Chippy or World Fame?
“I can’t talk too much about what I’m up to now, but I could end up being hugely, internationally famous or I could end up working in the local chippy.”
Those were the words of Barns Courtney in 2009, when I interviewed him shortly after he decided to split from his band Sleepercell.
His departure came after he was singled out by the judges of Channel 4’s Orange Unsigned competition as the key element of the Ipswich band’s appeal. His flamboyant performances and rock star swagger had made a big impact.
So what happened to him afterwards? Well it was promising – he joined a band called Dive Bella Dive and soon after they signed for a major label.
Barns moved to London, “all starry eyed and excited to begin our adventures in the world of music”.
But disappointment followed, and despite writing “five albums worth” of material, nothing was ever released. A frustrating experience Barns says, but it did give him a chance to hone his writing, house “insane” parties and “have the opportunity to make music and mess up”.
In 2013 the band went their separate ways – with Barns not quite heading to the chip shop he predicted years before, but a branch of PC World.
“When I got dropped I was woefully unprepared for the real world,” he told us during the recording of a session last month. “I’d put all my eggs in one basket, which is what everyone told me not to do.
“Then one day my manager called me up saying ‘I’ve been sending your track Fire round to everybody, and it’s been picked up by this Hollywood film Burnt, staring Bradley Cooper’. I was eating sardines three times a day, and suddenly he was telling me this.
“The next thing I know I was flying out to LA to meet the director of the film and tell him what part of the film would best suit the song – totally bizarre.”
But that’s not where the excitement ends for Barns. The past few months have seen him write with Carl Barat and perform alongside Ed Sheeran, who he used to gig with at the Steamboat.
Did Ed have any advice for him, we asked.
“He’s such a humble guy that I don’t think he’d ever any advice like that, he’d never put anyone below him,” Barns said. “He spoke to me exactly the same way he would speak to me at the Steamboat.”
A spot on the BBC Radio One playlist followed in November, and by the time this article is published he will have performed on the same bill as Blur in the Abu Dhabi.
“I’ve no idea how that happened, but I’m not going to complain,” he said. “I’m going to go out there, play my set and say thank you very much. And then sit in the faetal position and ponder my life. “
Given the two options he presented us with in 2009 – the job in the chippy or world fame – it appears the latter is more likely for Barns heading into 2016