Helen Toft reviews Serious Sam Barrett and The Lewis Burner Band’s Sunday, February 10 show at Otley Labour Rooms:

There are some Upstairs At the Labour Rooms gigs where the musicians wait nervously for the crowd to gather despite meticulous rehearsing, sound checking and huge talent. These are the gigs which fill the rooms with warmth and send the audience out into the late night buzzing. Last night Serious Sam Barrett was one of those seriously anticipated gigs.

Booked by Sam as part of his tour to promote his new album, this was one of what I think he might call three ‘home’ gigs and may have been a bit challenging because of the weight of expectation. Fortunately, his close mates The Lewis Burner Band stoked Sam up brilliantly. I didn’t realise the first time I saw this band just how closely I needed to listen to Lewis Burner’s lyrics. His upbeat American infused energy and wit stems from a deep well of depression - as he explained to dog-lovers, his song about shooting a dog was not literal.

Sam took to the stage quickly after this brilliant warm-up set. Born in Barnsley and brought up in Addingham ‘when it was still a proper Dales village’, Sam always starts with a tribute to ‘the best man that I ever known’, his outlaw grandad who tanned leather and stirred up a storm in Otley and the surrounding area.

He told the packed room without a trace of bitterness that he should have been in the southern states of the US this Spring, like he’s been for the last six years, touring and performing to those whose music and instruments he has transformed to sing of Yorkshire people and places. He picked and bent his 12 string guitar and banjo, thrashed his battered acoustic, occasionally calling closer attention for one of his acapella folk songs which are all the more entrancing for being so unexpected.

I always think Sam has set off at too hectic a pace on some of his songs - how on earth will his fingers keep up, how will he possibly fit the proper Yorkshire lyrics into the sound space he’s built for himself? The mastery and sheer delight this man takes in doing it is just brilliant to watch. When he’d finished we were treated to a joyous letting down of hair with the full crew of Serious Sam and The Burners crammed on stage. Catch them at another gig, they’re flying.