TON OF TUNES – musician Barry Lamb talks about his latest project, Miniatures 2020.

Barry has lived in Woodford Green, Essex for 25 years but originally lived in South Shields….

My grandparents lived their entire lives on Quarry Lane. I have often thought about writing a song called Quarry Lane but have shied away from it due to the similarity with Penny Lane.

I have so many memories of long walks with my grandfather along the cliff tops from Souter lighthouse to Shields pier and walking across Cleadon Hills. My album Dusk features a picture of Cleadon mill.

Barry left the town in 1966…

It is an area I have a strong affinity with. I would have loved to have been part of the punk/New Wave scene as Shields is very much my spiritual home, but I was in Essex at that time.

Along with experimental progressive rock band Two Headed Emperor, Barry is presently involved with Miniatures 2020….

It’s a tribute project to former Mott the Hoople keyboardist, Morgan Fisher’s original Miniatures album from 1980. It was such an inspiration to me personally and was very much connected to the post punk DIY ethic of the period.

I also discovered as I made contact with other musicians about the project that there is a tremendous amount of goodwill, affection and respect for the original album. 

On the original record Fisher invited 50 musicians to send in tracks of up to one minute long.

They included an eclectic mix of Robert Wyatt singing a Frank Sinatra song, Robert Fripp playing keyboard, Andy Partridge (XTC) offering the history of rock’n’roll in 20 seconds and Pete Seeger playing Beethoven on the banjo plus many others contributing to the album which is regarded as a cult classic.

Who is on the album this time around ?

We have over 100 artists contributing a track of a minute or less. Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers, Billy Bragg, Terry Riley, Tim Jones is on – he was in North East bands Neon and had a spell with Punishment of Luxury. Wavis O’Shave has contributed a track.

It also features Toyah, Tom Robinson, David Cross (King Crimson), Ric Sanders (Soft Machine, Fairport Convention), and a handful of old prog rockers, also celebrated experimental music pioneers, new wave and post punk legends – there are plenty of surprises.

Did the musicians involved in the project jump on board easily ?

It was really easy to persuade people to get on board. Very few people said no and nobody that I approached was negative about it at all. Even those that said no were intrigued and curious about it. 

When did you first come across the Miniatures?

It was1980, one of the staff in Parrot Record shop in Colchester recommended it to me knowing my taste for the unusual and more adventurous end of the musical spectrum.

Parrot Records was a treasure trove of discovery and especially good for those obscure new wave singles released on independent and home-made labels. I bought it on the strength of the sleeve notes and a number of the artists involved. 

What got you interested in music and are you from a musical family?  

My family are not especially musical but my dad played trombone in a jazz orchestra. His love of jazz and the more adventurous end of rock music stirred my own interest in music.

My grandfather was from New York and he got me interested in protest folk and the blues. But most of my musical influence came about in secondary school on the Essex coast.

Can you remember your first gigs ?

My first gig was at the Golf Green Hall in Jaywick, Essex, I didn’t really enjoy it. I wasn’t that confident, we were under rehearsed, and the audience were not that interested.

Then we played mostly small venues in and around Essex, later played in Reading, Oxford and London. The usual stuff of people setting off fire extinguishers, a couple of fights and hecklers would go on.

I am sad to say that I was so drunk on one occasion I could barely function. I ended up falling off stage and being pushed back up by my brother. The sound engineer walked out and the support band asked, “what is your singer taking …I want some”. 

Did you record any of your music then?

In the ‘80s the Insane Picnic recorded at Sea Level studio which was a small studio in Jaywick, Essex. Prior to that we just recorded on tape recorders at home and released stuff as part of the DIY cassette scene.

After the Insane Picnic we built our own rudimentary studios and now have a studio in my loft.

I have recorded with a lot of different people over the years including fellow ‘Shieldsian’ Wavis O’Shave, also Keith Levene (PIL), Jasun Martz (Frank Zappa), Isatta Sheriff (Mongrel). I am still making music with Two Headed Emperor along with my own experimental sound dabblings.

What are your hopes for the Miniatures project and will it be available to buy ?
My main hope with Miniatures is that it will be a fitting, honouring of Morgan Fisher that it will introduce Miniatures to another generation and will stand up as a great legacy project. I am proud of how it is shaping up.

It should be available late December early January on CD and will be available in the usual digital formats.

More info here:

Interview by Alikivi  November 2020.