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Barclay James Harvest

   

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 Barclay James Harvest

 

British progressive rock

Studio Albums (with ratings)

Barclay James Harvest (1970) - 8

Once Again (1971) - 10

And Other Short Stories (1971) - 9

Baby James Harvest (1972) - 6.5

Everyone is Everybody Else (1974) - 7.5

Time Honoured Ghosts (1975) - 7

Octoberon (1976) - 7.5

Gone to Earth (1977) - 7

XII (1978) - 7

Eyes of the Universe (1979) - 6

Turn of the Tide (1981) - 5

Ring of Changes (1983) - 4.5

Victim of Circumstances (1984) - 6

Face to Face (1987) - 4

Welcome to the Show (1990) - 7

Caught In the Light (1993) - 7

River of Dreams (1997) - 7.5

 

 

Live Albums

 

Live (1974)

Live Tapes (1978)

Berlin- A Concert for the People (1982) - 6.5

Glassnost (1988) - 5.5

 

Compilations

 

Early Morning Onwards (1972)

The Best Of (1977)

The Best Of Volume 2 (1979)

Mockingbird - The Best of (1980)

The Best Of Volume 3 (1981)

The Compact Story (1985)

Another Arable Parable (1987)

Alone We Fly (1990)

The Harvest Years (1991)

Sorcerers and Keepers (1993)

Endless Dream (1996)

Mockingbird (1997)

Master Series (1999)

The Collection (2000)

Mockingbird (2001)

All is Safely Gathered In (2005)

Sea of Tranquility - The Polydor Years (2009)

 

Related Albums/Artists

 

John Lees

A Major Fancy - 5

 

Barclay James Harvest Through the Eyes of John Lees + John Lees' Barclay James Harvest:

Nexus

Revival (Live)

Legacy (Live)

 

 

Woolly Wolstenholme and Maestoso

Maestoso

Songs from the Black Box

One Drop In A Dry World

Fiddling Meanly

Grim

Caterwauling

Uneasy Listening

 

Barclay James Harvest Featuring Les Holroyd

Revolution Days

Live in Bonn

 

 

 

 

Barclay James Harvest

Official Barclay James Harvest web site

Much has been written by me on my site about Barclay James Harvest - who simply are my favourite all time group. I'm not sure whether that says anything abut me or not as most people seem not to have heard of the group and they never feature in top single or top album charts. Well I don't care because in my world they are number one in both. So if the following reviews prompt you to search out their music and listen to a little of it, then my musical journey won't have been in vain.

I have written a whole section of my web site on the band and this is accessible by clicking here. This area brings together all my album reviews for Barclay James Harvest.

For review purposes the history of the band is quite a complex one with a number of different re-incarnations after the River of Dreams album of 1997. At that point two separate bands emerged - Barclay James Harvest through the Eyes of John Lees (which featured John Lees and Woolly Wolstenholme at various times) and eventually was re-names John Lees' Barclay James Harvest and Barclay James Harvest featuring Les Holroyd which featured Les Holroyd and Mel Pritchard until his death. Both these new bands are still in existence and touring. Meanwhile Wolstenholme also had his own band Maestoso which was in existence until his death in 2010.

Barclay James Harvest - Essential Albums:

 

Once Again And Other Short Stories Barclay James Harvest Everyone is Everybody Else Octoberon

Barclay James Harvest - Highly Recommended Listening

 

Welcome to the Show Gone to Earth XII River of Dreams Time Honoured Ghosts

Barclay James Harvest - Worth Investigating

 

Baby James Harvest Eyes of the Universe Victim of Circumstances

Berlin (A Concert for the People)

Barclay James Harvest - Only for the True Fan

 

Ring of Changes Turn of the Tide Face to Face

Individual Album Reviews and Ratings:

 

Barclay James Harvest - 8

This was the first BJH album but the third of the band's offerings to be added to my collection. I have documented elsewhere how I became a fan of the band after attending their gig at Harlow Technical College on 13th November, 1971. For those wishing to read this account please follow the following link by clicking here. At that time the band had either just released or were in the process of releasing Barclay James Harvest and Other Short Stories. This I bought along with Once Again which still stands today as my favourite album of all time. It was a short while later that I completed my collection of BJH by adding the first album. I still believe those first three albums all have their own unique feel. Other Short Stories is perhaps the most commercial of the three, whilst Once Again has the three outstanding BJH tracks - Mocking Bird, She Said and Galadriel and is also full of stunningly beautiful mood music. The first album falls somewhere in the middle. It is getting on for 40 years old and of course belongs to another period in time. Some of its charm comes from the dated almost pompous feel - and I mean that in the nicest way. Here was a band following in the best pretentious traditions of the very early 70s when music was more of an explosion. The album is full of monstrous Gothic splendour and the orchestral sounds that at times threatened to bankrupt the band. All the great BJH early trademarks are here - Sweeping classical arrangements, quirky lyrics and a great richness. Barclay James Harvest is music for a winter's night - music for curling up around the fire. It was a band willing to experiment, to take themselves into areas where they knew they might be vilified. They were never a fashionable band, they were never mainstream and this album, more than perhaps any other, illustrates just why.

 

Once Again - 10

There may not be such a thing as the perfect piece of music or the perfect album and of course it's all down to personal taste and opinion. For me this is simply sublime.I have written more about this album than any other. It is simply by far and away my favourite album of all time as you will find if you follow my musical links throughout our pages. It is hard to put into words the importance of this album to me. It contains my favourite three BJH songs - Mocking Bird, She Said and Galadriel and has an overpowering beauty. It has an unthinkable beauty. I just have to listen to this album to be reduced to tears - and that doesn't happen lightly. There has never been an album to equal this one for mood setting. It reminds me vividly of a part of my life long since gone. I love to play it late at night on headphones and with all the lights off. Then the swirling melodies remind me of great times. To me this is as perfect as rock music gets. Virtually ignored by the critics, it is a wonderful collection of prog rock that in my eyes will never be equalled or surpassed.

 

Barclay James Harvest and Other Short Stories - 9

The first thing that strikes you about this album is the wonderful production which sounds as good today as it did in the early seventies. To me this album represents the true original BJH sound and all these songs feel like comfortable personal friends that have grown with me over the years. The album kicks off with one of BJH's best songs - Medicine Man - which still sounds fresh. Woolly's Someone There You Know is much more of a straightforward song and simpler than the classical pieces that he is better known for. Harry's Song sees John Lees in an aggressive tone of voice and this is a contrast to the beautiful Ursula (The Swansea Song) one of the most stunning and evocative songs ever written by Woolly. Little Lapwing is a simple and effective Les song and he follows this with the wistful Song with No Meaning. The only weak link is the rather strident Blue John's Blues where John's vocals are reduced to a shriek. But the best is saved to last with the double header The Poet/After the Day. Two individual songs, they dovetail brilliantly and many fans take them as one. The Poet is Woolly's most stunningly poetic song and After the Day is John's apocalyptic prophecy. The first time I heard these two was at a concert in 1971. They finished the evening to them in a flurry of dry ice and grinding noise. One of the strongest ends to a concert I have ever seen. The overall feel of this album is one of peace and tranquillity, emphasised by the orchestra which almost brought about the band's financial ruin. Virtually the only thing wrong with the album are Roy Hollingworth's dreadful sleeve notes.

 

Baby James Harvest - 6.5

In most BJH favourite charts, Baby James Harvest scarcely gets a mention. After the pomp of their first album, the brilliance of Once Again and the majesty of And Other Short Stories, it is not difficult to see the reason for this. Baby James Harvest is an album I bought with great expectations. It was a huge disappointment. I kept looking for classic BJH but just getting pale imitations. Now 30 years on I have revisited. My opinion is that it isn't a bad album, but there is a lack of sparkle and drive and it feels as if the band were simply going through the motions. The first thing you notice is that it contains just six songs - one of which Thank You is a poor attempt at getting commercial success and definitely one of the bands worst offerings. Delph Town Morn has some nice acoustic guitar work but then seems to lose itself. The two best tracks are without a doubt Summer Soldier and Moonwater. The former was later covered very well on a live album. Here it could be accused of being over-long and slightly pretentious although I must admit I still enjoy it. Moonwater sees Woolly playing to his strengths. Overall, however, Baby James Harvest remains a disappointment.

 

Everyone is Everybody Else - 7.5

The wonderful thing about this album is that all the songs seem to drift into each other. There is such a oneness and such a togetherness that a textured layer of sound gives one of the most satisfying feelings from an BJH album. The characteristic guitar passages blend beautifully with keyboard and some haunting melodies. For me this album marked the beginning of the band's move away from classical orientated rock to a more simplistic style. This is something I was never happy with but it does show Messrs Lees and Holroyd at the peak of their songwriting. It is a wonderfully evocative album that still sounds fresh.

 

Time Honoured Ghosts - 7

Polls amongst BJH fans usually sit this album at the top of the list. I can vividly remember buying Time Honoured Ghosts. It was in the days when I automatically bought any BJH album as soon as it came out. I remember taking it home and being extremely disappointed. Here was my favourite band churning out what I felt were rather dull middle of the road rock songs with none of the old sparkle. Now re-visiting all the albums one by one, Time Honoured Ghosts has certainly improved with age. There are some pretty songs here and Woolly's keyboard playing is again on form, but I certainly wouldn't rate it as one of my favourite BJH albums.

 

Octoberon - 7.5

Octoberon is notable for two (or should that be one and a half) of BJH's best songs. May Day and Suicide? rank with the best the band ever came up with. Suicide? has the kind of lyrics that John Lees excels at. It is a mysterious and complex piece full of atmosphere and suspense. Behind the simple melody is Lees' cutting guitar work. The sharp and direct guitar is underpinned by Woolly's understated keyboards and there are some lovely harmonies towards the end. May Day starts in the vein of so many of John's songs before building to a stunning choral work from almost nowhere. I know that some fans of the band do not like this but I believe the textures have an almost surreal effect. It's Jerusalem, Abide with Me, Land of Hope and Glory all mixed together. The rest of the track seems to come straight from And Other Short Stories and reminds me of Harry's Song. Elsewhere we have Woolly's Ra which is up to his usual standards and Les weighs in with two of his better numbers Rock n Roll Star and The World Goes On. These are good jaunty pieces with singalong choruses. Overall the album has a lovely pastoral feel with some excellent guitar work. To me this is one of the best BJH albums and one I return to regularly.

 

Gone to Earth - 7

Gone to Earth is generally looked upon as one of the best of BJH's albums. I have mixed feelings and some reservations about it, however. The songs are solid without being exceptional, although the overall feel is one of reasonable togetherness. Poor Man's Moody Blues is correctly and undeniably a BJH classic. Many also believe Hymn to be one of the most powerful songs written by John Lees. Here I have to disagree. I find it a slightly turgid and monotonous piece and certainly not one of his best. The band's move away from classically inspired rock is once again shown by the fact that Woolly Woolstenholme contributed only one song. Over the years I have felt that one of the band's weaknesses has always been an insistence that Messrs Holroyd and Lees should contribute an equal number of songs. This has often backfired and led to some weaker filler material. Whilst saying that the album doesn't have any filler tracks there are some slightly less impressive pieces that for me prevent Gone to Earth from being a classic BJH album.

 

XII - 7

XII has more highs than lows - although at times it falls just short of top drawer BJH material. I always believe the best BJH albums are those where there is a particular character or where John Lees in particular stretches himself. John has the ability to take an average song and add something special. His songs can be full of surprises and power whereas Les Holroyd sticks with a more formula-led way of songwriting. There are some genuinely interesting moments here, however. In Classics: A Tale of Two Sixties John cleverly interweaves album and group titles and Fact: The Closed Shop sees him in determined political mood. Nova Lepidoptera not only provided the title for the band's fan club newsletter but also a slightly whimsical feel strong on melody. Berlin is one of Les' best songs and also one of the fans' favourites, but two songs by Woolly Wolstenholme illustrate how much he would be missed when he left the band shortly afterwards. "Harbour" is a tuneful close harmony piece and "In Search For England" sounds like classical Genesis. I find "Turning in Circles," "Sip of Wine" and "Giving It Up" disappointing and merely filler fodder from Les' pen. Overall the album has a pleasant feel about it.

 

Eyes of the Universe - 6

When Woolly Wolstenholme left Barclay James Harvest they lost some of their sparkle and originality. This is the first of what I would call the "formula albums" where John Lees and Les Holroyd share the songwriting in equal amounts. A number of BJH fans have questioned whether this policy has been right. I prefer John's songs - it's a personal thing. They always seem to be more original and I believe that is illustrated with this album. It does improve the more you hear it, but it is short of a vital undefinible ingredient. "Rock N Roll Lady", "The Song (They Love to Sing)", "Love on the Line" and "Alright Down Get Boogie" are very ordinary and the album is saved by the likes of Skin Flicks which seems to be two distinctive songs in one and "Play to the World" which for me is one of Les' best songs. Many of the basic BJH ingredients are here - the expansive guitar work, the crashing keyboards but they are less original and more sterile. Thankfully there was better to come.

 

Turn of the Tide - 5

Another formula album that hasn't greatly stood the test of time. Les Holroyd's compositions are rather insipid and John Lees seems to have lost some of his sparkle in a series of mundane pieces. There are three saving graces to the album, however, with Life is For Living one of the band's best songs of the pseudo-pop era and Lees does come up with In Memory of the Martyrs which sees him at his poignant best in a hefty song with biting lyrics and the wonderfully romantic How Do You Feel Now - as good a song as ever written about a new baby. Elsewhere the album is sadly flat without a great deal of interest.

 

Berlin (A Concert for the People) - 6.5

Berlin/Loving is Easy/Mockingbird/Sip of Wine/Nova Lepidoptera/In Memory of the Martyrs/Live is for Living/Child of the Universe/Hymn

Arguably BJH's best live album recorded before thousands of German fans in front of the Reichstag building in Berlin and proving just how popular the band were in Germany. A decently balanced collection that features the classic Mockingbird, Nova Lepidoptera and Child of the Universe and finishes with band favourite Hymn which I have always been luke warm about.

 

Ring of Changes - 4.5

Sadly there is little to commend what is a very ordinary album made up of nine songs lacking sparkle or originality. The instrumentation is reasonable, the orchestration at times good and the sound is clean but it really is a second rate album. This is one of my least favourite BJH albums. They seemed to be struggling for direction and that is all too obvious. It has none of the charm of earlier and indeed many later albums and at times is downright tedious. Many of the songs are too long, too tedious and too boring. The best track is John Lees' Just A Day Away (Forever Tomorrow) which at least has a reasonable hook line. Elsewhere there is very little to recommend.

 

Victim of Circumstances - 6

I was never really sure about Victims of Circumstance, but returning to it after some time it is a reasonably pleasant surprise. The band introduced female backing singers and the result is not as bad as might be expected. Indeed there are some good songs on this album - particularly For Your Love and the rocky Inside My Nightmare - both from John Lees. Recorded in Holland it was an attempt by the band to increase their appeal to a wider audience. I don't think it was strong enough to do this, but it is an album that does have its moments.

 

Face to Face - 4

Sadly there is very little to commend this album. It has not lasted well and today is just a mish-mash of the less remarkable compositions of Les Holroyd and John Lees. Pseudo political and religious messages abound mixed with some angst and love songs. There is never a clear direction to it and it simply feels like a group of songs strung together without a great deal of thought. To me the only worthwhile song is John's Guitar Blues which has a strong guitar solo, but even that becomes tedious after a few plays. This album came at the time that the band seemed to be struggling. Thankfully there were better things to come.

 

Glassnost - 5.5

Poor Man's Moody Blues/ Alone in the Night/ Hold On/ Afircan/ On the Wings of Love/ Love on the Line/ Berlin/ Medicine Man/ Kiev/ Hymn/ Turn the Key/ He Said Love

The problem with this album is the material and the fact that the band have followed the same pattern as on their studio albums of alternating John Lee and Les Holroyd songs and once again Holroyd's whining voice lets the album down. His material is pleasant but much more pop orientated. Obviously the band couldn't continue to churn out the likes of Mockingbird, She Said and Galadriel on live versions, but what we are left with isn't representative of the overall BJH sound, although back in 1988 it might well have been. Ironically it might be the history of this album that ends up as more important than the content. BJH played in front of 170,000 people in Treptower Park in what was then East Berlin, just two years before the wall finally fell. There's a heavily Christian element here with Hymn (never one of my favourite BJH numbers and He Said Love being included. African and Turn of the Key are purely filler material, although Poor Man's Moody Blues and Medicine Man are highlights in an otherwise drab collection

 

Welcome to the Show - 7

BJH began the 90s with an album with plenty of high spots and two outstanding songs. Lady MacBeth shows John Lees' songwriting to be at its most obtuse, while John Lennon's Guitar is a classic BJH song, looking back to the recording of the classic album Once Again. Les Holroyd manages to come up with one of his most poignant numbers in "African Nights" and there is plenty of body and character in a long and largely successful song which includes a few pieces of padding towards the end.

 

Caught in the Light - 7

A 12 song collection which moves from the excellent to the mundane - with perhaps more highs than lows. There are a number of beautiful songs here but also a few less impressive. Les' hymn to Romania Copii Romania is a wistful and poignant number that many number amongst their favourite BJH tracks of all time. John is at his best with Back to Earth (one of his truly great songs), Forever Yesterday and the classic Once More, which is Mockingbird Part 2. In the old days of vinyl this would have been a double album and so there is excellent value for money although songs like John's Spud U Like spoil the feel of the album and is generally thought of as one of his worst songs. Interestingly the album includes Ballad of Denshaw Mill which one well respected fan has voted as his top BJH track of all time. I'm afraid I don't agree with his sentiments or evaluation.

 

River of Dreams - 7.5

Many fans seem not to like this album, but I think the songs are exceptionally well crafted and Les Holroyd comes up with some of his stronger material. Indeed there isn't a bad track on the album with plenty of lyrical look backs to the past as on the opening track "Back in the Game" and plenty of socio-political content as on John Lees' "Children of the Disappeared" which culminates in a typical heart-rending guitar solo where Lees squeezes out every last note. On "Pools of Tears" Lees writes an elegy to lost love - "winter's got my heart."  There are a couple of lightweight songs here but overall a very solid album.

 

Nexus - 7

To be reviewed

 

.Related Albums

A Major Fancy - John Lees - 5

John Lees' solo album A Major Fancy was eventually released in 1977 despite being recorded some years earlier. It was originally scheduled for release in 1973 but shelved when BJH left the Harvest label. Eventually it was issued under the Harvest Heritage series. The original sleeve notes tell us that with three regular writers in the band a number of John's best songs never see the light of day and A Major Fancy gave the label the chance to showcase his talent. Ultimately this is a below par collection that is far beneath the unique talent that is Lees. That's not to say that it is all bad. The original version of Child of the Universe is as good if not better than the version that made it onto Everyone is Everybody Else. It includes swirling strings and even the Mike Sammes Singers. The album opens with Untitles No 1 - Heritage and there is certainly something of note with the quieter passages having a Crosby, Stills and Nash feel to them and Rod Argent's keyboards rattling along towards the end of the eight minute track. At times the album is a mixture of the tedious, mundane and monotonous but there are occasional glimpses of brightness although Sweet Faced Jane doesn't seem to know whether it wants to be a country or a jazz piece. In essence maybe Lees tried too hard to be different from the BJH sound. Ironically arguably the best track is  Witburg Nights which is closest in structure to a BJH song. So a very mixed album overall.