Max D. Barnes

First published in Country Music People, December 1981 
Lyndhurst Park Hotel, Lyndhurst, September 1981 

The Lyndhurst Park Hotel, Situated on the outskirts of the New Forest, is a large, sumptuous place. The ballroom, situated out of the way, round the back, is not quite as inviting. It turned out to be typical of so many of the venues where country music is presented. And so it was I settled down at a table at the back to watch a British country band and a highly successful American songwriter, who rather late in life, was turning to a singing career.

In their first set, The Roxon Road Show unquestionably showed why they were among Britain's best and most innovative country bands. Theirs is a slick, moving show that neatly blends the familiar with the new, the emphasis being on entertainment and involvement. A formula tailor-made for the British club scene.

The least said about the backing they gave Max D. Barnes the better. For starters, the sound mix was abysmal, with one getting the feeling that only the rhythm section was functioning, and when all the instruments could be heard, the sound was incredibly muddied. At times, the band lurched into action with a musical approximation of a suicide hitting a concrete side walk and splattering himself into oblivion after space-walking from the top of the Empire State Building.

It must be said, though, that this sort of place wasn't the ideal venue for hearing a singer-songwriter peddle his wares. A boozer’s haven where people want to drink, chat incessantly and hear a few well-worn favourites. There were even children running around, if the incessant chatter wasn’t enough to distract the attention from the stage. Thus it was that Max D. Barnes’ act was something of a lost cause, mostly through no fault of the artist, but simply because the audience wasn’t prepared to pay attention to tender or significant songs. The spectators wanted numbers they could identify with, and only responded when Max poured out Workin’ Man Blues, Truck Drivin’ Man and Good Hearted Woman. Songs like Givin’ Out From Givin’ In and Patricia, which said so much more about the real Max D. Barnes, were lost in the general din. The highlight of the set was the encore, a powerful version of the Merle Haggard standard Swinging Doors, which featured some stunning fiddle work.

I don’t like putting a damper on Max D. Barnes’ progress, as his recorded work proves that he definitely has something to offer. But as far as ‘live’ work is concerned, he must stop and think more about stage performances. Tuning up between numbers is not acceptable, unless you have the chat and personality to fill the gaps. A sympathetic band, more of his own songs and a tour of civic theatres, rather than clubs, and Max D. Barnes could be on his way.