Long live the Barleycorn Music Club

BarleyCorn Music Club - Entertaining Cape Town with Live Music since 1977

It would be a mistake, albeit easily made, to dismiss the Barleycorn Music Club as just another open mic night. Barleycorn is that; but also so much more. It’s the coming together of musicians and people who have a passion for music – and specifically the music that Cape Town has to offer. Music that could otherwise go unheard.  

The Barleycorn Music club affords musicians of every age, development and creed the opportunity to share their music to individuals who WANT to hear what they have to say and play; which in such an otherwise musically critical environment as Cape Town can be quite a feat.

A History of Jamming

Started in 1975 by musician Bob Denton and a group of friends as a way to meet new musicians and jam, the club was formalized in 1977 with a committee and chairperson – one name change later (from the Barleycorn Folk Club – the change necessary due to possible exclusion of genre’s other than folk, which was the last thing the club wanted) in 1984 and the Barleycorn Music Club remains mostly unchanged for the last 34 years.

They generally have four musicians or a group of musicians a night, starting at 20:00 and normally finishing around 22:00. They’ve managed to stick to their schedule pretty darn well, holding a Barleycorn every Monday night for almost every week since their inception.

In 1980 the club added the annual Barleycorn festival - this popular, highly anticipated event showcases the best of those who have performed at the Monday night events held throughout the year, and has proven its success in every way.

Flat Stanley, Steve Newman and Tony Cox, FreshlyGround... these are just a few Barleycorn luminaries.

For the Love Of Music

Most admirably, the organisers earn nothing for themselves from either the Monday night jams or the festival; the Monday night cover charge goes towards equipment and the funding of the annual festival (proceeds from the festival itself go to the musicians taking part). For these passionate organisers the reward lies in the inherent pleasure in bringing together musicians, the showcasing of talent, and the pure love of the music itself.

Arriving for my first Monday night Barleycorn experience (At Villager FC, the current venue) this was the first thing that struck me; that everyone was there because they wanted to hear something they could love. Perhaps that would be some kid who’d never played outside of his bedroom, perhaps a middle aged married woman who decided she wanted others to share in her hobby – maybe some more serious muso’s who were looking for a receptive, uncritical audience to try material out on.

And that audience was there, relaxed and appreciative, some seated some standing but all loving it in the most non-judging manner I’ve seen from a Capetonian audience. Perhaps it was simply an infectious respect, perhaps everyone there understood what Barleycorn stands for, I couldn’t guess, but the end result is the same whatever the reason.

So often amongst musicians there’s a huge sense of ego, of competition – none of this here. Musicians were quick to congratulate or praise one another, and the audience was even quicker.

The Song Remains the Same

Barleycorn is really more of an idea than anything; but an idea that works – 37 years in a cutthroat industry has proven that. There is no set venue – Barleycorn moves around as need arise, and meets those needs. And that perhaps is a good reason why it works so well, they are able to change with the times, to shift to popular conscience, and to fill musical voids.

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Craft beer, Fender guitars to be won and rock n roll – check out the Barleycorn Music Festival. z

By John Scharges

11 Lansdowne | Claremont

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