as a tribute to his father. Barras up on the riser, playing with his eyes closed delivers a spinechilling blues solo, full of emotion as it drives straight to the heart, the feelings expressed are immense. Barras calls for the crowd to switch their phone lights on, providing a galaxy of stars. The loss and love are all portrayed in this wonderful song. The notes pour from Barras’ guitar like tears of love, down the cheeks of a face. Wow.

As the famous Monty Python TV show often said, “And Now for Something Completely Different”, Billy Hammett rapid drum beat, then an iconic riff from Barras it’s ‘Rock and Roll’ a cover of the massive 1972 Led Zeppelin hit. The crowd take off, bouncing and singing, Kerslake crouched down low is spanking the bass’ strings. KK’s is on backing vocals, this is a good faithful reproduction of the original. The band then start a heavy jam, with each member playing a short solo as the musicians begin duelling, the sounds are amazing.

We head back to the recent release, we have ‘Who Needs Enemies’, erupting flames, a splash of bass wash and the quick riffs and beats start, Barras sounds angry as he chants the words keeping time with Hammett as he pounds the drum skins. Barras moves to the front of the stage for his solo. This has a stadium anthem sound.

Kris Barras tells KK’s that they’ve been amazing tonight, he also thanks Dea Matrona for their part. The marching beat and chanted intro of ‘My Parade’ from ‘Death Valley Paradise’ has the crowd clapping. The vocal is slow and deliberate. The riffs dirty. We have another sing-back, Barras is back in amongst the crowd before splitting them in half for a sing off (for the record, my half won). He’s back on stage as the band play out to a big crescendo finish. The band wave and leave the stage.

After a fair bit of chanting and whistling the band return to the stage. “Let’s have one more” says Barras. The final track tonight from what has been an amazing set is ‘Ignite (Light It Up)’ taken from ‘Light It Up’ which was released in 2019. The stage glows red and yellow as the track commences with flames and a riff from Manning, Barras’ vocal tempo matches the driving beats from Kerslake and Hammett.

The crowd are punching the air in time and singing along. Barras encourages the crowd to take over lead vocals which they do with gusto as he conducts the KK’ Steel Mill choir, Barras then releases his final solo. The set concludes with a big heavy finish and a lot of fire. The band pose in front of the crowd for a photo, before they sign their setlists and hand them out to the waiting hands.

The Kris Barras Band have played an absolutely blinding set, with a mix of great songs performed excellently. The interaction with the audience was top quality and the crowd loved it. It’s been a great nights entertainment, there are still a few dates left on the tour so grab a ticket before it’s too late.

Setlist: Hail Mary; Dead Horses; These Voices; Heart on Your Sleeve; Wake Me When It’s Over; Hostage; Chaos; Devil You Know; Watching Over Me; Rock and Roll; Who Needs Enemies; My Parade; Ignite (Light It Up).

Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

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