Barclay James Harvest


Band members                           Related acts

- Les Holroyd -- vocals, bass, keyboards (1966-)

- John Lees -- vocals, guitar (1966-)

- Mel Pritchard (RIP 2004) -- drums, percussion  (1966-2004)

- Stuart 'Wooly' Wolstenholme -- vocals, keyboards, guitar (1966-1979)

 

 

 

- Bombardil

- John Lees (solo efforts)

- Maestoso (Stuart 'Wooly' Wolstenholme)

- Stuart 'Wooly' Wolstenholme (solo efforts)

 


 

Genre: progressive

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  Once Again

Company: Harvest

Catalog: SHVL 788

Year: 1971

Country/State: Oldham, Lancashire, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG / VG

Comments: JEM import sticker on front cover; gatefold sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5177

Price: $25.00

 

They've extremely talented and have recorded scores of LPs since the mid-1960s, but for all their efforts Barclay James Harvest remain all but unknown outside of progressive rock circles.  That lack of recognition is near complete in the States, though they're only slightly better known in their native UK.

 

The band's history is so stereotyped, it's a surprise someone hasn't made a movie out of it.  Growing up in Oldham, Lancashire, guitarist John Lees and keyboardist Stuart 'Wooly' Wolstenholme were classmate at the Oldham Art School.  Discovering a mutual interest in music they decided to form a band.  originally known as The Sorcerers, then The Keepers they soon hooked up with The Wickeds, whose line up included bassist Les Holroyd and drummer Mel Pritchard.  Deciding on a partnership, the four began playing as The Blues Keepers.   By mid-1967 they were performing as Barclay James Harvest (the name pulled out of a hat) and had found a mentor/sponsor/manager in the form of local business man  John Crowther.  Crowther installed them in a local  farmhouse, allowing the quartet to write, rehearse, and cut some demos. In early 1968 they signed a one-shot deal with EMI's Parlophone subsidiary (Parlophone actually leased rights to their debut 45).  

 

Their debut 'Early Morning' b/w 'Mr. Sunshine' (Parlophone catalog number R5693), offered up a sweet, pseudo classically-inspired  ballad that bore more than a passing resemblance to The Moody Blues (band members subsequently admit the took inspiration from 'A Whiter Shade of Pale').  With support for BBC DJ John Peel they recorded some radio sessions which led EMI to sign them as one of the first acts for the newly established Harvest label.  In early 1969 they released a second 45:

 

- 1969's 'Brother Thrush' b/w 'Poor Wages' (Harvest catalog number HAR 5003)

 

Continuing their collaboration with producer Norman Smith, 1971's "Once Again' found the band starting to stretch their musical boundaries, embarking on an effort to meld folk, rock and classical influences (this time with less support from the London Symphony Orchestra).  While the band retained a clear penchant for catchy melodies and wonderful vocal harmonies, tracks like 'Song for Dying' (with a nicely understated anti-war sentiment) and 'Mocking Bird' displayed a distinctive progressive feel, though with a readily identifiable Procol Harum/Moody Blues feel.  Exemplified by tracks like 'Happy Old World' and 'Daladriel' (someone must have been reading Tolken), the Moodies comparison remained apt, though these guys avoided much of the former's more pompous and pretentious excesses (e.g. no spoken work segments).  While their sound remained lush, the absence of extensive orchestration was actually a benefit, focusing the spotlight on the band's core instrumentation, including Wolstenholme's tasteful mellotron and Lees' killer lead guitar (perfectly displayed on 'Song for Dying').  True the sophomore album lacked some of the debut's hippy-influenced originality, there were still plenty of highlights.  Erroneously credited to John Lees (Les Holroyd actually wrote the two songs that were melded into the end product), the leadoff 'She Said' sported a great melody and an equally killer Lees lead guitar.  Even better was the classic  'Mocking Bird'.  One of their best releases ...  

 

"One Again" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) She Said   (John Lees) - 

2.) Happy Old World   (Stuart Wolstenholme) - 

3.) Song for Dying   (Barclay James Harvester) -

4.) Daladriel   (John Lees) - 

 

(side 2)
1.) Mocking Bird   (Barclay James Harvester) - 

2.) Vanessa Simmons   (John Less) - 

3.) Ball and Chain   (Barclay James Harvester) - 

4.) Lady Loves   (Barclay James Harvester) - 

 

 

 

 


Genre: progressive

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Early Morning Onwards

Company: Starline

Catalog: SRS 5126

Year: 1972

Country/State: Oldham, Lancashire, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+

Comments: original UK textured cover

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 6148

Price: $10.00

 

 

Genre: progressive

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Early Morning Onwards

Company: Starline

Catalog: SRS 5126

Year: 1972

Country/State: Oldham, Lancashire, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+

Comments: JEM import sticker on front cover

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5175

Price: $10.00

 

 

Three studio sets into their career, the band found themselves saddled with the release of a 'best of' compilation.  In an interesting marketing move 1972's "Early Morning Onward" was released by EMI's budget Starline subsidiary,  Retailing for about $1.50, the compilation pulled together a mixture of the group's earlier singles ('A' and 'B' sides) rounded out by a couple of album tracks.  Surprisingly enjoyable and coherent, the eleven tracks serve as a good place for a potentially curious listener to start, though their psychedelic roots really weren't a good indication of future musical directions. Curiously, though the band spent much of the year touring the States, the set didn't see a domestic release.  

 

- Anyone familiar with BJH's latter catalog was likely to be surprised by the band's earlier material - I was certainly surprised to hear how pastoral much of it was.  And pastoral was a perfect description for 'Early Morning'.  Their debut single (Parlophone catalog number R5693) the track featured a starkly beautiful, mellotron etched melody that quickly climbed into your head and wouldn't leave.  Apparently inspired by Procol Harum's 'Whiter Shade of Pale', one of the ironies surrounding the track was the fact the band were forced to cover their own recording costs - Parlophone subsequently leased rights to the song releasing it as a single.   rating: **** stars

- Originally the 'B' side on their Harvest debut, 'Poor Wages' was a tasty Byrds-styed rocker.  Very melodic with some wonderful John Lees lead guitar.   rating: **** stars

- The band's second single and their first for Harvest (Harvest catalog number HAR 5003), the Norman Smith produced 'Brother Thrush' continued the band's pursuit of a calm, pastoral sound.  Apparently intended to spread a pro-ecology message, I'll admit the sentiments were lost on my ears. The track's actually quite pretty with Stuart Wolstenholme strumming along on a Fender Coronado 12 string guitar.  Dock it a star for sounding a bit too similar to 'Early Morning'.  rating: *** stars

- ''Mr. Sunshine' originally appeared as the 'B' side to their Parlophone debut.  Complete with flute solo and weird percussion (it sounded like Mel Pritchard was playing his cheeks), the song was a modestly interesting acid-folk tinged ballad.  rating: *** stars

- The band's second single for Harvest (catalog HAR 5025), 1970's 'Taking Some Time On'  found the band charging off in a totally different direction.  Showcasing John Lees fuzz drenched guitar and  Mel Pritchard's frenetic percussion, this one demonstrated the band could actually rock out.  Easily one of their most impressive performances.   rating: **** stars

- 'Mother Dear' was a non-single track originally released on the band's self-titled debut.  With Wolstenholme turning in one of his most impressive vocals, the result was a pretty, heavily orchestrated ballad,.  The song also featured some surprisingly grisly lyrics.   rating: *** stars 

- One of the band's best known compositions, 1971's 'Mocking Bird' was the group's third single (Harvest catalog number HAR 5034).  Originally written in 1968 (hence the throwback to a heavily orchestrated, pastoral sound), Lees was apparently inspired to write the song when he met his future wife Olwen.    rating: ****  

- Penned by Les Holroyd, 'Song With No Meaning' was an album track pulled from their third studio set "Barclay James Harvest and Other Short Stories".  A pretty, subdued ballad, the song benefited from some nice CS&N-styled harmony vocals and Holroyd's tasty electric guitar (though the heavily echoed sound gave the impression he was playing in a bathroom stall).   rating: **** stars

- Their fourth single (Harvest catalog HAR 5037), the minute 'I'm Over You' opened up you could tell it was written with an ear to commercial acceptance.  A mid-tempo ballad, the song was actually far better than given credit for.  Yeah, it was extremely sappy, but the melody was gorgeous with a sweet multi-tracked lead vocal, tasty Holroyd Hammond organ, and some great Lee lead guitar.  One of my favorite JBH compositions, it should have been a massive hit.   rating: **** stars

- A non-LP track, 'Child Of Man' was originally relegated to the 'B' side of 'I'm Over You'.  Penned by Lee, the song was interesting for a number of reasons, including the psych-tinged melody and vocals, the song's clear religious sentiments.   rating: *** stars

- Another track pulled off "Barclay James Harvest and Other Short Stories", 'After The Day' found the band delving into a weird mix of pastoral and progressive motifs.  Like 'Child of Man', Lees' lyrics seemed to be espousing some sort of religious statement.  Not one of my favorites, though Lees' guitar was nice and the end-of-song explosion added a cheesy touch.  The track's been an in-concert staple for years.    rating: *** stars

 

The album was also released with two distinctive covers.  The first version featured a group photo, but due to the fact the script was difficult to read (potentially costing them sales), subsequent pressings were issued with the more generic white cover.

 

replacement UK cover

 

"Early Morning Onward" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Early Morning   (Barclay James Harvest) - 

2.) Poor Wages   (Barclay James Harvest) - 

3.) Brother Thrush   (Barclay James Harvest) - 

4.) Mr. Sunshine   (Barclay James Harvest) - 

5.) Taking Some Time On   (Barclay James Harvest) - 

6.) Mother Dear   (Barclay James Harvest) - 

 

(side 2)
1.) Mocking Bird   (Barclay James Harvest) - 

2.) Song With No Meaning   (Les Holroyd) - 

3.) I'm Over You   (John Lees) - 

4.) Child Of Man   (John Lees) - 

5.) After The Day   (John Lees) - 

 

 


Genre: progressive

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Baby James Harvest

Company: Harvest

Catalog: SHSP 4023

Year: 1972

Country/State: Oldham, Lancashire, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG / VG

Comments: UK pressing, original inner sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5176

Price: $10.00

 

The band's final release for Harvest, 1972's self-produced "Baby James Harvest" was also their first out-and-out creative disappointment.  Part of reason may have had to do with the quartet's growing disenchantment with EMI and Harvest, as well as the fact the album was written and recorded in roughly four weeks.  While there were a couple of exceptions, for the most part the band seemed to have simply run out of original ideas (or decided to save them for a new label), leading them to settle for half baked ideas (check out the throwaway' Thank You') and outright imitation - 'One Hundred Thousand Smiles Out' sounding like a second rate Bowie 'Space Oddity' wannabe and the Gustav Mahler dedicated 'Moonwater' being a poor Moody Blues knock off.  While the sentiments were certainly honorable, 'Summer Soldier' wasn't anything you hadn't heard before.  So what if anything was worthwhile?  The Les Holroyd penned opener 'Crazy (Over You) was decent, as was John Lees' horn powered 'Delph Town Mom'.  From there on it was largely downhill.  Elsewhere Harvest tapped the album for a single in the form of 'Thank You' b/w 'Medicine Man' (Harvest catalog number HAR 5058).

 

"Baby James Harvest" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Crazy (Over You)    (Les Holroyd) - 

2.) Delph Town Morn   (John Lees) - 

3.) Summer Soldier   (John Lees) - 

 

(side 2)
1.) Thank You   (Les Holroyd) 

2.) One Hundred Thousand Smiles Out    (Les Holroyd) - 

3.) Moonwater  Poco Adagio  (Woolly Wolstrenholme) - 

 

 


Genre: progressive

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Everyone Is Everybody Else

Company: Polydor

Catalog: 2383 286

Year: 1973

Country/State: Oldham, Lancashire, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG / VG

Comments: UK pressing, original inner sleeve

Available: 2

Catalog ID: 5218

Price: $20.00

 

 

Dropped from their longstanding recording contract with Harvest/EMI the band were subsequently signed by Polydor.  At the same time they underwent a change in management.  Against that backdrop the release of 1973's "Everyone Is Everybody" found the band seemingly rejuvenated..  Produced by Roger Bain, the collection found the band turning in one of their stronger and more focused collections with tracks like 'Child of the Universe', 'Negative Earth' and 'Mill Boys' displaying a distinctive sense of social and political activism.  While there were still occasional progressive touches ('Paper Wings'), the set was surprisingly commercial and straightforward. 'Crazy City' (the first time I heard it I thought it was something by the band America) and 'See Me See You' would have made dandy singles.  Polydor actually tapped the equally good 'Poor Boys' b/w 'Crazy City' (Polydor catalog number 2058 4) as a single.  Actually the most intriguing song was John Lees interesting 'tribute' to The Bee Gees and David Bowie - 'The Great 1974 Mining Disaster'.  A strange mix of 'Space Oddity' and 'New York Mining Disaster 1941' I've always wondered if it was meant as a joke, or a true tribute.  Equally surprising the collection attracted favorable reviews from the critics, though sales were disappointing. (I'm not even sure the set was released in the States.)

 

"Everyone Is Everybody Else" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Child of the Universe   (John Lees) - 

2.) Negative Earth   (Les Holroyd - Mel Pritchard) - 

3.) Paper Wings   (Les Holroyd - Mel Pritchard) - 

4.) The Great 1974 Mining Disaster   (John Lees) - 

 

(side 2)
1.) Crazy City   (Les Holroyd) - 

2.) See Me See You   (John Lees) - 

3.) Poor Boy Blues   (Les Holroyd) - 

4.) Mill Boys   (John Lees) - 

5.) For No One   (John Lees) - 

 

 

 


Genre: progressive

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Gone To Earth

Company: Polydor

Catalog: 2442-148

Year: 1977

Country/State: Oldham, Lancashire, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+

Comments: die cut gimmick cover; original lyric inner sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 6328

Price: $10.00

 

For 'established' bands, the mid-1970s explosion of punk and new wave must have poised some major challenges.  What were you to do ?  Change your musical orientation ?  Drop dead ?  Or as in the case of Barclay James Harvest, basically ignore the whole thing and just keep on doing what you'd always done.  While I can certainly admire the band's steadfastness, as much as I'd like to say complementary about 1977's "Gone To Earth", about the nicest things I can say is that the results were harmless, largely anonymous, and occasionally even mildly pleasant.  By this point the band had all but abandoned their earlier interest in being an exponent of progressive rock.  With the exception of keyboardist Woolly Wolstrenholme's 'Sea of Tranquility', the band seemed content to wallow in what to my ears sounded like a UK version of REO Speedwagon, or perhaps a slightly less commercial version of Supertramp..  Okay, okay, 'Poor Man's Moody Blues' sounded like The Moody Blues ...  If you were a fan of mainstream mid-1970s AOR, then this album probably struck a chord with you.  Otherwise it was the kind of album you could put on while paying your bills, or cleaning your house.  Those criticisms aside, these guys were simply too talented to turn in completely useless album and the ballad 'Hymn', the catchy pop tune 'Hard Hearted Woman', and the wonderful ballad 'Taking Me Higher' were all worth hearing.  Song-for-song the results were actually pretty impressive - only 'Love Is Like a Violin' struck me as a total waste of time, but for some reason the album wasn't as good as its parts ....

 

- Kicked along by some strumming acoustic guitars, glistening harmonies (that recalled Kevin Cronin and REO Speedwagon), and a surprisingly touching, very-secular lyric (that may turn some folks off), 'Hymn' was one of those songs that original didn't do much for me, but given a couple of spins the preachy lyric actually grabbed my attention.  Perhaps not a major surprise, Polydor tapped it as the leadoff single.   rating: **** stars

- Starting out as a silky smooth, but forgettable ballad, 'Love Is Like a Violin' sounded a bit like the band America having discovered synthesizers.   There were a couple of segments where the track briefly picked up some speed (go cowbells, go), but when it returned to the main theme, all enthusiasm dissipated.   rating: ** stars

- 'Friend of Mine' found the band taking a stab at West Coast-styled country-rock.   With a very top-40 friendly melody and some cool banjo and slat-key guitar sound effects (?), this was actually one of the album's hidden treasures.   rating: **** stars

- So, 'Poor Man's Moody Blues' stood as an example of truth in advertising given it really did sound like a poor man's version of the Moodies ...  Complete with Moodies-styled 'aching' vocals and banks of synthesizers, it almost sounded like a parody of 'Nights In White Satin', though I'm guessing John Lees  meant it as more of a tribute than a slap.  Lees supposedly noticed the aural resemblance to The Moodies, hence the song title.    rating: **** stars  

- 'Hard Hearted Woman' opened side two with the album's most overtly commercial track.  Built on an insidiously catchy guitar riff and sporting the album's best guitar solo, it's one of those tracks that I find myself mindlessly humming. 

- Written and sung by Wooly Wolstenholme, 'Sea of Tranquility ' was the album's most progressively oriented performance and was probably the track long time fans gravitated to.   A big, heavily orchestrated mid-tempo number, the song was actually pretty good, reminded me a bit of a Yes throwaway, but Wolstenholme was the band's poorest lead singer and it showed on this one.   rating: ** stars

- 'Spirit On the Water' was another pretty, mid-tempo number that you were liable to forget within a couple of minutes.  Seemingly inspired by the annual hunt and killing of sea seals, the lyrics were subtle, but effective, though  I'd argue The Beach Boys-styled harmonies and Les Holroyd's bass were he best thing here.  rating: *** stars

- Opening up with some crashing guitar gave 'Leper's Song' a nice change of pace, but after that brash opening it morphed into what sounded a bit like 10 C.C. trying on a funky reggae rhythm pattern.    rating: *** stars

- A stark and beautiful ballad showcasing simply gorgeous harmony vocals, 'Taking Me Higher' has always reminded me a bit of The Beach Boys-meet-Supertramp.  I'm sure that sounds totally bizarre, but the results were charming.   rating: **** stars  

 

As mentioned above, the album spun off a single in the form of:

 

  UK pressing

- 1977's 'Hymn' b/w 'Our Kids' Kid' (Polydor catalog number 2058 904)

 

  US pressing

- 1977's 'Hymn' b/w 'Our Kids' Kid' (MCA catalog number MCA-40795)

 

"Gone To Earth" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Hymn   (John Lees) - 

2.) Love Is Like a Violin   (John Lees) - 

3.) Friend of Mine   (Les Holroyd) - 

4.) Poor Man's Moody Blues   (John Lees) - 

 

(side 2)
1.) Hard Hearted Woman   (Les Holroyd) - 

2.) Sea of Tranquility  (Woolly Wolstrenholme) - 

3.) Spirit On the Water   (Les Holroyd) - 

4.) Leper's Song   (John Lees) - 

5.) Taking Me Higher   (Les Holroyd) -

 

 

 


Genre: progressive

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Live Tapes

Company: Polydor

Catalog: PODV 2001

Year: 1978

Country/State: Oldham, Lancashire, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+

Comments: UK pressing, double LP; gatefold sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5224

Price: $25.00

 

 

With everyone and his mother releasing a double album live set in the mid-1970s, 1978 saw Barclay James Harvest join the throng with their second live collection - the cleverly titled "Live Tapes".  Self-produced and apparently recorded during an earlier  European jaunt, the thirteen track set wasn't half bad with the quartet turning in some surprisingly true-to-the-original renditions of 'hits' and obscurities from the early-1970s onwards part of their catalog.  The performances were quite crisp leading one to wonder whether post-production perfection was involved.  The track listing was split roughly 50/50 between John Lees and Les Holroyd with both mainstays acquitting themselves well.  That meant most of their better known efforts were included - 'Child of the Universe', 'Rock 'n' Roll Star', 'Mockingbird', etc.  Perhaps not the most adventuresome approach to a live set, but then folks don't buy live albums to hear new material.  The band also deserved credit for avoiding the dreaded 'jam madness' that plagues most concert sets - okay 'One Night' sported an extended guitar solo, but it was actually quite good.  With one or two modest exceptions, the quartet stuck pretty close to the studio originals, injecting them with a surprising amount of energy and enthusiasm.  Elsewhere, assuming it was meant as a tribute to the group, Lees' 'Poor Man's Moody Blues' came within an eyelash of replicating The Moodies patented sound (right down to the harmony vocals).  Surprising they didn't get the crap sued out of 'em ...  A nice career overview with more than its share of pleasant surprises - check out the should've-been-a-hit 'Hard Hearted Woman'.  As far as I know this one never saw an American release and for you BJH fanatics, the inner sleeve told you what each member played, along with who their technicians were.

"Live Tapes" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Child of the Universe   (John Lees) -

2.) Rock 'n' Roll Star    (Les Holroyd) - 

3.) Poor Man's Moody Blues   (John Lees) - 

 

(side 2)
1.) Mockingbird   (John Lees) -  

2.) Hard Hearted Woman    (Les Holroyd) - 

3.) One Night   (John Lees) -  

 

(side 3)

1.) Taking Me Higher    (Les Holroyd) - 

2.) Suicide   (John Lees) -  

3.) Crazy City     (Les Holroyd) - 

4.) Jonathan    (Les Holroyd) - 

 

(side 4)

1.) For No One   (John Lees) -  

2.) Polk Street Rag   (John Lees) -  

3.) Hymn   (John Lees) -  

 

 

 

 

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