Opening with two as yet unreleased tracks is always a risky game, but the amount of energy that Barns Courtney brings to the stage makes it feel like the songs are already number one bangers. And they will be, once they’re released. Even the third song was the most recently released ‘99’ – Barns doesn’t follow traditional set list order, but it doesn’t matter. He has the crowd in the palm of his hand by the end of ‘99’, and despite it being a short set in terms of length, the energy in the tiny Exchange feels like a Glastonbury headline set.
Bristol’s Exchange was recently saved from closure, becoming a community owned venue from 2019 onwards. That’s incredibly good news; whether this is the venue or the skill of Barns Courtney is unclear, but it’s an odd contrast between the huge sound that he brings for ‘Hobo Rocket’, ‘Kicks’ or ‘Golden Dandelions’ which could easily fill a big arena, and then the sounds of hands clapping as if we were in a tiny bar in a small corner of London.
Barnaby never forgets his roots either, part of his set was just a quick chat with the audience to thank them for their support enabling him to do ‘the best job in the world’. If you’re unfamiliar, the story of how Barns made his way here is far from simple. After recording a whole album’s worth of material to never be released, he was dropped from his label and left without an income or a home. Only his friends’ sofas and cars were there for him while he followed his passion for music, and it has certainly paid off.
These experiences made their way on to his first album The Attractions Of Youth and you can hear the bluesy twang they brought to his iconic sound, but his new material has taken away the sadness of the last album. It’s full on, upbeat, relieved rock, and it’s going to sound great when it actually comes out on an album.
Never full of ego, Barnaby tells the crowd how one of his most popular tracks ‘Glitter & Gold’ was written while he procrastinated instead of going to a Halloween party, and another was recorded on one microphone in his friend’s shed. And if you look at his Instagram stories, that hasn’t changed. There are no big recording studios in the Calabasas Hills of California; it’s a shed in Ipswich.
Barnaby is a rockstar who just needs that place on a big stage now. His last tour of the UK had to be cancelled, and before this one began he played a huge show at London’s Scala, making Bristol’s Exchange seem tiny. He’s the type of act who you could expect to have a small but loyal following across the UK, but in fact he could sell out a huge arena in an instant. His music is catchy, his levels of energy are incredible, and he’s got stories to tell.