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Sunday, 3 July 2011

~Musical Prozac Overdose~: The Barron Knights

When we originally conceived this music Blog around 14 months ago, I always imagined that I would spend each Blog ruminating over Twee Indie bands that appeared on Sarah, Caff or Sha-La-La Records, and comparing the heartfelt overemotional songs of these bands with my own experiences.
Never once did I ever think that I would write about Crass or their record label, and certainly I never expected that particular Blog to be my favourite and amongst my most read Blogs.
Neither did I ever come to expect that I'd find myself sitting here writing about the Barron Knights. Yes....really...THE BARRON KNIGHTS!!!
But there's a very good reason why I've chosen to write about this particularly odd on and all will be revealed....
Anyone under the age of 30, and almost certainly anyone who was not born in Britain will probably have no idea who the Barron Knights are, so we'll do a quick resumé first to bring you all up to speed.
The Barron Knights are probably British music's greatest parodyists(if indeed that is a word!). The band rose to prominence in the early 1960s, lampooning the Beat Groups of the day. The thing about the Knights however is that they were VERY good at what they did. So good in fact that they ended up often sharing the stage with the very same acts they sent up, even touring with The Beatles!
What made the Knights so good was that they were all superb musicians and could replicate the acts they parodied down to a tee. Also, given that all members of the band provided vocals at some point or other, they could easily copy the vocal styles of virtually any act or singer.
A typical Barron Knights single would see them set up a precedent, say for example "What would the Pop stars of today do if they went on holiday?" They would then replicate three or four of the biggest acts of the day, but would change the lyrics to incorporate the surreal image of say, Mick Jagger building a sand-castle, or Peter Noone stuck at the airport check-in. These singles would prove incredibly popular with the British Public who would often send the records way up into the Top 10, sometimes even the Top 5. Check out this example, 'Pop Go The Workers' in which the band ponder what the bands of today(1963) would do if they had to return to work(and check out the po-faced Bill Wyman impersonation)....

The Knights' parodies were never vicious, they often simply gently sent up the very notion of Pop Stars being ordinary people. This meant the band constantly dealt in one thing with great aplomb; good, honest family entertainment, with just the right amount of Pop nous and savvy for the more musically literate.

So why am I writing about The Barron Knights tonight?
Well, any of the above would have sufficed had I been writing another of my 'Nippy Sweeties' Blogs, but the reason I've chosen to write this Blog tonight is because The Barron Knights were the first band that Griff and I ever bonded over, way back when we were still in Primary School.
Back when Punk was just raising it's head above the parapet, The Barron Knights released some of their most beloved and iconic records, especially the 'Live In Trouble' single and album. Both this single and album were amongst the first records I ever owned that didn't simply belong to my parents. These were records that I personally asked my folks to buy for me. I still remember the bright orange (non-picture) sleeve and the orange swirly CBS label on the single. And the album is one that I played to death, not bad for a comedy record, especially one being played by a child with a short attention span. Back in the day, Ray's cousin used to babysit for us and we were forever digging 'Live In Trouble' out and joining in with it's multiple parodies; Leo Sayer singing falsetto because his tailor had took his trousers in but left all the pins still in, David Bowie's cat being taken to the vet to be neutered("Birth control to Ginger Tom"), a spot-on and frankly hilarious take on The Floaters 'Float On', and finishing off with an eerily accurate John Lydon singing 'Any Old Iron'. Not many mainstream acts had the bottle or savvy to tackle Punk but the Knights were straight in there.
Here's a re-cap of the single....

And here's the full thing.....

At school, Griff and I would often try our hand at our own little Pop parodies in the style of the Knights, mostly rubbish of course, but I think from there we realised that we had a kindred spirit in our appreciation and knowledge of Pop's brilliance and it's ridiculousness. Quite possibly the seeds of our musical friendship were sown in our attempts to do a Barron Knights job on the Pop music of the day.

Here are a few other examples of the Barron Knights at their best.
We start with their 1968 release 'An Olympic Record' in which they place the Pop Stars of the day at the 1968 Olympic games....

Next up, 'A Taste Of Aggro', one of their biggest selling singles of all time in which they target, amongst others, Boney M, The Smurfs and Brian & Michael. This leads to an interesting conundrum. On their latter day singles they stopped picking on the big names and concentrated more on novelty records of the time; thus creating new novelty records based on recently released ones!

Their last really big hit was 'Never Mind The Presents', a Christmas single in which they take on acts as diverse as Pink Floyd and The Ramblers(who had an excruciating novelty hit with 'I'm Only A Poor Little Sparrow' - don't you overseas readers wish you lived in Britain??)....

Apart from the Pop parodies, The Barron Knights also released their own stand-alone singles, often tributes to eccentric British TV stars of the day, such as 'The 'Sit' Song', a tribute to bizarre British TV dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse, and 'Get Down Shep' on which Blue Peter madman John Noakes is given the Knights treatment. These singles often failed to sell as well as their parodic medleys which may have been the British public's way of saying 'Don't fuck with the formula!!'.

The last time I remember seeing the Barron Knights was on a one-off one hour TV special broadcast on Christmas Eve 1984(I think), this was mostly a series of oddly unfunny raps(yes...really!) and sketches, peppered with occasional flashes if their old genius(the Hunchback Of Notre Dame singing Hot Chocolate's 'It Started With A Cyst' for example). It kind of signalled that their heyday was coming to an end, and since then they've rarely bothered the charts.
Throughout all this time they remained a great live band often selling out tours, or playing the Butlins and Pontins holiday camp route, often to rapt audiences who know what they are going to get....outstanding family entertainment for kids to grandparents.

All hail The Barron Knights then, British Pop's greatest mimics and one of the foundations of this very Blog....


And if that wasn't enough for you, have a look here where you'll find an entire 25min show made for Scottish Television in 1980

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