Interview: The Demon Barbers

Simon ParkinVoted Best Live Act at the BBC Folk Awards, The Demon Barbers are among a new generation of bands putting pay to folk's staid image. SIMON PARKIN spoke to Damien Barber ahead of his return to Norfolk.Simon Parkin

Voted Best Live Act at the BBC Folk Awards, The Demon Barbers are among a new generation of bands putting pay to folk's staid image. SIMON PARKIN spoke to Damien Barber ahead of his return to Norfolk.

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t Were you surprised to win the Best Live Act Award?

We were pleased and surprised to be honest. It was good for us because we've been working for about nine or 10 years and we, like a lot of bands, have been struggling to make headway. There is a lot of traditional bands around these days, a lot of interest in folk, and after 10 years you start wondering whether you're going to get there or not. Then suddenly out of the blue we get best live act. It was a real boost for everyone. It helps keep everyone's enthusiasm up. Because in the full show - and we're not actually bringing the full show to Norwich, just the band and the clog dancers, there is about 16 different artists, dancers and musicians. So keeping everyone spirits up is a full time job.

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t Most people's view of folk is that its fairly staid, is that wrong?

A lot of young bands these days who are involved in traditional folk and the folk festivals are doing really well. There is a big resurgence of interest from schools. We spend a lot of time in schools teaching sword dancing. It's because there is a whole new generation of artists, musicians and singers and a whole new angle that they're coming from. It is a quite a lively scene at the moment and we are part of that. We try to keep things as upbeat as possible. The shows we do are very upbeat there are not many moments of peace.

t Your shows even include beat-boxing. How does that go down with the purists?

You'd be surprised actually. The beat-boxing is a vary base thing. It's rhythm using nothing more complicated than you're own voice. It is actually quite tribal and there a lot of traditions based around mouth music in a lot of cultures, Gallic for instance, and aboriginal music. It's something that we've all got in common. He does some strange routines with it. Beatboxing isn't just about making beats its about performance as well, including visual performance. He actually came out of a new show we're developing fusing traditional dance and more contemporary street dance. We have run a couple of pilots in the past and we're running a new show in May. He came out of that process and he's with us most of the time now. He will be with us on the Norwich gig. He usually goes down well, though there are usually some surprised faces too. It's not that it doesn't go down well with the purists, it perhaps that they're a little bit surprised to see it there.

t Do you still regard what you do as traditional music?

I think because everyone in the band still has a respect for the traditional music - I still do very traditional music in folk clubs and some other band members also still do traditional music and they all do traditional dance, so we all have a healthy respect for those traditions. And I think because people know that they give us the breathing space to develop it more.

t You were brought up in Norfolk but are now based in Yorkshire, how did that come about?

I left Norfolk when I was 24 moved over to Ireland because I was playing a lot of Irish music at the time. When I came back to England I just happened to end up in Yorkshire. One of the beauties of Norfolk, but also one of the problems for musicians is that its stuck out on a limb and its quite difficult to tour from there. Ideally I'd love to come back to Norfolk.

t Does folk music differ around the country?

Norfolk for me has always been special in having a very strong singing tradition. I was brought up in Norfolk listening to Walter Pardon who was an old traditional singer from Knapton. You don't really get that anywhere else in the UK. There are other areas where singing is important, but I think there are a lot of open mic nights and music nights and that's what makes Norfolk special in terms of singing.

t Norfolk artist and musician Tony Hall has done the cover of your album, The Adventures of Captain Ward. How did that come about?

I've known Tony since I was four or five, though the folk scene. He is a big hero of mine. I've always wanted to play a melodeon like him and he gave me a few lessons when I was about 13 or 14. He is an incredible character and musician and I've always kept that friendship since I turned professional. He actually did the front cover for my first album back in 1991, so I thought we'd see if he fancied doing us another one. And he has done us proud.

t The Demon Barbers, Maddermarket Theatre, March 31, �12.50, 01603 620917,