THEY’RE Kilcullen’s newest established band, but the members of Barley and the Grape Rag have some serious previous musical pedigrees, influenced by Flock of Budgies and Fenton Blue — both which were strong bands in Kilcullen from 2010 onwards.
The guys are Aido Karrell on lead guitar, Lee Murphy with acoustic guitar, Stephen Clare on drums and Jim Kelly on bass guitar. All take their turns at the microphone.
It’s a sign of how fast they’re growing that they’ll be releasing their debut single in O’Connell’s on Saturday next, 15 June. Can’t Wait Till June will be followed by a three-song EP and later a seven-song CD.
Barley and the Grape Rag was formed in 2017. Jim Kelly, whose background was in managing music gigs locally, found himself joining in the songs with Aido and Lee when they were meeting up to play, with a couple of others. He began playing bass, and at a certain stage they decided they had a new band.
“Jim put a date in the diary to do a gig,” says Lee. “And that’s how it started.” That first gig was in O’Connell’s Bar. Where they have been playing regularly ever since, and are very thankful to the pub’s Alan O’Connell for the support.
Their mix of music is a reflection of the 23-42 age range between them. It brings generational differences. “Some of the artists we play, I’d never have listened to before,” says Aido, while Jim says the age divergence adds to the breadth of their repertoire. “We had a 70s vibe when we started, then Stephen came in with a more modern drumming style.”
Jackson Browne’s mid-70s highlights and the work of John Martin from Swedish House Mafia underpin the music of the band, alongside the more contemporary offerings. From the beginning they wanted to give something different than most of the bands out there. They wanted to be unexpected.
Jim Kelly admits not being sure about the early proposed set lists. “I understood the music that was already in the pubs, and when the boys started picking some of these older songs, I said ‘I don’t know, lads’ …”
But it’s working. Friends around town who would be ‘solid rock and rollers’ are now starting to talk about what they’re doing. “Amos Lee has a song ‘Lover’, which we began to cover,” Jim says. “I had never heard of it before, but now the the audience are shouting for it, and singing it back to us.”
The recipe for making a gig work isn’t always easy to find, but Barley and the Grape Rag seem to have sorted it. “If the audience are not enjoying themselves, we just play to each other and have a bit of craic,” says Jim Kelly, “Before you know it you’ll find them coming along.”
Drummer Stephen Clare, previously of Fenton Blue, and the third percussionist they’ve had since starting, agrees. “If someone is just standing at a bar and see a band that’s bored, then they’ll be bored too. But if they see a band having fun, then they’re going to get sucked in to that.”
Becoming more than just background in a crowded bar takes work, and not just by turning up the volume. “We spend a lot of time on the set list,” says Aido. “But when we know that people are starting to listen, we tend to abandon it. It’s a sense. You can feel it. We can have a rocking song that gets them going, and then drop off to something really mellow. You can feel the whole pub settle down.”
Since last September the band has been introducing their own songs into the playlists, and the debut single is one of those. We’ll be hearing more.