Local band The Barmines burst into life

South Leeds indie rock band The Barmines continue their upward surge into the music world, with a major set lined up at Leeds Festival this weekend, the hotly-anticipated release of their latest single – ‘Reliance’ – in early September, and more. South Leeds Life met up with singer and guitarist Rob Burton, to find out what all the fuss is about.

Isle of Wight was big, but will Leeds Festival be bigger still?
Isle of Wight was big, but will Leeds Festival be bigger still?

First things first, Rob assures me I’m not the first person to ask about the name: “Everyone asks!” Hunslet lads Rob (27) and his brother Leam (guitar, 23 yesterday) first started playing with Liam Lockey (22, from Middleton) whilst they were all at South Leeds High School (now Academy), and they properly formed the band back in 2009. They played with others under different names including ‘The Reign’ until 2011 – at which point Rob says they stood back, and decided to really go for it.

And whilst they then just picked the name ‘The Barmines’ from a random photo featuring the two words ‘bar’ and ‘mine’, they later discovered there’s an anti-tank mine of the same name. Which, says Rob, is perfect: “Over and over again, and above all else, people have described us and our music as ‘explosive’ – so the name fits, it was meant to be.”

The band continued to evolve, with the final band-member – bass player, James May (22), all the way from Scott Hall in north Leeds – joining them in 2014. As you’d imagine, it’s no easy thing establishing yourselves in the music world. Rob comments:

“It’s a tough industry, of course: there are so many bands, it’s hard to get your foot in the door. But except for a bit of brotherly bickering between me and Leam, we all get on well, we have a laugh, and it feels like we’ve known each forever. Tunes don’t come overnight, but we work hard at creating them together – then I take the material away and add lyrics. We’re not intelligent or highly trained, but we throw stuff together, and people seem to like it.”

Against the backdrop of a music industry that’s perhaps increasingly dominated by performers from middle class backgrounds, we discuss whether the odds are that bit more stacked against groups like The Barmines. Rob stresses:

“People are different, and have different opportunities. But we’re certainly proud to call ourselves a working class band. Those are our roots – but more than that, we’re all working our arses off with other jobs (driving buses, doing bar work, and more) to make this work. We often gig on an evening, get in late, then have to be in work early the next day; we have to fix our tour dates around work shifts; and so on.”

But he’s also keen to point out that they’ve received considerable support from the local community. For example, they’ve never been able to pay out for rehearsal space, but south Leeds venues including the Hunslet Club, the Middleton Arms, the New Middleton, the Omnibus, and Old Chapel Studios have all given them time and space for free at different times.

And now they’re perhaps just starting to fly, with the past 18 months seeing them getting growing profile and opportunities. They’ve had tours of London and Manchester, and more touring due this autumn. Radio coverage has featured a slot on Radio X. Although they remain unsigned, they now have a management team behind them, and have been doing recording with and getting mentored by Mike Heaton – formerly of Embrace. Finally, recent gigs have included a 300 ticket sell-out at the Belgrave Music Hall in May, a set at the Isle of Wight Festival in June, and now the invitation to perform at Leeds Festival – where they’ll be closing the Jack Rocks This Feeling stage, at 10pm on Saturday (27th August).

This, says Rob, is a big deal: “It’s our hometown festival, our biggest gig so far, the promoter’s asked us to come because they believe in us, and we’re honoured to have been invited to close the stage there. Can’t wait!”

But for all Rob’s positivity, his enthusiasm actually seems fairly muted, and he gives the impression the band are savvy enough to take it slow, and bide their time:

“We’re going in the right direction, but there’s no point putting records out yet: we’re not ready. We just want to keep getting out on the road, putting the graft in, playing to as many people as possible, building the fan base… and then maybe we’ll be ready to get signed.”

So, what’s the plan to crack this hard nut of an industry, and what’s their secret plan?

“You’ve got to have something about yourselves, you can’t just play gigs and expect to get big. And of course, some bands act like knobheads – and whilst attitude is ok, and having a laugh is essential, we just try to be humble. Like, we’ve got a rule that if absolutely anyone talks to us after a gig, we talk with them. And we try to be nice: sending stuff to fans, little touches like that.”

“We’re so grateful to all those getting behind us. We want to put this area – South Leeds – on the map. We’re not just doing it for ourselves, but for everyone.”

To find out more about The Barmines, visit their website, here – or their Facebook, or Twitter. To watch the videos of their previous and current singles, click here for ‘These Days and Nights’ (2015), here for ‘Sky’s the Limit’ (2016), and here for Reliance (viewable now, but publicly launched on itunes and elsewhere on Friday 9th September).