The Ones I Rarely Play: Richard Barnes – “Take to the Mountains”


Richard Barnes had a brief pop career that came closest to success in 1970/71, when three of his singles had massive backing from Radio 1, including Top of the Pops appearances for each one, yet failed to see him past no 34 in the singles chart. Take to the Mountains is a compilation CD released in 2007, bringing together all his singles, his one LP and two new tracks, recorded that year, and named after his best and most successful song.
I turned 14 in November 1969, knowing virtually nothing about pop music. My parents hated it, I never saw Top of the Pops (save for a few seconds, switching over from ITV to be ready for whatever followed it) and I didn’t start listening to Radio 1 until ten days from the end of the Sixties.
My tastes were naïve to begin with, unformed and impressionable, and I was open to the possible influence of everything as we entered 1970. Radio 1 played ‘Take to the Mountains’ and I was hooked.
It’s a big pop ballad, fully orchestrated, with a powerful chorus, and Barnes had a powerful, expressive voice. When he followed it up with the almost as good ‘Go North’ (to the same effect), I was hooked.
Barnes had started out as bassist and lead singer with The Quiet Five, one of many unsuccessful Sixties groups,relying on harmonies and a quieter sound than others, leaning towards what was not yet described as ‘middle of the road’. He’d gone solo in 1968 with a cover of Gary Puckett’s ‘Woman, Woman’ (it’s b-side, ‘The Princess and the Soldier’ is a minor gem) but seemingly didn’t record at all in 1969, before reaching his ‘peak’ with ‘Take to the Mountains’. This and ‘Go North’ were written by professional songwriter Tony Hazzard, a man with a good commercial and artistic track record.
But after 1971’s ‘Coldwater Morning’, a Neil Diamond cover, and Barnes’ last Top Forty entry (in a Top Thirty era), he effectively disappeared, leaving one final 1973 single and a re-issue of ‘Take to the Mountains’ behind for a stage career, taking over the lead role in Jesus Christ, Superstar on the London stage. That, apart from a 1976 album of duets with Tony Hazzard, including a cover of Hazzard’s Manfred Mann hit, ‘Fox on the Run’, released as a single, was that.
Some people, despite their talent, aren’t meant to make it. Richard Barnes had a great voice (and still does: on the two contemporary tracks on this compilation, his voice remains unchanged). But his failure to break through was in equal measure due to his being wrong for the times, and in being too middle of the road at heart.
Barnes’ voice was, in that respect, too good for pop, which never quite sounds right when sung by someone who sings clearly and confidently, with a rich, trained voice and a vocal range. Barnes, though something of a pretty boy, was too young and too pop for the kind of audience catered to by Tom Jones and Engelbert, but insufficiently rough and raucous, in every respect, for the younger audience.
His two 1970 singles might have done better a couple of years earlier, when Britain was enjoying a period of heavily orchestrated pop, by bands such as the Love Affair, the early Marmalade and the Casuals, but even then Barnes lacked the pop sensibility and dynamism of such tracks.
But in 1970, with the already legendary Sixties coming to an end, there was an atmosphere of change. So many pop bands, from all levels of the success spectrum, were suddenly going ‘heavy’. The underground came to prominence. Pop in its pure, innocent form was squeezed hard. And someone like Richard Barnes, who was not quite of the moment, whose music was too close to what your parents listened to, stood no chance.
Except with misfits like me, still working out what they liked and didn’t. Barnes’ voice, and the sheer quality of ‘Take to the Mountains’ and ‘Go North’, captured me, and a certain spirit of individualism, led to me declaring myself a fan. So, of course, I had to buy this.
I don’t play it often because, forty years on, I’m really not into MOR music. But this CD is part of my history, and Richard Barnes really is a bloody good singer, so it stays, to entertain me evey now and then, when the right mood strikes.

23 thoughts on “The Ones I Rarely Play: Richard Barnes – “Take to the Mountains”

  1. Just come across this. Interesting. I should mention that one of the main reasons for the lack of success of ‘Take To The mountains’ was a strike at the Phillips factory: the demand was huge but no one could buy it at one point. By the time the strike had been settled, the moment (and the momentum) had gone. This was recently confirmed to me by an audience member when I was playing a gig. She had been one of the strikers and confirmed my recollection.

    I also note your interest in Robert Neil(l). I used to be a huge fan and wrote to him at one point (& he replied). I loved ‘So Fair A House’ and tried to find a s/h copy recently, to no avail.

    1. Hello Tony, and thank you for commenting: I am flattered to be noticed.

      Your story about ‘Take to the Mountains’ is news to me but not surprising. I keep hearing stories of artists denied the chance of success because of strikes, or the underprinting of their singles at crucial moments. As a skint teenager at the time, the only single I bought that whole year was ‘Grooving with Mr Bloe’, so I never put that to the test. I ended up buying ‘Take to the Mountains’ in 1973 when it was reissued on Bronze (wasn’t its b-side this time the superb ‘I’ll Never Tell You’?).

      Good luck with finding ‘So Fair a House’: I did my hunting down the middle period Neill’s during the 2000s, when the prices were not too painful.

      May I ask you a question? Several years back, I hunted down the half-remembered single ‘The Eagle Flies Tonight’, Simon Dupree’s last single as Simon Dupree, and of course it was one of yours. I’ve always thought it sounded structurally and tonally similar to ‘Fox on the Run’ and guessed they wre written close together: was that so?

      Best wishes

      Martin

  2. Thanks, Martin.

    I wrote to RN about ‘So Fair A House’. It made a big impression on me.

    Can’t remember the reissue B-side of TTTM.

    Re ‘Eagle’, it might have been written around the same time as FOTR, but temporal synchronicity alone wouldn’t have informed the similarity: I often wrote songs close together but very different in style. The title and story was inspired by a Lou Rawls song called ‘Stormy Monday’, with the line ‘The eagle flies on Fridays’ , referring to the eagle on the dollar.

    Structurally it’s a typical song of its time, with two verses followed by a rousing chorus and repeat. Unfortunately the chorus wasn’t rousing enough to persuade the record-buying public! Strangely enough, I’ve been practising it this week, having not played it since the 60s, with a view to playing it live, solo. Not quite made my mind up yet….

    cheers

    Tony

  3. Go for it, Tony. It was a song that I heard only a couple of times when I first started listening to pop, but which stuck enough with me to recall it thirty years on (I had no idea it was Simon Dupree until I hunted the song down). From the first, it recalled ‘Fox on the Run’, which which I was very familiar, not only from the Manfreds but from once owning your duet with Richard version, the single off your joint LP.

    I had never understood why the Eagle flew (at the time, Eagle meant Eagle comic to me): thank you for the explanation.

    Martin

  4. That made me smile: The Eagle comic flying through the air! 🙂 I used to get The Eagle, too and was in The Eagle Club (little gold badge). It was a time when 1972 was the ‘future’ of(!) which Dan Dare was a pilot.

  5. Ah Tony! Look elsewhere on this blog, for the Dan Dare stuff! (Reminds me, I’m horribly overdue with my review of ‘Operation Saturn’: must get to grips with that soon.

    And thanks for forwarding the link: now I shalln’t sleep for worrying what Richard thinks!

  6. Hi Tony. Fingers crossed for you. Time has made it more fascinating as a double historical fiction: the Fifties setting is in some ways even more strange.

    Did you bring ‘The Eagle Flies Tonight’ back into the set? If you ever play Manchester, let me know, I’d love to come and watch you play.

  7. Just confirmed I’ve got it, Martin. 🙂 I tried ‘The Eagle Flies Tonight’ once but I don’t think I did it justice. 😦

    Unfortunately I’ve given up live gigs, at least at the moment. The last I played was in Brighton last summer. Only nine in the audience. Last two gigs booked after that were cancelled through lack of interest, so there doesn’t seem to be any point now. I’ve been asked to play in Galicia, NE Spain, in April and am debating whether it’s worth all the hassle: travelling all day, plane arriving late at night, home flight too late to catch train home to Cornwall, therefore expense of hotel, etc. And I’m not getting any younger! But thanks for the interest. 🙂

    1. Congratulations, and enjoy!

      I’m sorry to hear about the live gigs. Galicia sounds good to me, but then no-one in their right mind has ever asked me to sing or play so I have no idea what being ‘on the road’ does to you. If things ever change…

  8. Hi- do you know anyone in contact with Richard Barnes- I worked with him in Chess the Musical- he was excellent. Thanks

    1. Hi Anna-Louise, and nice to hear from you. I have had a number of comments from Richard’s friend and songwriter Tony Hazzard. If you’d like to e-mail your contact details to me at arduous.publications47(at)gmail.com, I will pass these on to Tony with a request to let Richard have them.

  9. Donkeys years after my late brother David gifted me a long since lost vinyl of Richard Barnes from the studio he worked for in London ( I thought it was Decca) I discovered him again on Amazon and am now reenjoying the original LP plus the newer one here in Belfast.
    His Your Song is by far the best version and far better than Elton’s cover.
    Question is, Wikipedia says Tony wrote Your Song, when I always thought it was penned by Richard.
    Which is correct?
    Surely he is/ was a prestigious songwriter as well as a fantastic vocalist?
    BRIAN MCCALDEN

    1. Hi Brian, always wonderful to hear from another fan of Richard B. I’ve always believed Your Song to be written by Elton and Bernie Tsupin, and a cursory google search against the song supports this. That’s how it’s credited on the TTTM CD too. As far as I know, Richard was never a regular songwriter, but then having Tony Hazard as a mate, you don’t need to be. I’ve heard Your Song jusst too many times since 1971, almost always by Elton, to the point where I can’t appreciate hearing it again, eve by Richard.

      In case you didn’t know, before going solo, Richard was bassist and lead singer in the Quiet Five, who only recorded about a dozen tracks that I’m aware of, all of which you can find on YouTube: I particu;arly recommend When the Morning Sun dries the Dew.

      1. Of course, that is, in fact, true. BT and EJ wrote ‘Your Song’. It’s a bit confusing because Lesley Duncan wrote ‘Love song’ which Elton recorded, and Lesley, Elton, and I (along with others) used to sing backing vocals together on other people’s records, and Lesley and I also sang on Elton’s records, so it’s easy to get confused!

  10. Of course, and thanks for the prompt on something I should have remembered myself, Tony. I first heard ‘Love Song’ as Olivia Newton-John’s second solo single (and only complete flop in the Seventies) but I’ve long loved Lesley’s original, even if it took me until last year to seriously appreciate her talent. Hope all’s well with you.

  11. Just come across this, really enjoyed reading about my teen heart throb! I remember regularly buying a teen magazine because Richard wrote an agony column in it…’Mirabelle’ I think it was called. I was also lucky enough to him in Jesus Christ Superstar in London when my school went on a trip.
    Have just been listening to ‘Take To The Mountains’, ‘Go North’ and ‘Coldwater Morning’, they still sound great and I can remember all the words!

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