The Amazing Dale Barclay: A Tribute
With the devastating news that Dale Barclay has lost his battle with brain cancer, we take a look back at the musical life of The Amazing Snakeheads' charismatic frontman
Dale Barclay was the charismatic frontman and creative driving force behind one of the most electrifying bands to emerge from the Glasgow scene this century. Fired by a love of performance and primal rock'n'roll, he steered The Amazing Snakeheads from the ranks of enthusiastic amateurs to become, for a brief but dazzling moment, one of the hottest groups in the UK. They released one incredible album, Amphetamine Ballads, before splitting as they stood on the cusp of fame in 2015.
Barclay's untimely death from cancer is a tragedy first and foremost for his friends and family. But anyone who had the good fortune to watch him on stage or spend some time in his company will be struck by just how cruel a blow this is. How can someone who sounded so powerful on record be struck down at such a young age? To the numerous musicians in Glasgow and beyond who benefited from his support and friendship it must seem scarcely believable that he will no longer be around.
He was among the crowd at Stereo back in June when Sweaty Palms – just one of the bands he helped champion – launched their debut album, Quit Now. His illness was no secret by then, but he was as sharply dressed as ever. A few weeks later an online fundraiser and a couple of benefit shows in London and Glasgow were arranged on his behalf, with Fat White Family among the groups pledging their support by performing. The gigs would help pay for a course of private specialist treatment after Dale completed a six-month NHS clinical trial.
He was characteristically matter-of-fact about it all. "The NHS have been stellar, true heroes," he wrote just last month. "They have done everything in their power for me, but my treatment from here on out is going to cost money." He added, defiantly: "I do not stand alone and it gives me tremendous strength."
My mind skips back to April 2015 when I first encountered Dale. I met him and the two other Snakeheads for a memorable interview at Glasgow's esteemed Laurieston Bar, a short distance from their rehearsal space. William Coombe, Dale's pal since school, was the group's bass player – and every bit as striking as the frontman he stood next to on stage. Jordan Hutchison, a Kiwi living in Scotland, played drums and appeared to be the band's calming influence.
Barclay neatly summed up the Snakeheads ethos when questioned about their live performances, which by then had already attracted breathless reviews in national newspapers. "There’s nowhere we’d rather be than on the stage," he told me. "When it works – when everything clicks – and you get that feeling, it’s fucking powerful. That’s what music can do. What other people make of it, who fucking knows. If you dig it, great, if you don’t, that’s fine as well because we’re having a fucking whale of a time anyway."
Here was a Glasgow band far removed from the twee indie-pop or introspective college rock that often defines guitar bands in the city. The Amazing Snakeheads were loud, boisterous, and intense, just like their hometown. The title of their only album was a knowing reference to an alleged enthusiasm for dabbling in speed before gigs – a drug used by The Beatles in their Hamburg days, and countless other performers since.
Barclay's career continued beyond the Snakeheads' sudden split in 2015. He went on to form And Yet It Moves with his future wife and fellow songwriter Laura St Jude, and won a whole new set of fans in the process. He was seemingly ever-present at small shows across Glasgow, usually the best dressed man in the room and the one everyone wanted to talk to.
He leaves us with a collection of thrilling songs to enjoy, and a reminder that bands in the second decade of the 21st century still have the capacity to both excite and terrify in equal measure.