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Wild Willy Barrett's new musical project comes to Birmingham
Zany duo Wild Willy Barrett and John Otway hit the UK charts in 1977 with eccentric single Really Free which peaked at number 27. That marked the height of their chart success but both performers still tour and on April 14 multi-instrumentalist Wild Willy introduces his new musical project to Birmingham with a show at the Kitchen Garden Cafe in Kings Heath.
Wild Willy Barrett's French Connection is according to 62-year-old Willy, ''a truly original performance full of fun, dry humour and the unexpected, with full-on fiddle, banjo and Irish pipes interspersed with haunting vocals, cello, and guitar, all overlaid with that French 'je ne sais quoi' and a touch of Edith Piaf.''
I spoke to the Wild One to find out more.
Who is in the band and how did you all get together?
Myself, Mary Holland (cello, keyboard), John Devine (Uilleann pipes, whistles, percussion) and Marie-Laure Hucher (vocals). I met John when I lived on a canal boat on the Grand Union Canal about 12 years ago. I came across him playing his pipes on the towpath and asked if he fancied trying to develop something. Shortly afterwards, I came across Mary in a pub garden next to the canal. She was in full belly dance costume and playing electric cello for the belly dancers (and dancing a little as well) - I thought the addition of the cello would make for an interesting combination and that's how the original trio was formed. Last year, we began spending more time in France and chanced upon Parisian singer Marie-Laure, who agreed to join us, and somewhat remarkably fits in with our slightly zany approach to music and life. This was the beginning of Wild Willy Barrett's French Connection.
Wild Willy Barrett's French Conection
What can we expect from the show at the Kitchen Garden Cafe?
Hopefully a smile on your face at the end of the night! The show is a real mixture of styles and culture (French, Irish and English/Americana), but never takes itself too seriously. We have upbeat fiddle, banjo and guitar alongside haunting cello, whistle and vocal – and of course Marie-Laure's great personality comes through in her performance, whether it is soulful blues, traditional French, country/bluegrass or "Piafesque". She really engages the audience.
Have you played at the Kitchen Garden before and what are your memories of past Birmingham gigs?
No, but we are really looking forward to it. In fact, it is probably 15 years since I have played in Birmingham with Otway but I can't remember the name of the venue – it was in Kings Heath somewhere.
Multi-instrumentalist: Wild Willy Barrett
Are you still performing with John Otway?
Yes, we have just finished a run of gigs in the UK and no doubt will be doing a few more before the year is out.
Do you tire of playing Really Free?
Are there plans to record an album with French Connection?
We have just finished our first album (Wild Willy Barrett's French Connection: The Recordings) and it is available on CD from our website and will shortly be available on iTunes as a download.
You're also a skilled woodworker. What was the last piece you made?
The last piece I made was a commission for a young man earlier this year. It is a mirror inlaid with parts of a guitar which I played at a gig with Otway and sawed up during the performance. There is a picture on the website if you go to 'woodwork'.
You're known for using some unusual musical instruments on stage; any chance of unveiling a new one soon?
Funnily enough, I am using part of the "bagpuss" (half bagpipe, half guitar which I have been using with Otway) in our new French Connection set – we call it the "moosehomp". It makes a kind of electric bass jaws harp sound! Marie-Laure loves playing it. You can hear it on the Hot Dogs track sample on the website.