They went down a storm at last year’s Farmer Phil’s Festival so we’re delighted to welcome The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican back to Near Gatten Farm for more of their zany brilliance next weekend. We mashed a couple of brews and and a reight good catch up with frontman Scott Doonican…
DISCLAIMER: If you’re planning on reading this in one sitting, you should probably fix yourself a brew before reading further – this guy can talk!
FPF: Congratulations on your ten year anniversary earlier this summer. This question won’t win any prizes for originality, but what inspired the name, and who knitted those awesome tank-tops of yours?
SD: Just before we formed 10 years ago, myself and my better half, Amanda went on a short-break to Dublin where we saw a poster informing us that the San Diego Americana band ‘The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash’ were playing in town that night. Although we didn’t go to the show, we did go to a pub in Temple Bar, and talked about the idea that the acoustic duo that myself and former Bar-Steward Son, Danny Doonican were planning to form for one night only, could be called ‘The Bastard Sons of ???????’ (whoever).
A whole host of famous names of yester-year were considered, including Matt Monroe, Bert Weedon, Perry Como, Max Bygraves and other showmen of that era (generally ones well-known for butchering other people’s songs). Amanda’s suggestion that we softened the ‘Bastard’ in the suggested moniker, in fear that we wouldn’t get any bookings, was a wise decision, and her other suggestion of taking on Val Doonican’s surname in vain, inspired our ‘image’ of the “sexy hair and knitwear”.
Although we have continued to allude to our questionable parentage over our 10 year career, I have to confess that I have nothing but the utmost respect for Val, who sadly passed away last summer and was the face of Saturday night light-entertainment for decades. A quote from Val himself gave me a mantra I have always stood by over the years that the band have been together, which was simply… “When you entertain the public it’s no good just having good music or singing, you must also have entertainment value, so people will go home having a good time.”
As for the tank-tops, they have been knitted by two people… Amanda knitted several in my stage-wear collection, and a dear friend and fan of the band, from Barnsley, a lady by the name of Jenny Fuller, has knitted the ones you will see Bjorn and Alan in.
FPF: You guys literally had the whole festival jumping last year with ‘Jump Ararnd’, but just in case anyone reading this has not yet witnessed the genius of The Bar-Steward Sons, how would you best describe yourselves and your music?
SD: I, personally, find the word ‘genius’ a word that is at odds with the daft stuff that we do (though I could argue Alan #2 has had moments of it in songs he has composed since joining in October 2014, but that’s a personal opinion). If we were talking real comedy-genius, then you need to look towards people like Mike Harding, Billy Connolly, Jasper Carrott, Richard Digance, Dave Gorman, Monty Python, Reeves & Mortimer and Stewart Lee, but everyone will have their own heroes, I suppose… like all art-forms, it’s subjective, isn’t it?!
We once had an album review in ‘Louder Than War’ by Alan Ewart who once said of us that “The Bar-Steward Sons do not try to make out that they are anything other than a bit of good old-fashioned fun and they take having fun very seriously”. I think he summed us up pretty well. It’s very easy for people to think that because of what we actually do, it isn’t as artistically as valid as acts that are ‘serious artists’. I tend to think that there is no place for us releasing material that isn’t funny enough to cut it, and we try to ensure our live shows aim to involve as many people as possible. There are so many great acts out there that we have to be able to hold our own on a festival stage against the ‘big-boys’.
When we started out I wanted to mix the comedy of the likes of my personal comic-hero, Mike Harding, with the onstage audience-interaction and stadium rock-esque antics of Freddie Mercury… even if we were only playing in small pubs. There’s no better thrill than making an audience laugh. It’s the most amazing feeling, as you know straight away with laughter, that it is usually a direct indication of people’s happiness. And even though I’ve sang some of these songs hundreds of times, it’s always still a great heart-warming feeling to spot that person in the audience who is hearing it for the first time, and ‘getting it’. You can’t beat that.
FPF: How did you guys enjoy getting Ken Bonsall of Ferocious Dog onstage with you last year?
SD: It was lovely to be joined by Ken, John (Alexander – bassist from Ferocious Dog) and little Charlie (the 10-year old lad who joined us from the audience with his hand-made guitar), during ‘Jump Ararnd’ at last year’s festival, but it’s not been the first time Ken has joined us onstage – we’ve been friends now for a few years (he’s joined us at Bearded Theory and Beautiful Days too – probably other shows too – my memory gets hazy!) and we are playing a show with Ferocious Dog up in Barnsley in October. ‘Jump Ararnd’ is always a great excuse to get our festival friends up on stage if they are playing the festival too, as it’s essentially a long jam in the key of ‘E’, so nobody can get it wrong! In the past we’ve been joined by everyone from Simon Friend from The Levellers to Gaz Brookfield, and they all seem to get the silliness of what we do, so it makes for a fun and lively finale.
FPF: Your back catalogue is literally massive! How do you decide what songs to include in your set? And do you have any newly re-worked classics for the Farmer Phil’s Festival masses this year?
SD: Since forming in 2006, I’ve tried to ensure that we release at least one studio album a year – this is so that we can keep material fresh. Over time there are songs that become fan favourites, which makes picking songs for a ‘bestest bits’ festival set a nightmare! In the first few years, we played straight covers of eclectic artists (everything from Sparks to Judas Priest) on guitars, banjos and accordions. However, from 2010’s ‘Cpl Kipper’s Barnsley Trades Club Turn’ we decided to go down the route of focusing on the comedy that tended to dominate our early sets anyway.
Danny Doonican left shortly afterwards, but throughout different line-up changes, we have released ten studio albums to date, two greatest hits compilations on vinyl, one 10-Year Retrospective, a series of Desert Island Discs podcasts, at least 17 live albums, six EPs, a book of our song lyrics and the stories behind them and God knows what else! I’m a real workaholic, so there is every chance that the next album will be written and recorded by May 2017. Amanda and I have written the majority of our material together for years, with Andy Doonican occasionally chipping in too, and since joining in 2014, both Alan and Bjorn have shared and contributed some really great material too, which means that nowadays things feel like a real team effort. I feel our last two albums of songs have been some of our finest moments.
Our latest album, ‘T’SOUTH 0 – TARN 4’ was released in May, so we have a whole new album of songs to pick from for Farmer Phil’s Festival 2016… the bonus being that we are playing for an hour on the Main Stage on Saturday and I play a totally different hour-long set on the Russshuntel Second Stage on the Sunday, so picking the songs that make it into both sets is a bit easier than if we had only 30 mins to cram in what we can! (Our usual non-festival/non-support shows are regularly three hours long – we can give Springsteen AND Ken Dodd a run for their money on a good neet!)
FPF: Who are you most looking forward to seeing at this year’s festival, and why?
SD: If 2015’s Farmer Phil’s has anything to go by I wouldn’t like to say, as I may not already know the acts that will take my fancy! Despite the comedy thing I am a real music-lover (everything from Frank Sinatra to System Of A Down) so I like to check out folk I’ve not seen before, just as much as seeing people who are already on my musical peripheral vision. Sadly, we miss all of the acts performing on the Friday, as we have the honour and privilege of playing support to our friends and heroes The Levellers at Coventry Empire on that evening (although we’re gutted to be missing our friends from Black Thorn on the Russshuntel Stage at 10pm, and can’t recommend folk to go and see them enough – they are well-worth checking out!).
Other highlights, for me, over the remaining two days of the weekend would be the beer at the bar, the people, fellow Barnsley act Morris & Watson, the wonderful Stevie ‘One Bloke One Mandolin’ Simpson, Gaz Brookfield OR The Star Botherers (both are great acts and both bloomin’ clash!), The Leylines, Maelor Hughes and Folk The System. I’m also going to miss Ferocious Dog’s second set of the weekend as we have to drive back before the end of of Sunday as we need to pack ahead of two weeks on the road (we play the warm-up show for Beautiful Days Festival with Gaz Brookfield at Exeter Phoenix, before going to the festival as punters and then travelling on to play two nights at Watchet Live in Somerset.
My advice to everybody is, go and see as much of everything as you can… support as many of the bands and acts at the opening end of the bill and cheer them all on – some of them are gonna be the headliners of the future, and you may discover your new favourite act. When we played last year, we’d never been to Shropshire, so to get the kind of reception we did from people who had no idea who we were and what we did was lovely.
FPF: You’ve played with a string of household names, from Chas n’ Dave and Roy Wood to Miles Hunt & Erica Nockalls and Chumbawumba – but if you could tread the boards with anyone (besides your illegitimate father Val!) who would it be and why?
SD: I never thought back in 2006 when I started this daft little comedy band, that we would ever get to the point that we would be supporting acts that we regard as musical heroes. As we have no manager, and are pretty happily independent, I deal with 99.999% of the bookings we take on. In the case of acts we have supported, it has generally been for people we love, before we sign ourselves up for it… you mentioned Chas & Dave, Roy Wood, Miles & Erica from the Stuffies, but additional to them we’ve been blessed to work with The Levellers, Eliza Carthy, Martin Carthy & Norma Waterson, Mike Harding, The Blockheads, 3 Daft Monkeys, Maartin Allcock (Fairport Convention/Jethro Tull), John Otway, members of Saxon, and loads of others too.
This accolade alone is enough, and my only real regret is that I never managed to meet Val Doonican before he passed away. However, if I could tread the boards with absolutely anybody, totally hypothetically (alive or dead), although it’d be a total mismatch, it would be either Tom Waits or Freddie Mercury. I’d like to think Tom Waits would find us suitably bizarre and that Freddie would have appreciated our camp stage theatrics!
FPF: Who would win the musical war of the roses between The Barsteward Sons of Val Doonican and The Lancashire Hotpots, and how would the epic battle go down?
SD: You’re not the first person to ask this question and for once, rather than saying “Next question!”, I’ll answer it. We’ve toured with the Hotpots twice and both bands have a mutual respect each other’s home counties and indeed each other’s music – we both know why people draw comparisons between us, and in some ways we can be very similar but also very different. We both love to put on a show, and have a lot of fun doing it too, so everybody is a winner there!
I like to think that we can all ditch the White and Red Rose debate and opt for an encompassing, and friendly “Pink Rose of t’North”. There’s absolutely no reason for a ‘musical war’ – at the end of the day, we’re both comedy bands and it’s all good lighthearted fun, packed with cheeky Northern postcard humour – we’re not bringing the party down like Coldplay or Radiohead, we’re not getting all political like Bono, and we’re not cockwombles like Kanye West or Justin chuffing Bieber!
Thing is, if this hypothetical war came down to our Lancastrian counterparts’ massive Facebook following, we’d get absolutely whooped! Then again, if it came down to comparing the number of shows both bands have done in ten years (we both formed in 2006 – us in June, t’Hotpots in December), we’d probably have more of an edge (Farmer Phil’s Main Stage on the Saturday will be show #710 for us). Anyway, I’m not too worried, because a showdown is most definitely not on the cards.
FPF: Finally, as lads who’re clearly proud of their Barnsley heritage, how are Tarn going to get on in the Championship this year?
SD: I do for football knowledge what Harold Shipman did for the NHS, so to pretend I even know what the offside rule is about would be an insult to the years of extreme effort I spent, like Billy Casper in Kes, trying to avoid P.E. lessons. I didn’t get this physique from being an athlete! Nevertheless I did hear somebody say a while ago, in t’pub, that Barnsley FC would be in Europe next year… if there was a war!
There you have it, folks – lovers, not
fighters feighters! Here’s a taster of what to expect when The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican take the stage on Saturday 13 August – we cannot wait!