Pride, passion and identity – the story of the rise of The Barry Horns
This is a tale not just of a band but of a fan-led football uprising.
If you look closely at the trailer for the BBC’s coverage of the upcoming Euros tournament, you’ll spot Welsh icon Gareth Bale getting into the swing of things with golf club in hand.
The more eagle-eyed among you will also have spotted several Wales fans in the background clutching brass instruments and wearing the ubiquitous Spirit Of ‘58 bucket hats, so much associated with our fanbase.
It’s fair to say this visual representation is based on a band that while maybe not at the level of global fame as our superstar forward, are certainly as familiar to football fans from this country as Senor Bale.
The Barry Horns, for it is they, are quite simply the key building block in The Red Wall.
Where once you could count the chants heard at Wales international football games on one hand, the larger than life brass band have revolutionised and galvanised the soundtrack of our footballing nation – a heady mix of pride and passion aligned with a cultural identity that courses through our DNA.
This is Club Wales – it is inclusive, cosmopolitan and internationalist in outlook.
But to understand where The Barry Horns came from and how the sound of Wales international games was so embellished by their presence you have to head back a decade when the nascent group was in its embryonic form.
This year The Barry Horns celebrate their 10th anniversary – their first public appearance coming outside the Wales v England World Cup Qualifying match in Cardiff on March 26, 2011.
Made up of fans of the Welsh national football team, the band’s name is a homage to metronomic footballing performer and ‘90s Wales captain Barry Horne.
In those early days the band created a five-point mission statement called the Barryfesto, which states that the band exists in order
- To unite Welsh football with the power of horns
- To put tunes on the terraces
- To bring hope where there is mathematical impossibility
- To replace plastic hooters with brass ones
- To win at life when we can’t win at football.
Watching Wales in the ’90s and ‘00s – the only songs you’d hear at games were monotonous shouts of ‘Wayuls’ and the occasional ‘I love you baby’, now we are spoilt for choice when it comes to songs for players, The Barry Horns instrumental – no pun intended – in creating a whole repertoire of songs.
“We used to go to Wales football matches with other musicians from the South Wales, ska and punk scene and go and have a miserable time in an empty Millennium Stadium,” laughs founding member and the man behind the band, Fez.
It was during one of these soul destroying low points that Fez had an idea, what he calls a ‘premonition’.
“I honestly just had a total premonition, almost like an out of body experience, of seeing these guys in red t-shirts with brass instruments inside the stadium. And then, being like a football nerd, I just thought of the name Barry Horns because I got into it all when Barry Horne was playing.
The name took hold pretty quickly and was a hit from the off.
“Totally, even before we played people we’re kind of like wow, there’s a band called the Barry Horns, that’s a great name. So it was a bit of a sort of weird self-actualization. And that’s how we started.”
For those long suffering, diehard Wales fans who rattled around a 70,000+ capacity Millennium Stadium, witnessing some turgid affairs into the bargain, while being aurally assaulted by awful, plastic hooters given out to kids to no doubt distract them from the mental scarring they were experiencing via the crimes against football being committed on the pitch.
“We just wanted to improve the atmosphere at Wales games, because it was so depressing,” Fez states simply. “We wanted to play funky music, good music. Maybe as time went on, we didn’t really stick to those principles of high quality music with the amount of dodgy ‘90s dance tunes that crept into the repertoire. But that was the original concept to replace those horrible plastic hooters with brass ones.”
As for the man after whom the band is immortalised, Fez says the former Wales captain has been nothing but lovely about the co-opting of his moniker.
“Barry Horne is a very, very nice man. He’s a very modest man. He’s a very kind man. And strangely enough, he actually played the trumpet himself when he was in school. Believe it or not. After we’d named the band, we later met him. He’s so modest. He actually thinks we’re from Barry. We’re not from Barry. But Barry thinks we’re from Barry.”
From their first day of forming and an impromptu performance outside the Wales v England game at the Millennium Stadium, the band was quickly embraced by fans and football authorities alike.
“From that first day when we had a practice in the Cardiff Arches (rehearsal rooms), which are no longer there because it’s been knocked into some sort of corporate complex, we walked into town and where the new library is, someone already tried to book us for a gig. So it was a bit of an immediate hit. That was the day of the Wales v England game when we lost at home at the Millennium Stadium and their (England) band came and we were new so we didn’t actually get in.
“But from there the FAW have been really onboard and supportive and fantastic, and we love them. Much love for them for everything they’ve done.”
The last decade has seen the startling transformation of Welsh international football – both on and off the pitch. Success breeds success and brings in fans, but the match day supporter experience at the Cardiff City Stadium is a key factor in the engendering loyalty, underlining the ‘Together Stronger’ ethos, such an important part of Wales fan DNA.
The Barry Horns have become the soundtrack of this new golden generation, the orchestrators of a playlist so fulsome and varied, it bears absolutely no relation or comparison to those barren days of recent decades.
Their reconstruction of hits from yesteryear have been a thrilling sideshow to the on pitch excellence. See ‘Ain’t Nobody’ by Chaka Khan (Joe Ledley), ‘Push It’ by Salt n Pepa (Hal Robson Kanu) ‘Give It Up’ by KC and the Sunshine Band (Gareth Bale now Kieffer Moore),
‘No Limits’ by 2 Unlimited (Ashley and Jonny Williams now Neco and Jonny), ‘Gimme Hope Joanna’ by Eddy Grant (Joe Allen) to name just a few.
When you factor in the Red Wall theme tunes ‘Don’t Take Me Home’ and ‘Zombie Nation’, that’s some repertoire.
“It is awesome,” says Fez, of being perched above thousands of Wales fans in the Canton Stand watching them in full vocal flight. “It’s just amazing. I remember one match there was the 15 minute, constant mantra version of ‘Hal Robson Kanu’ in the Canton, and that was insane. It’s a transcendental experience.”
When Wales finally qualified for a major international tournament at Euro 2016 the whole country went football crazy.
For Fez and the band, who travelled en masse to France, that opening match against Slovakia in Bordeaux still sends shivers down his spine.
“The highlight for me was that first game,” he says. “We were in an amazing stadium, it was perfect weather. It was the perfect day. Just happy. I just wanted to see Wales score a goal and I would have gone home happy but to win, it was the culmination of everything we’d wanted for so long. Even more than the Belgium game, weirdly. I mean, obviously then everybody was asking, ‘just what is going on? This isn’t even real’. But the first game was the monkey off the back, finally.”
The rise of The Red Wall is one of the most striking aspects of the Welsh football renaissance – a fact that Fez puts down to location and on pitch achievements.
“It’s got a lot to do with the stars aligning and moving to a smaller stadium. It has to be a smaller stadium. 70,000 is too much. A capacity of around 30,000 is perfect. Then there is an amazing group of players, and obviously, results on the pitch.
“We used to be these weirdos showing up to empty pubs, watching Wales away games and asking confused bar staff to turn on the TV for a game that they thought was pointless. But now after 2016, it’s gone mainstream.”
One of the most pleasing aspects of the fan experience has been the amount of Welsh language songs now sung at the stadium, supporters embracing a national pride and cultural identity
“The Welsh football team is a route into learning about Welsh history and culture,” says Fez. “That’s how I got into it. Being around people who are passionate about the Welsh football team, which is an independent institution, not beholden to anyone. The highest highest accolade is to play for Wales. It’s not to play for the British Lions or Team GB, it is to play for Wales. And I love that, we all love that.”
Those themes are portrayed vividly in The Barry Horns’ new Euro 2020 anthem, ‘Cymru Rhydd’.
“It’s about the present, the past and the hopeful future of Wales,” says the band leader. “In three verses it is a description of where we are, what challenges we confront with identity and what’s happening to Wales when you have political parties like Abolish The Welsh Assembly trying to abolish Wales. It’s about our battle to exist as a country.”
‘Cymru Rhydd’ is emboldened by the addition of passage from a stirring speech from Welsh acting god and no doubt future leader of an independent Wales, Michael Sheen – quite a coup by The Barry Horns to get the Hollywood star on board.
“I just put a message out on Twitter asking if anyone knows Michael Sheen,” says Fez, explaining how they got Sheen on board. “The power of Welsh Twitter is formidable. Loads of people got in touch but one particularly kind woman got in touch and said she knew him. So she kindly WhatsApp’ed him. And he said fine without even hearing it. We thought it was really kind of him but just wanted to double check he was cool with it. So we got the song to him and he said he loved it.”
We are mere days away from the postponed Euro 2020 tournament finally going ahead, when we hope that Wales can emulate their momentous passage to the semi-finals in France.
It was a situation nobody expected, but everybody embraced to the fullest.
Nobody can say with any certainty how we will fare this time. The lack of Wales fans able to travel is a blow, but Fez remain confident, nevertheless.
“I think we’re going to win it. I think we’re going to win the whole thing.”
‘Cymru Rydd’ by The Barry Horns is out now. Find out more here.
Kit yourself out with Barry Horns merch here.