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INTERVIEW: Charlie Barnes

I was lucky enough to speak with the inimitable Charlie Barnes about his upcoming solo tour. For those of you who might not know, Charlie is also a touring member with Bastille..and all round superstar.  

Photo credit: Helena Rodgers

Charlie: Well, hello there.

How are you?

Charlie: I am in a very agreeable state.  I’m currently sat on a balcony of a hotel room in Norway overlooking some beautiful woodland.  The air is clean, and I have taken a fine breakfast in good company.

Why have you decided to go on a mini tour?

Charlie: Well…originally the plan may or may not have been to tie the run in with some sort of a release that may or may not be on the cards, but that hasn’t quite panned out, so fundamentally the reason is as simple as my having a week off from the day job.  I only really got a couple of opportunities to play some of the songs from my last release in front of other human beings, so I want to (more or less) take any chance I can to do that.

Can we expect new material at these upcoming shows?

Charlie: That depends entirely on how brave I’m feeling.  I’ve got a lot of things knocking around, but there’s one song in particular that feels like it might make sense to include in this run.  Something I wrote in an hotel room last summer.  Lengthy.  Sad but hopeful.  We’ll see eh?

How are you feeling in the run up to the shows? Nervous, excited or both?

Charlie: Pretty solidly both.  It used to be so fucking easy.  Book gigs, go to gigs, play gigs, enjoy or not enjoy gigs, carry on to next gigs, always plugging away looking for the next whatever.  I get really excited when I put these things together and think it’s a fucking GREAT idea, and then it all gets announced and I realise I have to live through the actual reality of standing in front of actual people who may or may not have parted with their actual cash to see me perform and I freak the fuck out.  Last year was a really bizarre mixed bag on that front, during the tours where I was, so they say, ‘promoting’ the new album.  There were some shows where I should’ve felt great, and I really, really didn’t.  (Having said that, there were some shows, and I’m thinking of a fairly obvious run to work out tour here, where I should’ve been feeling great about them, and holy fucking moly did I feel like the King of the fucking world about them. You know the ones.)  I’m trying to approach this little cluster with a very different mindset to last year, and I think throwing an appearance at one of Earth’s best festivals in the middle (where I get to go and watch a load of bands I fucking adore after I’m done) is a hell of a crutch to make fine use of.

How did you pick such stunning venues for your shows?

Charlie: London was down entirely to googling small venues to hire, and Whirled Cinema looked like the ideal (and, most importantly, reasonably affordable even for London) spot for the VLMV chaps and I to put on our own little night.  The original plan was to create a run of shows around small indie cinemas, but then the ArcTanGent Festival offer came through, and by a stroke of ridiculous luck I fell back in touch with an old, old friend from home who’s involved in the St Mary’s venue, so we mostly sacked off the cinemas idea.  I didn’t even realise that St Mary’s had the upstairs venue part, I thought it was just the new library for Lichfield, so that was a complete no-brainer in terms of a booking decision.

Lichfield is your home town, how long has it been since you’ve been back?

Charlie: I’m fairly sure the last time I played in Lichfield was nine years ago, in the back room of a pub in town, with my old high school bandmates, playing our album from start to finish for a handful of mates.  I did a couple of last solo shows there around the time I left for/had started at University and was getting into the whole looping thing, but nothing else since.  I didn’t really have much contact with the City at all for a while, but thankfully my life sorted itself out and my wife and I moved back there a few years ago.  It’s been great being back home, and in the last few years the place has come on leaps and bounds.  There are so many great new places opening up; Melbourne Coffee has become a very regular haunt, and I’m excited to try out Larder and the Ultimate Vegan CafĂ©.  I’m still not home all that much so I’m taking my time with getting around to visiting all the new haunts.  It’s going to be pretty great to play a gig and be back in my own bed within the hour.

How have you found time to rehearse (as you’ve been busy promoting Doom Days with Bastille)?

Charlie: Well, I’ve been doing my best to make good use of the inbetween days from touring.  My wife and I converted our garage into a studio of sorts at the start of the year, so between that and buying myself an absolutely fucking beautiful new acoustic guitar I’ve been spending a lot of time just sitting around playing through things.  As I alluded to before, there may or may not be something in the pipeline…not entirely new…but different…and that’s been something I’ve put a lot of time into between tours and promotional duties sailing on the good ship Bastille, so there’s a lot of stuff feeling reasonably well rehearsed at the moment anyway.  (Also, it’s a lot easier to remember stuff you’ve written yourself…right?!)

Does touring with Bastille influence your solo performances?

Charlie: Last year when I was touring with a band I was definitely trying to take a lot of what I knew from the big-league touring world (heck, for Manchester and Sheffield I even had Bastille’s drum tech Oli standing in for my usual drummer behind the kit!) into the circuit of pubs with an audience of twenty odd people.  It was pretty fucking slick, and I hope that made for an enjoyable experience for the handful of folks who came along to see it.  I guess I was sort of anticipating some weird expectation people might have of somebody making their ‘return’ from bonkers arena world, so to speak, and that really got in my head in a big way.  I’m not sure I was taking exactly the right approach, not sure I was being entirely true to myself (although I absolutely know we did a fucking exquisite job of pulling that record off live, and I extend enormous credit and thanks to Ed, Ste, Oli and Ben for making that happen.  You 12/10 good boys, you), but I’m glad I did it.  This time around I want to do something that feels a bit more personal.  The majority of the performances I’ve done in the last decade or so have been just me, so what I’m planning for the run in August isn’t exactly anything mind-bogglingly new, but it feels kind of fresh to me in comparison to what I was striving for last year.  If anything, I’m probably taking more influence from the last year or so of stripped back radio promo stuff I’ve done with Bastille.  I’ve been taking those performances as opportunities to work on my finger-picking (something I never fucking bothered to learn to do properly, as with basically anything to do with music in my case), and that’s lead me to try playing some of my own stuff in more of a finger-picked style.  If there’s any latent country lurking in any of the songs from my last couple of albums, be prepared to hear it come to fruition.

Can we expect a larger tour in future?

Charlie: I think now that I’ve worked out I’m probably more comfortable onstage alone, it will likely make performing my own material a slightly more regular occurrence.  Realistically I don’t get much opportunity outside of work to plan big tours, and I want to spend most of my time off with my wife and my dog, but I do still feel like my solo material is something that needs airing out.  Not because the world needs it or any such egomaniacal bullshit, but moreso just because I feel like I need to get it out of me.  I could throw in a whole discussion here about whether art by definition requires an audience, but you’d be better off just listening to that new 65daysofstatic podcast where they cover the topic far more articulately than I ever could.  (It’s in episode three, by the way…)  I do however kind of think I need to get myself out of the headspace of ‘it has to be a TOUR, a big THING, something to stick all over the INTERNET’ etc, and just get back to how things were when I was 20 (musically, at least).  I always thought back then that I was yearning for the next thing, the shows I was doing were enjoyable and exciting BECAUSE they were leading to something else.  Actually, I think those shows were fun because I was getting out there, playing to whoever showed up (almost exclusively the friends of the other people playing that night) and making what felt like very genuine connections.  I feel like I’ve been trying to run before I can walk, probably for the last ten years, and maybe now is the time to correct the pace a bit.  I was so desperate to be invited up the ladder, not realising that, actually, it’s way more fun on the floor.

Thank you so much!

Charlie: Thanks for having me, be excellent to each other. X

Oh, and please buy a ticket for a concert.

Tickets can be purchased here:

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