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Through his Rise Above Relics sub-label, Lee Dorrian is fast becoming the musical equivalent of BFI’s Vic Pratt and William Fowler. Dorrian himself, for the metal aficionado, needs no introduction but, for those who are unaware, Pratt and Fowler are the founders of the BFI’s ever intriguing Flipside label. British cinematic (and non-cinematic) gems, some presumed to be long lost and others where their very existence has been doubted, have been unearthed, scanned from original camera negatives or the best surviving film elements, and tidied up with often breathtaking levels of TLC, and released on BD/DVD with a ton of fascinating supplementary material. José Ramón Larraz’s 'Symptoms'? A miracle the original camera negative was even found after all these years. Don Sharp’s 'Psychomania'? Never thought this would ever get the HD treatment and look so damn great. Leslie Megahey’s ‘Schalcken the Painter’? Rarely seen Walerian Borowczyk stylistic pastiche on overdrive… amazing! Saxon Logan's 'Sleepwalkers'? It was true, the film did exist! Lindsay Shonteff’s 'Permissive'? Yes, please! In fact, Dorrian himself contributed an essay to the booklet for the latter, as the film featured performances from, and the music of, Comus, a band whose material has been released on Rise Above Relics.

While Pratt, Fowler and their team have been unearthing and restoring filmic gold, Dorrian has been searching for his own treasure; one of which is Barnabus, an entirely new name for me and, I'm sure, many others. Originally from Warwickshire and, apparently, achieving a degree of popularity in their locality, as well as receiving commendation from metal luminaries Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi at a 1972 regional heat they won for a national Melody Maker competition, it seems this ephemeral act (they were only ever active from 1970 until 1973), epitomise the very definition of musical obscurity. And, were it not for this release, they’d otherwise be forever consigned to the annals of early 70s rock music history as mere footnotes or fleeting mentions by the indubitable few who remembered they ever existed in the first place. Just like Saxon Logan's remarkable 'Sleepwalkers'… and you only have to watch the emotional interview with the director on the disc to understand precisely how important it is for him to receive a degree of recognition all these years on, as he reflects on what could have been. I’m certain it’ll be the same for the Barnabus guys – guitarist/vocalist John Storer, bassist/vocalist Keith Hancock and drummer Tony Cox. Interestingly, and I’m sure it’s merely the fashion of the period, but one of the members, in photos provided with this promo, bears a remarkable and uncanny resemblance to a young George Lutz… one for all you Amityville aficionados out there. It’s probably just a beard thing.

Impressively extensive liner notes by Austin Matthews reveal they recorded an album’s worth of material in 1971, which was “cut on to on several mono double-acetates, though the exact number of copies has been forgotten with John recalling somewhere between twelve and twenty-four, two of which had covers.” So, we’re talking crazily rare. And the intrigue continues, when Hancock himself elaborates on the studio time, stating it was recorded in “Monty Bird’s recording studio in Snitterfield (near Stratford-upon-Avon and also known as Bird Sound Studios). Monty Bird was quite a wealthy youngish chap. He was quite a gentleman and an heir of the Bird’s custard business. His plaything was to record young bands.” As a side note, I have a familial connection, a few generations back, to the original custard kings, Monk and Glass (a company co-owned by Bob Monkhouse’s grandfather), which was acquired by Bird’s in the 1950s, so it’s always interesting to cross-reference and piece together different nuggets of history.

Anyway, I realise I’ve rambled about rare British cinema, doppelgangers and custard perhaps a little too much, without a single mention of what the music’s all about on this release. Apart from a grooving, quasi-experimental rock version of Leonard Bernstein’s ‘America’ and an intriguing, rockier take on Bonnie Dobson’s beautiful folk ballad, ‘Morning Dew’, it’s all original material we’re dealing with here. And there are some genuine gems, from the stoner rocking grooves of ‘Resolute’ to the prog infused ‘Drifter’s Lament’ to the folked-up ‘Clasped Hands’. And then there are other timeless delights, such as ‘Beginning to Unwind’, with some incredible basslines that carry the first half of the song, before it explodes midway into jammy vibes, with lead guitar that redefines the meaning of “organic” (both in sound and performance), and drums that ride and enhance the emotions of the piece. It’s a fucking delight! In fact, the entire album’s a delight, with the bonus of even rarer demo tracks and a couple of live recordings (while the former sound surprisingly ‘bright’, the latter are rather muffled but, hey, they’re a nice addition and great to hear). The musicianship is all first-class, if a little rough around the edges on certain tracks (but that just adds to its charms), plus Storer and Hancock’s vocals are perfectly pitched for the material. Why oh why did this band fall by the wayside?

Obviously, I have no comparison to the recordings before they were cleaned up through “exhaustive audio restoration” and, although there's a warts and all sound to everything, I would hazard as a very logical guess that the songs sounded significantly worse than the final polished versions we have here. And you know what? It all sounds rather great, regardless - most certainly of the era and any sonic blemishes only serve to make more emphatic its charming authenticity. And the album has charms aplenty; it’s the real deal, and a rare snapshot into the alternative face of rock’s early 70s heyday that would otherwise have remained largely unheard. So fantastic work and big congrats to all involved in getting this gem respectfully restored and out there in the world. And, most importantly, massive respect to Barnabus for this gem of an album, that’s finally seeing the light of day, nearly fifty years after its completion!
Rise Above Relics
Review by Mark Holmes
13th March 2020
1) America; 2) Gas Rise
3) The War Drags On
4) Beginning to Unwind
5) Clasped Hands; 6) Morning Dew
7) Don't Cry for Me My Lady
8) Resolute; 9) Drifters Lament
10) Apocalypse
11) Mortal Flight (Demo)
12) Winter Lady (Demo)
13) Morning Dew (Live)
14) Resolute (Live)
"...a fucking delight!... a rare snapshot into the alternative face of rock’s early 70s heyday that would otherwise have remained largely unheard."