The Barely Works

MP3 The Best of the Barely Works Music
The Barely Works Photo

The Barely

They got together in 1988, just after the break-up of The Happy End - Mat Fox, one of the original line-up for that was present at the beginning of this (he played the hammer dulcimer which he also played for The Happy End), along with Sarah Allen (played the accordion and the flute), Richard Avison (played the trombone), Paul Hookham (played the drums), Alison Jones (played the fiddle), Alice Kinlock (played the tuba), Keith Moore (also played the tuba), Chris Thompson (the man on the banjo - and very, very impressive he was too) and Tim Walmsley (played the drums) - they all sang, I think. There were usually about seven in the band, with people leaving and arriving along the way.

They produced four albums before splitting up in 1993: The Big Beat (1990); Don't Mind Walking (Even if it Looks Like Rain) (1991); and Glow (1992) - there's a 'Best of Album' (1995) kicking about too.

Barely Works This eclectic folk group was assembled in 1988 by former Boothill Foot
Barely Works
This eclectic folk group was assembled in 1988 by former Boothill Foot-Tappers singer and banjoist Chris Thompson (b. 19 March 1957, Ashford, Middlesex, England), together with Richard Avison (b. 9 July 1958, Rothbury, Northumberland, England; trombone/vocals—ex-Happy End and Dead Can Dance), Sarah Allen (b. 22 July 1964, Tiverton, Devon, England; accordion/tin whistle/flutes—ex-Happy End and Di's New Outfit), Alison Jones (b. 6 April 1965, Sketty, Swansea, West Glamorgan, Wales; violin/vocals—ex-Di's New Outfit), Keith Moore (tuba—also a member of poet John Hegley's Popticians), Mat Fox (b. 8 November 1956; hammer dulcimer/percussion/vocals) and former Redskinsdrummer Paul Hookham, later replaced in 1990 by Tim Walmsley (b. 29 March 1956, Paddington, London, England—also ex-Happy End). This strange mixture of personalities signed to the radical world-music label, Cooking Vinyl and emerged from the UK folk club circuit in the late '80s and early '90s. Their performances boasted an broad range of traditional (Byker Hill) and original material, mostly from Thompson and Allen as well as tackling the works of such artists as Captain Beefheart (Tropical Hot Dog Nite). The Barely Works have managed to break away from the constrictive pigeon-hole of an English Folk Group and crossed over to the rock-club circuit where their virtuosity has proven them more than capable of moving a rock audience. Mat Fox left the group in early 1992 and Keith Moore was replaced by Alice Kinloch. In 1993 the group disbanded.


70 (April 89). Pascal Diatta & Sona Mane, Kirkpatrick on the Morris, Bonnie Raitt, Tymon Dogg, Anita Anita, Butter Mountain Boys, Zumzeaux, The Barely Works, Heather Joyce.

FolkWorld CD Reviews

Bareley Works "The Big Beat"
Label: Cooking Vinyl; COOKCD024
E II "Let's Polkasteady"
Label: Cooking Vinyl; COOKCD007
You can tell when a record label is successful - they start re-issuing their early releases in budget format (both these releases have a RRP of £6), hopefully to a whole new generation of fans. This may not be the case here since neither of these bands are still alive, but their recorded legacy is very much worthwhile and deserves a hearing by those too young to have caught them first time round. The E2 album was, as the catalogue number would suggest, one of the first releases on the then fledgling label. A raucous mix of English Country Dance and reggae, the band became a well-loved festival stalwart for a number of years before changing personnel and the sheer drain of keeping a ten-piece band on the road finally killed them off. Here is the first, Stradling family-based burst of enthusiasm that signalled their arrival, still full of wit and great tunes some 20 years on. Rod's melodeon work in particular is worth the price of admission on its own.
The Barelies, as they were affectionately known, were one of the staple acts of the 80's pub circuit, regular visitors to my local venue the Weavers in North London, and a much better and tighter outfit than they were often given credit for. This album, the first and best of the three they ended up making for Cooking Vinyl, shows off the breadth not only of their instrumentation but also of their imaginations. Whilst wild-haired fiddler Alison Jones provided the on-stage focus, the quality of Chris Thompson's banjo, Sarah Allen's flute/accordion combo and in particular Matt Fox' hammer dulcimer kept the musical pedigree up in the first division. As one by one these key members left, the musical heart of the band was drained, and when Alison herself decided it was time, the band quietly folded. However, this first album would constitute at least 75% of a 'best of' album, and is worth £6 of anyone's money. Their overhaul of the Geordie favourite 'Byker Hill' featured here became their signature tune and was the highlight of the live set. Ah, fond memories!
Note to Cooking Vinyl - whilst I appreciate the economics of these re-releases, using the original artwork alone isn't enough, either for those who remember these albums or those who've never heard them before. Some contemporary quotes and a short journalistic career retrospective would be well worth the investment, and give these acts the treatment they and these albums deserve.

New Electric Muse II - The Continuing Story of Folk Into Rock

The Barely Works: Byker Hill

(Trad. arr. Thompson/Allan/Moore/Fox/Avison/Jones/Walasley)

BMG Music Publishing Ltd
(P) 1990 Cooking Vinyl
Produced by Gerald O'Farrell and The Barely Works
From the album The Best of the Barely Works, COOKCD 079

The Barely Works (whose name was intended to reflect their organisation skills rather than their musical ability) performed and recorded from 1988 to 1993, but it was their first album, The Big Beat, released in 1990, that set the Electric Muse off down yet another road. It surely took some flash of inspiration to take this famous song from the North East, and transform it through an off-beat reggae arrangement that combines gypsy flavoured hammer dulcimer, jazz trombone, tuba and banjo, yet still make it sound rooted in the English folk tradition. Byker Hill was one of the first songs the band ever performed and very quickly became their trademark. Noted for their loudness and the promiscuity of their influences, the original line-up was brought together by Mat Fox (hammer dulcimer, percussion and vocals) and this track features Mat with Richard Avison, trombone; Sarah Allen, accordion; Alison Jones, fiddle and vocals; Chris Thompson, banjo and vocals; Keith Moore, tuba; and Tm Walmsley, drums. Mat and Tim were both guiding lights behind the folk-cabaret big band The Happy End.

World Music Central - Your connection to World Music

See Albums: Don't Mind Walking