Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Who is Barnsley Bill?!: His True Identity May Surprise You

Who is Barnsley Bill?  Its an incredibly obscure musical question but one that bears asking only because the answer is so ultimately satisfying.

First the details.  Barnsley Bill could be the man responsible for the first British Rap record! This obscure 1981 12" single 'Freewheeling Rap', pre-dates any other U.K. 'Rap' record ever released. Signed to the independent label, 'Mother-In-Law-Records', Bill took a uniquely British approach to early 80's rap, choosing to deliver his rhymes in his native Northern accent. In fact, Bill is so 'hard', he can "fold a newspaper", "drive 75,000 miles a year" and even "eat THREE Weetabix!" The track was produced by Ronnie Bossanova, and backed by The Daves International who supply the heavy funk riff, (borrowed from the classic 'Shack Up').  Have a listen and see if the answer becomes clearer!

Any clearer yet?! For those living outside the U.K., Barnsley is a coal mining town in South Yorkshire, England located between Sheffield and Leeds. While I'm no native, my guess is that Barnsley Bill is tweaking the locals and the local culture if you will.

How about the sound of that cornet/flugel horn? Its quite distinct and may lend a clue to the real identity of the artist?

Give up? Believe it or not, but Barnsley Bill was the alter ego of Horace Panter of The Specials. During the time after 'Ghost Town' when band members were taking a break (read: breaking up), Panter recorded the song on a lark at a cost of just £300! And rumor has it that the one and only Dick Cuthell laid down that unmistakable horn line.

The song and another that Panter recorded as Barnsley Bill titled 'Wedding Rap' are both long out-of-print so if you like what the Specials bassie cooked up 30 years ago, feel free to download the song below.

Barnsley Bill - Freewheeling Rap

1 comment:

Bomber said...

...the real ID of Barnsley Bill is Rob Allen - Barnsley lad born and bred. Although it's true the record was produced by Horace (Ronnie Bossonova), the singing is all Rob... featuring vocals from Horace's then girlfriend as 'Wakefield Sue'. Rob met Horace when they were both student at Lanchester Poly...