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Herne Bay Tale – Barney Harsent

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WRITER and journalist Barney Harsent, 42, is hoping his new book will provoke some arguments. The dad of two has published Bounty – a tome of lists covering popular music. He tells the Herne Bay Times about almost appearing in a video with singer Sinitta, why he loves Herne Bay and who whips up the best cauliflower cheese in his house.

What is your job?

I’m a writer and journalist.

You have published a book. What’s it about?

It’s called Music Top 10s and is published by Bounty. It’s essentially a big book of lists covering popular music. There are more than 100 – from the big names of rock and pop to forgotten and underground artists. It was an incredibly difficult book to put together, but a complete labour of love. I’m certain that no-one will agree with all my selections, but arguing about music is half the fun, really. If I had to describe it in three words, they would be ‘perfect’, ‘Christmas’, and “gift’.

Have you always written?

It’s always been in the background. My father is a poet, so it always seemed like a natural thing to do – it’s always seemed like a viable option. It’s really intensified over the last few years though as my confidence has grown.

Your book is about music, so who inspires you, what’s your favourite song and which tune would you rate as the worst you’ve heard?

My favourite music changes almost hourly. I’m not one for getting misty-eyed about old songs, I’m always hungry to hear new stuff. Having said that, there are certain artists and producers who are never far from my turntable. If pushed, I’d probably say Andrew Weatherall, early Simple Minds or John Martyn. As for the worst song ever… it’s not going to be a popular choice, but the awful Hallmark sentiment of Imagine by John Lennon is right up there. I’m more of a Yoko Ono guy.

How many records do you actually have?

I haven’t counted recently, but almost certainly more than is strictly necessary.

What else can you tell us about what you do?

As well as the book, I write CD and live reviews for theartsdesk, a cultural reviews website, and work for a TV magazine. None of it is remotely glamorous, though I do get into some gigs for free, which is a nice bonus.

Any interesting stories from your past?

Most of them far too embarrassing to repeat here I’m afraid! Not sure they’d be interesting either – character-destroying perhaps. I was almost in a Sinitta video once though. I was about 14 or 15 and my dad was sharing a flat with a video producer. They needed a fresh-faced teenager and so it all seemed to fit rather well – I was going to get £100, which seemed like fortune. Sadly, they realised that, at about 5′ 10,” I was going to appear like Goliath next to her which wasn’t quite the look they were after. On balance, I’m quite glad that it didn’t work out.

Any hobbies?

I DJ. That’s been put to one side since the move, but I’m starting to get things going again. I’ll be playing a special in-store set at Very Vintage in William Street on December 5, just after the Christmas lights are turned on. It’s been a while, so I’m really looking forward to it. It’ll be a very laid-back affair, but really fun. It’s a great little place.

Tell us about your family.

I live with my girlfriend of 21 years, Sarah, and our two children, Nat, seven, and Alice, four. Sarah and I met when we were at university and have grown up together. She’s ace, much nicer than me. Nat’s decided he’s going to be an actor and a chef – I can vouch for his cauliflower cheese, it’s amazing! Alice is a little whirlwind and divides her time between painting and following our new kitten, Chip, around the house. Merlin, our first cat, isn’t talking to me at the moment. I think it’s about the whole ‘new kitten’ thing.

How long have you lived in Herne Bay and where did you live before that?

We moved to Herne Bay a little over a year ago from Walthamstow in East London. Recently, I met someone who’s lived here for seven years and still considers himself a new arrival, so I guess that practically makes us holiday makers!

What do you like about Herne Bay?

The list is growing every day. The first thing that drew us here was the sea, but you know what? The people here are great. I can’t get over the sheer drive there is to make Herne Bay the best place it possibly can be. Bay Promo Team are fantastic, and their dedication is a real reflection of the ‘can do’ spirit here. With so many places opening and such an array of things going on, it feels like we moved here at a really exciting time. There are some fantastic pubs, I love the Bouncing Barrel and the Divers, and I love taking the children to Winch’s Field to watch Herne Bay. I haven’t been to as many home games as I would have liked this season, but I love it down there. It’s important to support your local team. The amount of really good restaurants was a big surprise too – the Oyster and Chop House is amazing, as are Le Petit Poussin, A Casa Mia and the Coconut Tree. We haven’t tried Shad yet, but it looks great and Masala Bay is the best Indian takeaway I’ve ever had.

Is there anything you would change?

The hour and a half commute to London? I don’t know really, I don’t feel I’ve earned my place yet to start telling people here how I think things should be. I think if you want to see change, you should go and do something about it rather than moan. Having said that, if it were in my power to do so, I’d get Canterbury council to cough up a bit more cash for Herne Bay – get those tennis courts back to being free again.

What was your first car?

I’ll let you know when I can drive. We have a Focus estate, but it’s effectively Sarah’s as I don’t have the first clue what to do with it.

What was your first record?

It was an album of songs based on Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters called Spin A Magic Tune. I was about four or five I guess. My children have it now and it holds up surprisingly well.

Have you ever seen a ghost? If so, when, where and what happened?

No. I’m deeply sceptical of any supernatural claims to be honest.

If you could have a dream dinner party, which three people would you invite and why?

This sounds awfully smug, but it would probably be Sarah and the kids as they make me happiest and I don’t get to see them as much as I’d like. However, if pushed for celebrities, I’d say Stephen Fry. An obvious choice perhaps, but it’d mainly be so he could read Harry Potter to my son – it’d save a few quid on the CDs. I’d also have Matt Berry, a wonderful comedian and a terrific musician. Lastly, I’d be tempted to invite the boss of Southeastern rail so I could keep him waiting a couple of hours for his dinner and see how he likes it.

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