Saturday, June 3, 2023

Barnabus - Beginning To Unwind (1970-73 uk, fascinating heavy doom acid rock, 2020 remaster)



Barnabus’ Beginning To Unwind is finally seeing a release nearly 50 years after it was first recorded, and we have Lee Dorrian (Napalm Death/Cathedral) to thank for this. The album is being released on Rise Above Relics which is an imprint of Lee’s Rise Above Records label dedicated to repressing relatively obscure late 60s to mid-70s hard rock and folk music.

Barnabus hailed from the West Midlands/Warwickshire, and unlike Black Sabbath, were from the (by comparison) picturesque town of Royal Lemington Spa. The line-up consisted of Keith Hancock (Bass/Vocals), John Storer (Guitar/Vocals) and Tony Cox (drums), there was also an unofficial fourth member by the name of Les Bates, a poet whose work would provide the group with some lyrical input. Hancock came across the band’s name when studying for an exam in a law book referencing a guy called Barnabus Legge from Coventry who murdered a woman and was hung at Coventry assizes. The group existed between 1970-73, and supported the likes of Hawkwind, Edgar Broughton Band and Trapeze. They also won the Midlands heat of the Melody Maker Rock & Folk contest, in 1972, where the judges were Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi. Sadly, frustration with the music industry led to their split and the album remained unreleased, until now. 

The original album artwork accompanying this release is a simply drawn landscape with both sun and moon dominating the skyline. The band, and Bates in particular, were passionate about the environment and the cover art reflects this. All this talk of the environment and nature also ties in nicely with the beautiful and mythic folk of Gas Rise which references the pollution in Leamington as a result of the huge Ford factory that would emit sulphur into the atmosphere, the lyrics demonstrating that Barnabus had a social conscience and an unwillingness to stick to standard rock ‘n’ roll clich├ęs.  The next track The War Drags On is a fantastic slice of Sabbath style proto-doom and thematically resembles the Sabs War Pigs. 

There are a couple of covers on the record, Leonard Bernstein’s America is a reaction to the racism suffered by the Windrush generation and has a Progressive feel. The other is Morning Dew, a post-apocalyptic folk-rock song highlighting the horrors of nuclear war, originally by Canadian singer-songwriter Bonnie Dobson, which has also been covered by many artists including Nazareth and The Grateful Dead. The grim lyrical theme continues with the final track, the rocking and somewhat sadly prophetical Apocalypse.

The album consists of ten tracks and is nicely balanced between heavy rockers and genteel Folk songs. What I gleamed from the accompanying sleeve notes is that the heavier riffs on the album originate from Hancock (as do the gloomier lyrical themes) while the songs that Storer wrote with Bates tended to be more melodic and based on intricate guitar parts. The vocals are also divided between Storer and Hancock, with Hancock unsurprisingly tackling the heavier tracks, pointing out that his voice was ‘more acidic’ than Storer’s and ‘based on a Captain Beefheart sort of thing’. The tracks tend to be quite lengthy for the most part, but never do you feel like they are a chore to listen to.

Also included are demos of 2 newer tracks Mortal Flight and Winter Lady, which are worth checking out, as well as decent live versions of Morning Dew and Resolute. In conclusion, if like me you have a passion for early 70s hard rock then you will get a real kick out of this record.
by Reza Mills, 9 March 2020
Tracks
1. America (Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rodgers) - 10:43
2. Gas Rise - 4:52
3. The War Drags On - 4:27
4. Beginning To Unwind - 5:09
5. Clasped Hands - 4:22
6. Morning Dew (Bonnie Dobson) - 7:51
7. Don't Cry For Me My Daddy - 7:31
8. Resolute - 6:16
9. Drifters Lament - 6:56
10.Apocalypse - 6:41
11.Mortal Flight - 4:23
12.Winter Lady - 7:25
All Music by Keith Hancock, Tony Cox, John Storer, all Lyrics by Les Bates except where stated.

Barnabus
*Keith Hancock - Bass, Lead Vocals
*Tony Cox - Drums
*John Storer - Guitar, Vocals
*Les Bates - Lyrics