Back in July, during my first correspondence with Charlie Barnes, we were discussing our mutual appreciation for the band, Amplifier. Yet, you listen to Charlie's set and you wonder how the hell the two entities ended up sharing a tour, studio space and friendship. The latter can be explained away by Charlie's totally affable and humble demeanour, and it seems the first two can be attributed to what my dad used to called, 'having a lot of neck'. Well Charlie Barnes needs a lot of neck, because he has a voice that soars higher than the sun. That aside, he probably wouldn't have been doing this gig if he hadn't walked up to the guys in Amplifier, handed them a demo tape and asked if he could support them on their forthcoming tour. I don't care how big a band is, it takes some nerve to do what he did and all credit to Amplifier for possibly uncovering a new star.
Charlie's voice was the thing that impressed me when I saw him at the 2000 Trees festival and the reason I ventured down to crappy little Watford for a gig, in a splendid venue. I'd likened Charlie to a one-man Sigur Ros with balls, but my opinion has changed slightly now I've seen him again. While the Icelanders' are pretty much post rock geniuses (at times), Mssr Barnes is more European and to compare the two is like trying to compare Sweden with Greece). Both create an ambitious, sometimes ambient, back drop to their music, but Barnes does this using just a couple of things - his own unique voice and a computer.
This is another of the things that impresses me about Charlie. He is a one man band, but he could use lots of backing tapes and shit like that, but instead he creates his own backing tracks in a wonderful way that makes the songs seem to come alive; like watching and listening to something being created specifically for you. It's like watching someone weave fabric, except he does it mimicking beatboxes, drums, and his screeches and howls are somehow transformed into the perfect accompaniment. Charlie cites French pop as one of his influences and there's definitely something French about the way he hits the high note, sustains what seem unfeasibly long notes and uses space to create a slightly detached, almost Piaf-like, feel to his songs. He is an absolute joy to watch even if you can't penetrate his music.
His 45 minute set went down extremely well with the small crowd (and the likable little dog that got very excited about Geekk) and Charlie declared that the venue was one of top 5 he'd ever played in. The striking thing about the place was its acoustics; considering the complexity of a Barnes performance, there wasn't the hint of feedback and the sound was crystal clear.
During our first conversations, Charlie told me that he felt that his chums in Amplifier, as well as being totally swell chaps with a great love for live music, were unlikely to become rock megastars and stadium fillers because of the kind of rock music they play. My personal jury is still out on this, but that could be because I rate Amplifier very highly. But my point it, however brilliant I believe Charlie Barnes to be, I wonder if he's not just a little too avante garde to become a star. Like Amplifier, I believe he deserves to be, but I'm not an A&R man and I have a tendency to like an awful lot of shite as well as a lot of good stuff.
Tracks like This Boy Blind prove that he can write a commercially gorgeous song, Geekk is the kind of song Tom Chaplin would love to be able to master, while Oradour is anything but a prog song, but it just shows that Charlie loves his prog, even if he can transform it into something like a Torch Song. There have been comparisons with Thom Yorke, yet as much as I like Radiohead, I think Charlie has a better voice than Yorke. If I was describing him as a wine, I'd agree with his website and say there's some Scott Walker in there; a splash of Marc Almond. A bit of Matt Hales and a dash of an 80s band I used to like called In Embrace. Charlie also has something else going for thim though, a lot of himself.
If you're following him on MySpace or Facebook you'll see he's been busy in the studio. If his debut album has anything like the power and impact of one of his live shows then he deserves to make a shitload of money from this business.