April 9, 2009 – Duke D’Mond was born Richard Palmer on February 25th 1943 in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, England. He became an original member and lead singer of 46 years with the The Barron Knights, from which he retired from performing in 2005 after a bad fall. D’Mond started out as an apprentice at the printing firm where his father worked and, despite having no stage experience, was successful when the band him auditioned for a lead singer in 1961. Soon after, he adopted his stage name. D’Mond provided the vocal quality for the band, as well as acting as a deadpan straight man for many of their onstage comedy routines.
The Barron Knights, a British humorous pop group, was originally formed in 1959 as The Knights of the Round Table, they became the Barron Knights on October 5th 1960.
They started out as a straight pop group, and spent a couple of years touring and playing in English dance halls before making their way to Hamburg, Germany. Bill Wyman, later of the Rolling Stones, has written that the Barron Knights were the first group he saw with an electric bass, at a performance in Aylesbury in July 1961, inspiring him to take up the instrument. In 1963, at the invitation of Brian Epstein, they were one of the support acts on The Beatles’ Christmas shows at the Finsbury Park Astoria in London, and later became one of the few acts to tour with both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
They first came to fame in 1964 with the number “Call Up the Groups” (Parts 1 and 2). It overcame copyright restrictions and parodied a number of the leading pop groups of the time including the Searchers, Freddie and the Dreamers, the Dave Clark Five, the Bachelors, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles. The song imagined the various artists singing about being conscripted, or “called up” into the British Army, although actual conscription had ended in 1960. The single climbed to number 3 in the UK Singles Chart. As an example, the song “Bits and Pieces” by The Dave Clark Five was parodied as “Boots and Blisters”. They then followed this parody theme with two more hit singles “Pop Go the Workers” (1965) and “Merrie Gentle Pops” (1966), while continuing to work the cabaret circuit, as they do internationally to this day.
In 1967, the group released the single “Lazy Fat People”, a satirical song written by Pete Townshend of The Who. In 1974 they toured South Africa with Petula Clark. By 1977 CBS Records had signed the group, bringing a resurgence in popularity, with “Live in Trouble” reaching number 7 in the UK Singles Chart. It was their first hit for over nine years. “Angelo” was just one song parodied on “Live in Trouble”. Their 1978 release “A Taste of Aggro”, which parodied “Rivers of Babylon”, “Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs” and “The Smurf Song”, became the group’s biggest hit with sales of over one million, reaching number 3 in the UK chart.
They achieved four other UK hit singles in the 1960s and 1970s but their only US Billboard Hot 100 charted single, “The Topical Song”, was another comedic parody written by the American poet Robert Spring White. Based upon Supertramp’s “The Logical Song”, White, who also took the 1980 American Song Festival award in the folk category for “Where Does The River Go”, confined his humorous lyric compositions for the Barron Knights.
The group also produced Christmas specials on Channel 4 Television in 1983 and 1984 which continued to be repeated throughout the decade, a mix of sketches and songs with a comedy backbone for which the group brought in comedy writer Barry Faulkner (Grumbleweeds, Tom O’Connor, Week Ending, Russ Abbot’s Madhouse) to write sketches and links. In 1986, they sang a parody of the Jimmy Dean song “Big Bad John”, called “Big Bad Bond”. It was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Australian entrepreneur Alan Bond and his involvement in Australia’s victory in the 1983 America’s Cup. The single was released by WEA, and had “The Loan Arranger” on the B-side, both taken from their album California Girls.
They toured with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Pet Clarke and others. Of their many humorous songs recorded, they achieved 14 chart hits, including “Come to the Dance”, “Pop Go the Workers”, “Merry Gentle Pops”, “Live in Trouble”, “The Topical Song”, “A Taste of Aggro” and their first and best known hit 1964’s “Call Up The Groups”, written in response to the end of national service in the UK.
Duke was rushed to a hospital in Oxford with internal bleeding, then went into a coma before having a severe heart attack and developing pneumonia. He died on April 9, 2009 at the age of 66.