Louis Barabbas is a writer, performer and label director, best known for caustic love songs and energetic stage shows. Over the years he has performed all over the world, from Mexico and the USA to mainland Europe and Australia, sharing stages with such disparate acts as Motorhead, Supergrass, Sun Ra’s Arkestra and The Blockheads. He is also a committee member at the Musicians’ Union, on the advisory board for Un-Convention, presenter on Fab Radio International, moderator for Tom Robinson’s Fresh On The Net, occasional spoons player, one-time beard model, co-founder of Debt Records and Captain of Dirt-Swing band The Bedlam Six.
BBC 6 Music once described Louis’ music as “excellent in every way” (but there’s probably still room for improvement). His new album “Gentle Songs Of Ceaseless Horror” is out on Friday 11th March 2016. Check out his website here.
This is his music…
What is your favourite song of all time?
I don’t have one I’m afraid. It’s an impossible decision, completely dependent on mood. A song I can always listen to, however, is “Ophelia” by The Band, particularly the live recording from The Last Waltz. It’s got an amazing groove and Levon Helm’s singing is utterly gorgeous, he’s simply one of the most convincing vocalists of all time, no artifice, all power and grit but with a slight vulnerability. The clarinet line in the live version is also really cool.
Can you remember when you fell in love with it?
Must have been when I was at university, doing my undergraduate degree at Manchester. The Last Waltz got reissued and I went to see it at the Cornerhouse Cinema. I remember thinking “that… THAT… is how it’s done.”
Has a song or album ever changed your life?
I’d have to say that same album The Last Waltz. It was the record/rockumentary that made me want to form a band, but not just any band, a band that could slot into a moment in time whilst also transcending that moment. When I later formed the label Debt Records with Biff Roxby and Dan Watkins the collaborative/cross-over nature of that album/concert was a huge inspiration. Also I have to mention John Otway; he’s the reason I became a performer. Songs like “Beware Of The Flowers Cos I’m Sure They’re Gonna Get You Yeah” made me realize that you can do ANYTHING so long as you put enough energy into it.
If you could only listen to five albums for the rest of time, what would they be?
Sidney Bechet’s “Summertime”
The Decemberists’ “Hazards Of Love”
Alabaster dePlume’s “The Jester”
Leonard Cohen’s “The Future”
The Band’s “The Band”
Also a special mention to The Godfather Suite. That’s the CD that never leaves my car, it’s great driving music.
How much of your day do you spend listening to music?
Depends on the day. Thursday I listen to a bazillion demos sent to Tom Robinson so that takes most of the day. I listen to albums in the car when I’m on solo tours but not in the van during band tours (because our speakers are currently broken!). A lot of the time I’m writing though (press releases and boring things like that) so music can be too distracting. But I guess, on average, it’s quite a lot.
What’s your ideal time and place for listening to music?
I like being on my own in the car. Which is good because that happens quite a lot! Though this doesn’t suit all songs. Live performance is, when it works, the best way to consume music, nothing can compete with that. But there is a special kind of delicious solitude that comes with a good recording.
What’s the best gig/show you’ve ever been to?
Godspeed You Black Emperor! at All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2000 was the nearest thing I’ve experienced to complete emotional catharsis at a music event. I had to lie down afterwards, it was amazing. Also seeing Levon Helm play in 2005 in his barn in Woodstock as part of the Midnight Ramble sessions was a night I’ll never forget.
Approximately how big is your music collection? And in what format?
I’ve got weeks and weeks of the stuff as digital downloads. I actually do like CDs though it’s not very fashionable to say so these days. I have a few vinyl LPs too but mostly I listen to music digitally. It’s convenient and doesn’t take up any space. People who say the sound quality is rubbish are welcome to their opinion but people used to listen to the Beatles on crappy one-speaker radios in the 60s and no one turned their nose up at that.
What does music mean to you?
It’s simultaneously my prison and my release. I’m locked into this ridiculous career and this money-hemorrhaging label where music is the job and the thing I curse almost daily. But it’s also the best thing humans have ever invented and I’m very privileged to have a job that features music so heavily.
What song should we all go and listen to right now to make our day better?
The Flirtations’ “Nothing But A Heartache” is a perfect pop song. It’s utterly sublime.