Kris Barras Band @Stockton The Arc, October 24 2019

A pile of tissues, a well-used towel and something extra to clear the nasal passages were the tell-tale signs of a singer struggling to keep the show on the road.

And yet in between the irritating sniffles, occasional coughs and throat-clearing gulps of water, Kris Barras looked and sounded like a performer at the very top of his game.

It was all an illusion. And, given his recent health problems, an incredible one at that.

A nasty chest infection had forced the fast-rising bluesman to postpone the previous week’s show in Southampton. 

But on Teesside the former cage fighter battled on.

And against all the odds he emerged victorious – mixing riotous rockers with slow-burning blues to create a maelstrom of fret-fuelled passion.

Barras continues to build an ardent and committed fanbase by doing what he does best: hitting the road, playing to early adopters and new converts alike, delivering a level of consistency that’s earned a call-up to star-studded collective The Supersonic Blues Machine and reinforcing a reputation for good, old fashioned hard graft.

It would have cut Barras to the bone having to call time on that Southampton show but it’s unlikely any prolonged spell on the sidelines was ever an option. 

Barras is a brave man. And a hard man at that.

Life on the road is hardly conducive to a healthy recovery but fighting an infection is nothing compared to fighting a pumped-up opponent inside a claustrophobic cage.

And Barras wrote Broken Teeth to remind himself of those physically demanding days on the MMA circuit – it’s one of the more powerful live cuts from latest long player Light It Up.

The new tunes came thick and fast as Mascot’s poster boy for powerful British blues rock made good on a long-term promise to inject something special into a genre enjoying an elevated status in 2019. 

Sandwiched somewhere in between arena draw Joe Bonamassa and the fast-rising Jack J Hutchinson, Barras dominates the middle ground.

Backed by a perceptive label and unafraid to do the hard yards, this tour has been another step up: backing singers, a full band and even the odd blast of dry ice making for the singer songwriter’s biggest production to date.

But without the songs it wouldn’t mean much. And Barras has them by the bucketful.

Ignite (Light It Up) could be the mantra for 2019’s explosive progress – this headline tour following on from a main stage appearance at Ramblin’ Man Fair and those critically acclaimed cameos with SBM.

What You Get stirred the Stockton massive and the emotive Watching Over Me always hits the mark.

Having Hail Mary in your locker ahead of the inevitable encore is never a bad thing.

To his credit Barras never complained about feeling under the weather and the well-drilled Devonian went down a storm.

Illness aside, it’s difficult to imagine who or what can halt a meteoric rise that shows no sign of decelerating any time soon.

And on the subject of fast-rising homegrown talent it’s no surprise to see Elles Bailey staking her own claim for long overdue recognition.

Like Barras, the darling of Britain’s increasingly diverse blues/country/folk scene capitalised on a breakout set at Ramblin’ Man Fair earlier this year.

And Bailey took the opportunity to announce headline shows across the UK during her cameo at The Arc.

A set that mixes lung busting originals with canny covers never fails to hit the mark.

And Bailey’s endearing talent for connecting with any crowd should take her far.

The decision to release the Levon Helm cover of When I Go Away as her new single is inspired.

Bailey is an accomplished singer songwriter in her own right but a classy interpretation of a bona fide blues classic is simply sublime.

Images By Adam Kennedy