The Barron Knights are best known as a comedy covers band, famous for satirising and parodying popular hits of the day as well as inventing their own silly songs. There was a brief period in the early 1970s though when The Barron Knights aspired to be something more. But would they make it as a serious recording act in their own right, devoid of comedy and heavy on the psychedelic?
The Barron Knights,
One Man’s Meat,
Penny Farthing PELS 536,
The Barron Knights were formed in 1960, and were initially a fairly non-descript rock ‘n’ roll band, playing the same standards as many of their peers and gradually building up a following through touring. Their first single release came in 1962 when billed as ‘The Barron Knights with Duke D’Mond’ they released Let’s Face It on the Fontana label, a perfect piece of up-tempo British beat that sounded like a hundred other singles released around that time. It is collectable in its own right but it is the direction The Barron Knights went after that debut single that makes them unusual and notable, and worthy of a place in The Downstairs Lounge. Hey, I don’t let just anyone in you know.
For the next two years The Barron Knights remained on the fringes of success, always tantalisingly close without making that big breakthrough that their accomplished playing promised. A new contract with the larger Columbia label, support tours with both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones should all have meant the making of them, but by 1964 success still eluded them. So naturally they started taking themselves a good deal less seriously.
Many groups will indulge in silly banter while rehearsing, jamming with other group’s songs and messing about with lyrics while warming up. The genius of The Barron Knights was committing this humorous mucking about to vinyl. Their 1964 single Call Up the Groups parodied several popular groups of the time and for a group like The Barron Knights with a good four years of accomplished playing behind them it was easy enough to do. The playing is technically perfect, the musical and vocal styles are spot on and importantly the single is funny, imagining as it does top British beat combos being forcibly conscripted into the army. All this of course despite national service having being scrapped a few years earlier.
Still, finally The Barron Knights had made it. The British love of a novelty hit (referred to ad infinitum around these parts) saw the single reach number three in the August of 1964. Ironically perhaps, The Barron Knights were kept from the number one slot by two of the groups they were parodying: Manfred Mann with Do Wah Diddy Diddy and The Beatles with A Hard Day’s Night. A further five charting singles followed for The Barron Knights in the 1960s, with 1968’s An Olympic Record being their last hit of the decade. Which is where the 1972 album One Man’s Meat comes in, hopefully.
By 1972 the band had returned to relative obscurity once again. Their albums during this period reflect pretty much what their act had become. There are various, what are termed by the group, ‘after show’ albums knocking around. These are nearly always eponymously titled records where the lads cover popular songs of the day, but in a perfectly straight way with none of their trademark parody. The choices are fairly middle of the road with no great surprises to be found, and the language on the sleeves is clear. Although The Barron Knights are masters of the parody and the silly song, they started out as competent serious musicians and they are frustrated not to be taken seriously after ten solid years of recording and touring. This frustration seems to have reached a peak by 1972 when, with the backing of record producer and Penny Farthing label boss Larry Page, they released One Man’s Meat.
The album is an oddity even for The Barron Knights. There are no silly songs, no parodies, no banter and no cover versions. All the songs on here save one track are written by band members Leslie ‘Butch’ Baker and Peter Langford, who remains with the group to this day. What there is in place of the silliness is a collection of strange sounding songs that reflect a lot of contemporary sounds without ever sounding like anything in particular. It is understandable that a group specialising in sounding like other groups for so long would have absorbed so many different influences and be adept in playing in a range of different styles, and on here they really go for it.
It’s hard to place One Man’s Meat in any particular genre. With tracks such as You’re All I Need and Turning My Back On You, the droning fuzz guitar and deep pounding drums suggest a psychedelic influence. With tracks such as Peaceful Life and To the Woods the album is at times a wistful electronic folk period piece. And there are other strange influences on there to be detected by the discerning listener. The amiable guitar noodling of Bottle on the Shelf suggests a chirpy 60s blues direction, the laid back hippy vibes of Lonely sound as if Roy Wood and The Bee Gees may have been an influence. On a track such as Before You Go, a bitter litany of infidelity and betrayal you would not suspect The Barron Knights capable of, the swirling glam-like sound suggests a David Bowie inspiration. All in all, there are some odd sounds on here; twangy guitars, ethereal vocals, and the droning of a truly massive organ. There is much to enjoy and were this album not recorded by those comedy magpies extraordinaire The Barron Knights, it would probably be an obscure and highly collectable piece of vinyl.
The Barron Knights were never this crazy or experimental again. After many years spent trying to impress on the British record-buying public the fact that they were serious artists who deserved a bit of recognition as something other than a novelty act, they finally did what they do best. Yes, they stopped taking themselves seriously once again and went back to being a novelty act, this time with even more success than in their 1960s heyday. In 1977 they ditched all pretensions and signing to CBS recorded Live in Trouble, a single release parodying popular songs of the day. All was right with the world, musical equilibrium was restored and The Barron Knights went on to have many more parody hits and enjoy a lifetime of cabaret and shows at the end of various piers.
And yet there it lurks, One Man’s Meat a forgotten testimony to the fact that a lifetime playing other people’s songs and learning a hundred different styles does have an influence eventually. It is a marker to a frustrated artistry and a turning point in one band’s career. A reminder that the Barron Knights were once something other than a parody band, with the potential to reinvent themselves and pursue any new direction they pleased. I’m glad they didn’t however as 1978’s A Taste of Aggro was one of the records pivotal in converting me to comedy music and which, I think it is fair to say, changed my life forever. So for that reason alone let’s revel in their strange psych-folk sound but be thankful that they returned to poking ribald fun at others.
Twenty years before The Happy Mondays were inspired by John Kongos’ glam rock single He’s Gonna Step on You Again, here are Barron Anthony and the lads showing their appreciation on the album’s opening track You’re All I Need:
Visit the Barron Knights official site, still Barron after all these years.