London’s Festival of Korean Music: The Barberettes

In 2013, London Evening Standard cited that the Korean Music Festival was “original, powerful and thrilling like nothing you have heard before.” It took further two years before the London Korean Cultural Centre, in association with Serious, co-ordinated more stirring celebration of live contemporary and traditional music.

London has already introduced to us the vigorous and riveting latest music groups such as The Barberettes and No Brain, as well as the solemn traditional artists SU:M. Nonetheless, there are still a few exciting performances left on the menu; Jambinai, Noreum Machi, The Pansori Night and a presentation by The Korean National Gugak Centre.

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Picture courtesy of Cha Joon Hyuck

I was fortunate enough to see The Barberettes on September 4th at The Forge in Camden, London. The band consist of So Hee Park, Grace Kim and Shinae Wheeler, the group’s founder, main composer and writer. Originating in 2012, “the time- slip girl group” derives its musical inspiration from 1950s and 60s. The trio, with their incredible vocals and delightful live performances, have already embarked on a great journey to conquer the music world. The last two years were very busy for them. They travelled to Japan, France, USA and Canada, and each time they bewitched the crowds with their talents. It wasn’t different this time either.

The audience in London witnessed an exquisite performance by the outstanding vocal harmony trio. The show was split into two sets. The first one kicked off with a popular cover of Mr Sandman, written in 1954 by Pat Ballard and later recorded by The Chordettes, an American quartet founded in 1946. The performance contained impeccably executed notes, strong and clean vocals, it was well-staged and full of energy too. The girls knew how to interact with the audience straight away.

Mr Sandman was followed by Time to Love, which was also sung in English. However, it all changed when the artists performed their third song entitled Summer Night’s Dream. Unfortunately it was in Korean and I had no clue what they were singing about which I found slightly dissatisfying.

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Picture courtesy of Cha Joon Hyuck

The next golden oldies performed by the band were South- East Arirang, Bommaji, When it’s Rainin’ and Mrs. Lonely. What I loved about Mrs. Lonely was that Shinae’s timbre of the voice overpowered the music itself and only proved how good she is as a singer. The next song was Barbara Ann, written by Fred Fassert and recorded by The Regents in 1961, an American doo-wop vocal group from New York. It was also covered by The Beach Boys on their 1965 album The Beach Boys’ Party. The Barberettes stated that one of their inspirations is the Beach Boys, who I thought disappeared after 1978. However, after a few years of hiatus, the singers released surviving 1960s recordings “generating universal critical acclaim and experienced popular success”. I guess the girls knew that by covering one of the greatest songs of 1960s, Barbara Ann, they would gain wider recognition particularly in North America.

The artists ended their initial set with Valerie, a song written by the English rock band The Zutons, and famously covered by Amy Winehouse. The first 50 minute of The Barberettes’ performance was highly entertaining and I was looking forward to the second part of the show.

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Picture courtesy of Cha Joon Hyuck

The seconds set was as amusing as the first one, nevertheless they performed more covers than their own songs. The Barberettes began with Try to Remember, which was inspired by Mia Kim of The Kim Sisters.

It was amazing to see how thrilled the audience were when they heard Mr. Postman; written by Georgia Dobbins, William Garrett, Freddy Gorman and Brian Holland in 1961, and recorded by The Marvelettes, an American girl’s quartet. The Barberettes’ passionate performance of the song was pleasant to my ears. The girls’ voice harmony was truly impressing.

The trio sang a few more old and well known songs such as I Want You Back by Jackson 5, Be My Baby by The Ronettes, an American R&B/Pop girl group from 1960s; Way Past Midnight by Jang Hee and Charlie Brown by The Kim Sisters. So Hee’s low harmony was outstanding. Grace’s high notes were very well delivered – with her strong chest and head voice, as well as a huge smile on her face, she brought a huge contentment into the performance.

After singing 8 songs, the audience demanded an encore which was rewarded with Daddy’s Youth. The Barberettes’ show was one of its kind. I have to admit it was hard to say goodbye to the ladies and I do hope to see them playing live again.

View of the Arts conducted a round-table interview with the girls. It will be up on the blog soon.

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Picture courtesy of Cha Joon Hyuck




Written by Maggie Gogler

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