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The Barrel

Banham's re-invigorated music venue is drawing acts in from far afield.

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Tucked away in the traditional cider making countryside of south Norfolk is the village of Banham.  The village’s population may well be outnumbered by the number of animals in Banham Zoo for which the village is best known!

Across the road from the zoo, is The Barrel, a well know music pub for over twenty years.  Brian McAllister and daughter Niamh recently took over running The Barrel and have some interesting plans for this unique venue.

The Barrel is a bright and airy village pub where, and I can speak from experience here, you are assured of a warm welcome.  It feels like Brian and Niamh’s home which they share freely prompting one regular to comment that it wasn’t a merely a pub but a true public house.

You can spend a lazy Sunday afternoon listening to acoustic music in the bar, you just never know who is going to turn up.   When Darby & Ozzy of Bloodshake Chorus turned up to a Wednesday Open Mic night they performed in front of maybe fifty people in the bar – the video of their performance has been viewed online more than forty one thousand times!

Away from the bar, the ace up Brian’s sleeve is The Back Room. The former cider shed has been converted to a 270-capacity auditorium with permanent stage, lighting and sound desk.  It is ideal for intimate gigs.  Already The Barrel has hosted Alabama 3 (neither three nor from Alabama!), John Wheeler (front man of Hayseed Dixie) and Nashville’s Cannan Cox who will be back on 15th June this year.  And there in lies a tale, artists want to come back and are telling their musician friends that this little venue in Norfolk has got something special.

First and foremost, Brian is a music fan, he knows what musicians like and need for a good performance.  He has a business head on his shoulders and knows what it takes to put on a show.  He is turning The Barrel into a venue, not a pub-with-music in order to sell more beer.  Do not seek it out if you expect cover bands!  Search out The Barrel’s videos – there is one there that sums up the place: Brian and Niamh dancing behind that bar.

So many of Brian’s plans are still under wraps – contracts to sign, i’s to dot and t’s to cross but what we can talk about is exciting:

March 31st

Woodstock 1969 festival is being recreated in Banham.     Grateful Dead’s Woodstock set is being played by Live Dead ’69 featuring Tom Constanten (Grateful Dead’s original pianist). Mark Karan, lead guitarist with Bob Weir’s Rat Dog and The Other Ones. Slick Aguilar played lead guitar with David Crosby Band 1982-1985. Richard Newman, acclaimed drummer, just recorded Robert Plant’s new single. He also tours with Paul Rodgers, as well as Deb and Tony Morley, UK multi-instrumentalist – a long time member of Jefferson Starship, having appeared with them for throughout the world for 13 years – including Japan. This will be a unique show as the entire venue is going to be draped and the lighting crew that originally worked with Grateful Dead ( and Pink Floyd) will be using oil projection to re-create the sixties.

April 11th

Savoy Brown: the best blues/rock band you’ve never heard of.  They will be kicking off their 5 date UK tour at The Barrel.  This band started out life in 1965, they have had a few changes in line-up, but Kim Simmonds has been there from the beginning.  This is not a band churning out old hits on a pension propping tour.  Late in 2017 they released what many believe to have been their best work to date in Witchy Feelin’ – and I for one will be there to see these guys live.

April 14th

Poet Luke Wright in the bar – for free!  Brian has received funding from Creative Arts East to fund a BSL sign language interpreter for that show.  Just one small example of how he looks to do things differently.

In almost thirty years of promoting live entertainment Grapevine have seen new venues come and go.  The ones that succeed tend to be driven by one passionate individual.  The Barrel is not a new venue as such, but it is heading in a new direction.  It is well worth the trip into the wilds of south Norfolk to see for yourself.

Brian McAlister’s green room has plenty of wall space for more signed posters. He has plans to fill it!