It's been a long wait, but it's about to feel very worthwhile. Little Barrie are back, and they've brought the much-missed spirit of real rock 'n' roll with them.
Nearly five years on, the English trio are totally match-fit and ready to return with a new drummer and a strikingly unusual record deal - but the same unshakeable passion for music that got them noticed in the first place. 'King Of The Waves,' Little Barrie's first album for four years, is co-produced by the group with their friend, supporter and longtime collaborator, the mighty Edwyn Collins.
Since we last heard them, they've also honed their reputations among the most in-demand musicians in the business, playing live with Primal Scream, on Paul Weller's '22 Dreams' album and with French Polynesian actress-singer Mareva Galanter. Barrie Cadogan has long been the guitarist to call, and not many have had that request from both Morrissey and Johnny Marr and, recently, from Mark Ronson.
Very appropriately for a band of such renown as a live act, 'King Of The Waves' will be released in the UK on Bumpman, the indie label founded by Alan Day, co-owner of the Hawley Arms, the famous venue in Camden, north London.
'King Of The Waves' Is already riding its own wave of massive success in Japan. It raced to #1 in iTunes' alternative album chart and Amazon's rock album chart there, and #2 in Amazon's main album chart. Recent gigs by the trio in Japan have seen such an uprising of Little Barriemania that they've had to block out entire floors of hotel rooms to keep their obsessive fans at bay.
The band have been sponsored and photographed in Japan by menswear icon Paul Smith, in whose clothes Little Barrie were recently the subject of a prestigious eight-page spread in Japanese Rolling Stone.
If the eternal quest for any band is to generate the electricity of their live performances in the studio, then Little Barrie have caught lightning in a bottle. 'King of the Waves' is an album that fans of undiluted rocking soul will be ravenous for. It sounds like Link Wray meeting The Creation in Detroit with the MC5 and Motown both in residence, but with an uninhibited explosive fieriness that's completely Little Barrie's own.
The album also sees them renewing their working relationship with Collins, who co-produced all but two tracks with the band, just as he did their first, 2005's 'We Are Little Barrie,' again with engineer Sebastian Lewsley, at Edwyn's West Heath Studios in north London. Collins also sings backing vocals on 'Money In Paper.'
'Waves' is the much-anticipated evidence of the brilliant new combination the band have been working up, both in the studio and on stage, since guitarist and frontman Cadogan and bassist/vocalist Lewis Wharton were joined on drums and vocals by Virgil Howe in 2008.
The son of Yes guitar giant Steve Howe, Virgil's distinguished and varied background includes live and studio dates for Amorphous Androgynous and Bryan Ferry, and plenty of dance-friendly work including an underground club identity as Sparo. He also contributes organ, synth, Minimoog and Mellotron to the new album, and Barrie can even be heard at the Wurlitzer.
While other complete careers have risen, fallen and faded away in the time since we last heard Little Barrie, the band have kept their counsel, stayed true to themselves, dodged the meddlesome hands of corporate intervention and reminded everyone that good things don't come quickly.
"We've basically just been doing different things," says Barrie modestly. "A bit of it's been about a matter of personal survival, and also getting to the stage of finding somewhere we could work." Happily, that led them all back to Edwyn's.
"When we did the first album, working at Edwyn's was such an amazing experience," Barrie continues. "Our first time doing an album, and to go to one of the best studios in Britain. Doing anything after that, it makes you realise how lucky you were. We wouldn't have got this far if it wasn't for Edwyn Collins. He's almost like a patron of music."
Even by then, Little Barrie's name had been on many a tastemaker's lips for years. Formed in Nottingham, they released their first single 'Shrug Off Love' for a small local indie in 1999, "they" at the time being Barrie and original drummer Wayne Fullwood. Down in Portsmouth, Lewis Wharton was listening, so intently and enthusiastically that he talked his way into the band.
'We Are Little Barrie', which produced the chart single 'Free Salute', received rave reviews for its passionate mixture of rock and old-school rhythm and blues elements. By early 2007, it had led to 'Stand Your Ground', a second album which the band now see as an important stepping stone, but not entirely in the right direction. All the same, 'Stand Your Ground' proved to be an appropriate title.
"Some of the second album was good, but in hindsight we probably would have found a different way of doing it," says Barrie. "But hindsight's a wonderful thing. You can't have any regrets. I just think we like the idea of constantly doing different things."
So, it turns out, a band that's in it for the long haul and the right reasons wins the race against the 15-minute fashionistas. "We probably thought we were paddling upstream, with all the hype for other bands," says Lewis. "We didn't know it at the time, but it's worked in our favour."
Now, they're completely in control of their own destiny, and not about to let anyone impose a sound or stick a label on them. "The only effect any of our experiences has had on us," Barrie goes on, "is knowing not to do what people tell you, you should do, and do what you want to do."
That's why 'King Of The Waves' has such a natural swagger about it. "Feeling the red light fever is what makes your recordings sound different to your live performance," says Virgil. "So the more relaxed you are, the more like your live performance it's going to be."
That's the beauty of this album: that far from hibernating, the band have been road-testing its songs constantly. "We've been playing quite a few of the new songs live anyway," Barrie explains. "We didn't want to tour too much without the album being out, but we kept a semi-residency going at the Blues Kitchen in Camden. Things like that have kept our hand in, and we've had the odd gig abroad, one in Switzerland, one in Paris and a few other things just to keep things ticking over."
In May 2010, they supported Paul Weller at his Royal Albert Hall show. More recently, Barrie's been on the road as lead guitarist in Primal Scream's live band, and was recently invited by Mark Ronson to play on the soundtrack of the upcoming remake of 'Arthur' starring Russell Brand. Lewis keeps his hand in as a DJ, and if you get into a conversation about old vinyl with them, be sure to have plenty of time, as they rave about everyone from the Shadows via the Stooges to the Cramps, from Tony Joe White via Ennio Morricone to Funkadelic.
"I feel like we've got nothing to prove, that it's all done from music we want to make," says Virgil. "We've just made an album we really like"!