An Interview with Barnes "Sinnerboy" Barnes: Keeping the music and memory of Rory Gallagher's alive

"Rory wrote songs about the loneliness one can experience on the road"

Barry "Sinnerboy" Barnes: On the road with Rory

Barry first saw Rory perform in 1969 with Taste, he was blown away by Rory's talent and became a huge fan, attending 20 concerts through the years 'I used to think that was a lot before I started playing in Sinnerboy but now I've met fans who have seen him hundreds of times - I'm a lightweight now!'
After Rory's passing in 1995 Barry staged the first ever Rory Gallagher Tribute concert in his home city of Manchester, an ever present in the Rory Calendar and now at it's current location at The world famous Cavern Club in Liverpool each November.

Guitarist/vocalist & leader of Sinnerboy, Barry Barnes is one of Europe's most active enthusiasts working to keep alive the music and memory of Rory Gallagher. In 1996 Barry started what has become the longest running Rory Tribute Festival in the world. 'The Rory Gig' still attracts people from all over the world annually. Playing live is what Sinnerboy do best. Anyone who has seen them will tell you, it's all about energy and passion, strong songs played with verve. But how else could you approach playing Rory's music? Sinnerboy’s repertoire includes over forty songs (and rising), with material from every stage of Rory's career including his early days with Taste to such favourites as ‘Bullfrog Blues’, ‘Walk On Hot Coals’, ‘Tattooed Lady’, ‘Shadow Play’, Moonchild’ and of course ‘Sinnerboy’. Much of the material has also been captured on the band’s two cd’s ‘Down & Out in Hammersmith’ and ‘Live at the Spirit Store’. Sinnerboy combine a genuine love for Rory’s music with a rock blues virtuosity that made the late, great Rory Gallagher unique.

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was your first desire to become involved in the blues rock & what does music offered?
I first discovered the Blues from my older Brother Victor, he used to attend a club in Manchester called ‘The Twisted Wheel’ in the early 60’s but I was too young to go (I was maybe 12 and Victor 17)
Once he went to see Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and he bought an album at the gig called ‘Back Country Blues’ and as soon as I heard it I knew it was the music for me, I wore that record out!
Then I saw Rory play with ‘Taste’ in the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, I’d seen Cream and Hendrix playing with their huge Marshall amplifiers and I walked into the hall and was so disappointed to see this tiny Vox amp on a kitchen chair – I thought that this music couldn’t possibly be the sort of hard driving blues that I liked – then Rory ran onto the stage and plugged his guitar into it – and boy did my life change that night!

What do you learn about yourself from the blues, what does the blues mean to you?
The Blues is somewhere anybody can go to, you don’t have to be a musician, you just open your heart and feel it.
Put on a track like ‘Death Letter’ by the great Son House and you get transported to a world of cotton fields, discrimination and depression, but there’s joy in it too – “The Blues is nothin but a good man feelin bad”
I’ve never picked cotton and I’ve never walked behind the plough, I’ve never been discriminated against and I’ve never been homeless, but I’ve loved and lost and I’ve laughed and cried – and that’s all you need to feel the Blues!

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
Now!! -  I spent my life working as a photographer until I was 50 years old and I decided I would give my old life up and go out on the road with a band and since then my life has been a roller coaster.
It’s not all great, there are times when I’ve spent days travelling and am so tired all I want to do is sleep, but when it comes to gig time and the adrenaline kicks in you forget the tiredness and Rory takes over.
The next ten years are going to be even more interesting, I know the score now and I know my goals and limitations, I want to take Rory’s music and memory as far and wide as I can, I will preach the gospel according to Rory Gallagher until it’s time to meet him again!

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
The best - The Ulster Hall in 2006 where ‘Rory after Midnight’ was filmed, the sound check in the afternoon was quite ordinary but when I walked out in front of 1400 Rory fans and stood on the spot where he stood I couldn’t sing a note – totally choked with emotion, I’ll never forget it.
The worst – when both the bass player and drummer told me they were leaving at the same time, sound familiar?
But unlike Rory I didn’t have a queue of professional musician dying to play with me (or so I thought)
I thought that I could never replace both musicians at once and my career was over – how wrong can you be? I was rescued by Nick and Jonny and now we’re as strong as ever!

You had pretty interesting project Rory Gallagher Tribute. Where did you get that idea?
In the pre-Internet days when Rory died I was one of an awful lot of people who thought that only they remembered or cared for him and I decided to arrange a tribute concert to him on the first anniversary of his death, 14th June 1996 and thanks to a leap year it was a Friday night.
I was always badgering the lads in my band ‘Fat Cat Bobby’ to play Rory songs and we had lots in our set, interestingly we were playing songs from the most recent albums, Continental Op, Doing Time and others, not the old classics, I was really into what Rory was doing at the time.
I booked a famous old Manchester Cabaret pub 'The Pomona' and press ganged some local musician pals to come along and play some Rory tunes. I put £2 on the door, an announcement in the Manchester Evening News and hoped enough people would come so that I covered the expenses, but by 9.PM there were people looking and listening in through the windows as it was too packed for them to get inside. I went out to apologize to them but all they could do was thank me through their tears - they all thought they were the only ones that remembered too and were so happy to meet like-minded others - friendships were forged that day that have never wavered.
The next morning I was, I admit nursing a hangover when my late wife Denise dragged me out of bed to listen to an answer message on the telephone, it said "Hello my name is Donal Gallagher" Now any fan can get to talk to the affable Donal nowadays, a warm and generous man. You can find him at most tributes holding court and never tiring of chatting to his brother's fans but back then - Rory's brother was on the phone!!! It was amazing, I nervously called him back when he thanked and congratulated me for my efforts. The part of the conversation I remember the most was after I'd finished telling him how successful the gig was and that we'd got over a hundred people there, I said how trivial that must seem to him after the 'Big Time' with his brother, Donal would have none of it insisting it was very touching and Rory would have loved it, It was the first time I'd heard that Rory used to say the best audiences were when he could 'See the whites of their eyes'
Over the next couple of years the gig landed in Dukinfield Town Hall, a grand Victorian building that had a huge concert hall which was crammed to the rafters with Roryfans every June, they came from Britain, Ireland, all over Europe, USA, Canada, even the South Pacific! Paul Westwell made a 12 foot Rory Strat out of plywood that weighed a tonne , I wonder if it still exists somewhere?
Seventeen years on the gig now has its home in The world famous Cavern Club in Liverpool where old friends meet, Rory stories exchanged and tribute bands sweat on the stage. There is nowhere in the world where can be found greater love for one man - Rory Gallagher

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?
Well I’ve jammed with Ted McKenna, Gerry McAvoy, Lou Martin, Andy Powell from Wishbone Ash and many more but it still gives me the biggest buzz when I get together with my friends from other Rory bands, hang out and just have some great fun, no pressure, just a love of the music.
Most memorable gigs? There’s hundreds! From tiny sweat – soaked bars to castles on the top of mountains in Spain, from the back of trucks to huge concert halls, from somebody’s back garden to festival sites, from cold pubs in English winters to the sunshine of Greece, It makes no difference, as long as I’m playing Rory music to Rory fans I couldn’t be happier!

What characterize and how do you describe Rory’s sound & progress?
The toughest, most raw blues tones to the most gentle, teasing fluid guitar playing, he did it all from the controls of his Stratocaster, always a master of the fret board, his sound changed around during his long career but there was always that guitar voice, that transparent blue bell - like tone that always shone through, It’s something nobody can replicate – like all the greats you can always recognize his sound and playing.

Some music styles can be fads but Rory Gallagher’s music is always with us.  Why do think that is?
because of it’s honesty, it’s integrity and it’s unshakeable grounding in the blues – I love Hendrix but the first time I heard Rory I knew it was the music for me, Jimi’s music was from another planet but Rory’s seemed to be coming from the same soil where I was from, I think all hard working people can identify the sheer intensity in the music – nobody ever worked harder on stage than he did – he never took it easy, every gig was total 100% effort and as soon as you hear it you’re hooked!

Any of Rory’s standards have any real personal feelings for you & what are some of your favorites Rory’s song?
Rory wrote songs about the loneliness one can experience on the road, ‘Overnight Bag’ and Lonely mile for example, they mean a lot to me because I’ve been there, ‘Tattoo’d Lady’ is my favourite Rory song, the music, the lyrics – it’s a masterpiece. And I adore playing ‘Moonchild’ and ‘In your Town’

Are there any memories from “THE ROAD WITH RORY”, which you’d like to share with us?
I’ll tell you a funny one. We were playing a gig in Belfast, we were half way through the gig and having a great time. During ‘Crest of a Wave’ a glass of water was kicked over on stage, I thought nothing of it and launched into a big slide guitar solo, I wondered why the audience had started laughing and I turned round to see a man overalls and a mop and bucket mopping the spilled water up – we thought it was so funny we couldn’t keep playing for laughing – I wish someone had videoed it for youtube – it would have been an internet sensation!

How you would spend a day with Rory & what would you ask of?
Well I’m sure he’d start by telling me all the things I do wrong!
But if I think about it I reckon I’d just like to walk with him in a cool autumn morning in Ireland. I’d like to tell him about all the great times I’ve had playing his music and then sit in a quiet bar with a Guinness or two and just listen to that wonderful accent as he told me stories of his days on the road.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?
Don’t listen to anything negative that people tell you – do it how you think it should be done!

What is your “secret” music DREAM? What turns you on?
Do you know what? I dream about leading the world’s most respected Rory Gallagher Tribute Band, I am one of those rare people in life that are living their dreams – I want no more than that.

Sinnerboy - Tribute to Rory Gallagher

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