The Best of Blues Edition #7: The Kris Barras Band & The British Blues Network
I first discovered British blues when I started playing the guitar as a teenager. I bought a copy of Total Guitar magazine that had tabs for some of Eric Clapton’s most famous guitar solos. Even now I can recall hearing songs like Steppin’ Out and While My Guitar Gently Weeps for the first time, and being blown away by the passion and sheer intensity of his playing. The same happened again when shortly afterwards I heard guitarists like Peter Green, Paul Kossoff and Rory Gallagher for the first time.
Their playing got me hooked on the blues. And to this day these guitarists continue to inspire me. Over the past few weeks I’ve been re-listening to these songs that sparked my love for the blues. I’ve also been reading up on the British blues scene, and discovering new British bands that are keeping the blues alive. Here is what has been on my radar over the past couple of weeks:
The British Blues Network: Adoption, Emulation and Creativity
I’ve recently read a brilliant book on the history of the British blues scene, entitled ‘The British Blues Network’ by Andrew Kellett. The book is adapted from Kellett’s academic essay on the topic. It explores the unique circumstances that led to the popularisation of the blues, and to the development of rock music.
The book explores the unusual circumstances that resulted in a very small group of middle class British white men popularising and adapting music that was originally created by impoverished African-American slaves and sharecroppers.
It recalls the impact that bluesmen like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Freddie King had on guitarists like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Jeff Beck. It also looks at how these British musicians borrowed, adapted and in some cases appropriated the musical ideas of their blues heroes.
Most interestingly, it explains how this led to the widespread popularisation of the blues. For the first time since the inception of the genre, the blues became popular amongst white audiences. This relaunched the careers of Delta bluesmen like Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker. And it granted electric blues players like Muddy Waters and B.B. King access to a much wider and international audience.
This British music boom led to the development of rock music, and ultimately to sub genres like progressive rock and later, heavy metal. But most significantly, it resulted in a re-evaluation of blues music in America. This paved the way for musicians like Stevie Ray Vaughan, and helped to develop the modern blues scene as we now know it.
If you are interested in music history and would like to learn more about the blues, I would strongly recommend Kellett’s book. You can pick it up easily on sites like Amazon here.
The Kris Barras Band
Carrying the torch for the British blues scene is guitarist Kris Barras. Frontman for both the Kris Barras Band and American band The Supersonic Blues Machine, Barras is one of the fastest rising stars in blues.
Barras formed the Kris Barras Band in 2015, after a 10 year career as an MMA fighter. Success came only a few years later in 2018, when they released their second studio album – The Divine and Dirty.
The album shot to number 3 in the UK blues chart, and got number 1 in both the Amazon Bestseller’s and iTunes blues charts. And it isn’t hard to see why.
The album blends classic rock with blues and elements of country. It combines killer riffs with high intensity guitar solos and brilliant vocals from Barras (and his backing singers).
The album has a distinctly American sound and Barras’ guitar playing is arguably more reminiscent of American players than it is of British bluesmen. Yet having said that, Barras has a unique and distinctive playing style. He has the ability to blend fast and complex runs with soulful, bluesy playing that is full of feeling. This is a rare skill, and one that I think makes him amongst the most interesting players in the modern blues scene.
The band’s most recent album – Light It Up – is even better. And thankfully, it is receiving widespread recognition. The headline song – Ignite (Light It Up) – has just reached Number 49 in the Official UK Music Charts!
I would strongly recommend you listen to each of Barras’ albums in full. But some of my favourite songs to start with are as follows:
And if you want to find out more about Barras and his band, just check out the links below:
The Kris Barras Band are currently touring around Europe. So if you are UK or Europe based, check out the tour dates here and see if you can catch him live!
Well that’s it for this week. Who are your favourite British blues guitarists? Let me know in the comments below, and if you have any questions – just send me an email on [email protected] Have a great week of playing! 🙂