Louis Barabbas and the Bedlam Six

There’s an art to putting on lipstick. Arguably taping it to your guitar and trying to apply it WHILST playing isn’t usually the best technique. But then again the chap doing it (yes, I said chap), Mr Louis Barabbas, isn’t your usual musician either…

First up tonight though a word or two about the splendidly named support act Alabaster de Plume, part poet, part singer songwriter and part semi-detached observer of the human race.

Alabaster dePlume

Imagine if Morrissey, Kenneth Williams and Dylan Thomas had a kid together (tricky I’ll grant you, but pretty much everything’s possible these days), I reckon the resulting wonderful human being would be de Plume. “I imagined one day that an image of the Queen was talking to me” he explained, staring into space before launching into I’m The Queen, a gloriously unhinged trawl through her Majesty’s inner thoughts. Stuff Gary Barlow’s track, make this the official Jubilee anthem. Brilliant.

Alabaster dePlume

Until recently tonight’s headliner Louis Barabbas sported the finest beard in music.

Louis Barabbas and the Bedlam Six

Fact. He’d been growing it for two long years but then he hacked it all off for the video to his band’s latest release Deep Enough. Amazingly enough this was actually the intention when he started growing it, which demonstrates the kind of forward planning that would put most bands (and economists for that matter) to shame. There’s more to the man – and band – than the beard though, mighty as it was. Some artists wander on and do their thing, some really get into it and one or two edge dangerously close to expiring right there in front of us. Louis belongs firmly in the last category, throwing himself around (and off) the stage, flinging his legs in the air like a showgirl on speed and neatly rearranging several vertebrae in the process. Ouch.

Louis Barabbas and the Bedlam Six

Highkicking things off with Mother, which wouldn’t sound out of place in Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, Barabbas bounds around the place, his face alive with a million and one expressions. It was pretty warm in here tonight and a lesser man may well have knocked it back a gear or two but you know what, I just don’t reckon he has it in him to give less than 100%. “This is a song about murdering your wife…” he explained with more than a little gleam in his eye before launching into a surprisingly upbeat number. In fact several of tonight’s best songs seemed to focus on the sticky subject of love and, on top of the anthem to spousicide already mentioned, we got “this is a song about being married too long” (Thick Carpets, Old Lifts) and “this is a song about being cheated on by a girl” (Mary) too. Maybe it’s his way with the lippie that doesn’t go down too well with the ladies? In fact by the end of the set a good 80% of his face was smeared with what looked like the entire contents of a Boots make-up counter, a bloody red mask to replace that missing beard eh?

Louis Barabbas and the Bedlam Six

It’s tricky to categorise the precise musical style of the band (it’s unlikely that they know themselves) but they’ve been described as ‘dirt-swing’, whatever the heck that means. It’s theatrical, a little rocky, a little folky, a little punky, a little New Orleans jazz… shades of the great Sensational Alex Harvey Band in places maybe? Tom Waits jamming with Gogol Bordello? A music lesson in a Victorian asylum for the criminally insane? Other than that I’m struggling to come up with any comparisons and in this day and age that’s all too rare.

Louis Barabbas and the Bedlam Six

There was some first class banter too, particularly between Louis and the drummer, culminating in some kind of a cat fucking challenge. Rumours that Louis was later to be found wandering the back streets of Kings Heath, still caked in lipstick and looking for a suitable partner were still unconfirmed at the time of writing. A Barrab-astounding performance.

Louis Barabbas and the Bedlam Six

Words by Daron Billings, email Daron.
Photos by Wayne Fox, email Wayne.

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