He’s got the accent and cool look, but a few seconds into conversation also reveal singer-songwriter Luke Ryan Barnes has the musical personality of a courtly troubadour.
A recent Bakersfield transplant from the famed northwestern city of Manchester, England — known as much for its industrious history as it is for giving us the music of Morrissey, Oasis, New Order and others who developed the “Manchester Sound” — Barnes hopes to join that pantheon of greats someday.
But let’s not get too hasty. Presently settling into his new surroundings, the 31-year-old is set on first finding a suitable musical place within his new city as he absorbs the rich musical history of Bakersfield’s past.
“I knew the legacy of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, but you don’t realize how important it is until you’re actually here,” said Barnes, who first visited Bakersfield two years ago to meet his then-girlfriend, Savannah Gale, during a number of frequent road trips to town with his brother-in-law. Barnes, who had been recording in New York, eventually grew to love the easygoing Central Valley style.
“I love that Bakersfield is a huge melting pot of everything and everyone. I normally walk into people and lamp posts because I am always looking up at the architecture.”
As luck and love would have it, the two were married following a long-distance courtship and it was "Ta rah" Manchester, "Hello" Bakersfield.
“The best way to probably put it is that I just followed my heart. I started dating Savannah and was in Bakersfield almost every weekend during recording at one point and then I just decided I’d had enough of the traveling. I honestly just couldn’t be away from her, she’s my best friend — now she’s my wife.”
Barnes recalls his introduction to music as fairly normal for a Manchester upbringing. From the local pubs to his Catholic school choir, he was a member of the acclaimed Manchester Boys’ Choir working alongside the prestigious Hallé Orchestra, as well as performing with the BBC Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra.
“I remember my mum and dad taking me to the pub and vividly singing to whatever was on the jukebox,” he recalled. “They just urged me to keep going and going.”
Teaching himself piano, he also learned a few chords before being gifted his first guitar by his dad as a teen. From that moment, Barnes was set on continuing his musical education with the support of his family. But after losing his older brother, Darren, Barnes says he began to look at life’s bigger picture, including traveling outside the comforts of Manchester to see the world. And he has, at one point even spending all his traveling money on original Bob Dylan acoustic albums while in San Francisco.
“It was a huge shock to experience death at such a young age," Barnes said. "From there I just realized that life was a very precious thing and you should not waste a single second, moment or opportunity so I started to travel, mainly to the U.S. and back. Now I’m here.”
Barnes musical introduction to Bakersfield began at last year’s Merle Haggard Boxcar Festival talent contest where he made it to the finals, just short of landing an opening slot during the festival at the Kern County Museum.
“My brother-in-law Kenny drove me down there and somewhat shanghaied me into it. It was one of the best things that happened to me.”
Despite not making it to the main stage, Barnes remained close to the local music scene, eventually scoring a second local gig opening for the Quebe Sisters at the Bakersfield Music Hall of Fame in March.
“The response has been amazing; I honestly couldn’t ask for anything more," he said. "Everyone in Bakersfield has been so welcoming, as soon as I’m off stage people have wanted to introduce themselves and talk to me. It’s a great feeling, especially as an outsider who isn’t from here.”
For a taste of Barnes' sound, you can find a few studio recording video clips on YouTube along with some living room strumming. His sound: classic Manchester pop folk rock with a tip of the hat to some of his hometown influences that would make Oasis’s Noel Gallagher proud of his fellow Mancunian.
“I’ve done a lot of recording but I’m a perfectionist and that’s my biggest flaw," Barnes said. "I’m releasing some songs shortly; one by one as a full band. In the digital world that we are now in, it’s really difficult to capture the attention of the listener when you drop a full album. I’m just taking each day as it comes. It’s all DIY; a completely independent process with no funding.”
In the meantime, you might catch Barnes out and about getting acquainted with his new home taking in some live shows and sampling some local fare. He’ll also be heading back to where it all started at this year’s Haggard Music Boxcar Festival to enjoy with all the locals, so make sure to give him a good Bakersfield welcome.
“I’m a happy-go-lucky kind of person," he said. "I love the community. No thrills or gimmicks and that’s kind of like me, what you see is what you get.”