The Victorian Barbers

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September 11, 2014

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If I say The Victorian Barbers, what’s the first thing that springs to mind? 

My gut reaction was Sweeny Todd – the demon barber of Fleet street, a Victorian serial killer and one of London’s most enduring villains. It also happens to be my favourite Stephen Sondheim musical of all time –  I know ALL the words by heart….

But no. In this case, The Victorian Barbers in question are a Folky-Bluegrassy-Skiffley-Bluesy-Country nonsense band – with added beards! The Barbers, Thomas Edwin Caulfield (Guitars, Vocals, Banjo, Harmonica) and David Christopher Hackett (Percussion, Spoons, Vocals, Cajon, Harmonica, Assorted Noises) heartily encourage dressing up during gigs –  preferably in vintage. Intriguing!

With a busy Autumn concert schedule and a début album in the making, we got in quick to find out a little more about this dynamic bearded duo.

Tell us who the Victorian Barbers are? Where did the name come from?

Tom:  I’m Tom Caulfield, I play guitar, banjo, slide guitar, harmonica and I sing in the band. The name actually came from a throwaway comment from a friend, we were looking for a name and he mentioned that we looked like “a pair of Victorian Barbers” and it just sort of stuck.

David:  I’m David Hackett, I’m the percussionist.  I play a variety of bits and pieces, from toy drums to antique cowbells, spoons and even saucepans, and I sing too.  The Victorian Barbers is a band where having fun with the music we play is very important, both for us and for the audience.

How would you describe your style of music and who are your key influences?

T:  Tough question, but it’s sort of folky, bluesy, country music. With skiffle and sea shanties and all sorts thrown in, really. I’ve got a pretty long list of heros: Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Bob Dylan, Blind Willie Johnson, Earl Scruggs, Hank Williams, Robert Johnson… For me the band is important because it’s a chance to play music that I really and truly love. If you play music that you’re not that enamoured with, it can still be fun but it isn’t really that nourishing, and I need to feel nourished by it.  With that said, I’ve always felt there were two main problems with loving traditional music the way I do: For one thing, a lot of the music was recorded really badly by todays standards, so it takes a lot of patience to hear past the pops and crackles and scratchiness. For another thing, when people play this stuff live, a lot of the time it’s not presented in a way that really reaches out and grabs people. It’s as though they’ve blown dust off them and taken them off a museum shelf for the night, which I find enormously frustrating. So for me this band is a bit of a mission, to prove that there’s more to acoustic music than just a bloke singing songs about his ex-girlfriend at an open mic night, you know?

D:  As the percussionist in a duo with no bass player part of my job is knowing when and how to flesh out certain parts of songs and hold back and leave space in others.  A lot of the songs we play could sound like straight forward acoustic songs when actually they have much more to them.  I have to try and use different sounds and rhythms to bring out the arrangements within the songs, and that can make it more of a dynamic performance for the audience as well, you draw them in and get them involved by using all these contrasts in sound and dynamics.  Although not everyone watching us will be be aware of it, I like to use afro-cuban and other latin music rhythms in my playing where I think it complements the music. It’s a bit of a melting pot for me – lots of different sounds, rhythms and textures to make it varied.

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Did the Beards come before or after the creation of the group?

T:  My beard was long before the band, I’ve always gone on and off with them. Had the lot, sideburns, a very ill-advised goatee, a soul patch…never again! As far back as I can remember my dad’s had a beard, so it’s never felt like a rebellious thing for me, just completely normal.

D:  I briefly grew a terrible goatee when I was 17 until it was obvious that it wasn’t quite ready.  I have always hated being “clean” shaven.  I can count the number of times I’ve been clean shaven on two hands with a few fingers left over, so when I was 19 I grew my first full beard. I was surprised to find that it was a pretty decent effort, and since then it’s been a pattern of growing it out for several months and then trimming it back to a close beard.  In the last couple of years I’ve felt that a proper grown-out full beard is the way for me – no more trimming back!

Is there an album in the making?

T:  We’ve just printed up a run of our first album, and I’ve started drawing up plans for the next. What kind of sounds do we want on it? What songs? I think this time there’ll be a couple of our own, for sure.

D:  It was important to us that the album was a true live recording, rather than overdubbing and rerecording parts.  People say they really enjoy the performance in our live playing, so we wanted that to come across on the songs.

What do you like to do in your time off?

T:  Just spending time with my wife and walking the dog. I watch a lot of box sets too, and practise instruments whenever I get the opportunity. It’s quite hard when I’m gigging a lot, but it’s important.

D:  I live on the sea front in Weymouth so I enjoy some good sea swimming. Nothing beats the feeling of a beard moving through water!  I get music obsessions that dominate my time, and stops me sleeping if it gets bad, and the current summer project is to learn as much about Cuban music as possible. Finding new music and fashion photography is always a source of inspiration, and I get bored if I don’t have something new to explore or inspire ideas.

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Where can we see you in concert in the next couple of months?

D:  We recently played at the launch night of the new Stable cider and pizza restaurant in Falmouth and are now about to play a series of gigs at some of their other venues in the south west. Check out http://victorianbarbers.wordpress.com for our up coming gigs schedule.

Have you ever competed in Beard and Moustache Competitions?

T:  I’ve not competed in a beard completion before, and I don’t know whether or not I will in this one. I suspect the standard will be very high, so I’d be a bit nervous about it. We’ll see though, the organisers have mentioned it, so I might give it a go.

What are your beard care routines (if any) – any favourite products?

T:  I don’t have anything I could define as “a routine”, but loosely I swear by oil for the beard and wax for the tash. As far as oils go, I’m a big fan of Chin And Tonic for an everyday oil, and Mr Natty for special occasions. It’s a lifelong quest though, I’m sure I’ll try plenty of others as time goes on, as a result of Christmas presents and such. I don’t have a preferred wax yet, still very much trying them out. As rule of thumb though, anything that smells of rum, coffee or mint gets a thumbs up from me. Finally and perhaps most crucially, I don’t ever trim my face, I let my barber do it when I’m getting my haircut. He’s fantastic and I trust him implicitly: http://www.thegentryclub.co.uk/home/4562614721.

D:  I use Chin And Tonic Oil and wax as well, but I’ve also just started using Jack Black Beard Lube which I’m enjoying.  My beard always feels better if I’m dong regular exercise and drinking a lot of water – unfortunately I’m doing neither of these things at the moment!  I do a lot of long car journeys and I find those to be the worst times for playing with my beard and damaging the hair.  I cant really sit on my hands while driving though.

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Who are your bearded heroes and why?

T:  My dad is obviously number 1 beard hero for me. Apparently when I was a kid he went away for work (in the navy) and came back clean shaven, to which I just lost it. Didn’t recognise him, was convinced he wasn’t my dad, very upsetting. Aside from him, Brian Blessed (I grew mine extra big to climb Kilimanjaro as a sort-of-tribute), Steve Earle these days looks great, Warren Ellis from the Bad Seeds really pulls of the wild man look…I think balancing it with a suit helps. Seasick Steve, of course.

D: I’ve been a cricket fan and player since I was 3 or 4, so W. G. Grace is up there, but someone who’s managed not just to pull off every style of beard he’s worn, but to nail it, is Viggo Mortensen.  Short rough stubble in ‘LotR’, full wild man beard in ‘On the Road’, moustache and chin strip in ‘Appaloosa‘, the neat trimmed beard in ‘A Dangerous Method’, the man knows how to grow a beard.  There are so many great beards around these days for inspiration, it’s brilliant!

Main Image Paul Yates – Other Images by Darren Martin

Victorian Barbers on Facebook, Soundcloud and Bandcamp

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