Barclay James Harvest - Live - 2005

“Is Barclay James Harvest Live the ultimate live recording for Mellotron lovers?”


Why review a reissue of a live album that was originally released in the year 1974. Well first of all Barclay James Harvest was one of the pioneers of the Symphonic Rock. And in my opinion this album is one of the best live albums of the seventies. At that time the band lost their record contract with Harvest, had no manager and had a hugh debt to EMI. After a complex deal Polydor released this double live album for a special price and it became the band's first ever chart record, making number 40 in the UK album chart. It was recorded at the Liverpool Stadium and at London's Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The Drury Lane performance was close to perfection ... only the Mellotron was speeding up and slowing down in the middle of songs and producing some interesting if unmusical wailing sounds. The decision was made to salvage everything possible from the Drury Lane tapes, mixing down the offending Mellotron as far as practicable, overdubbing a minimum of new parts in the studio, and to use the Liverpool tapes only for songs which could not be saved from the Drury Lane concert.


John Lees - Lead guitar, Recorder, Vocals; Les Holroyd - Bass guitar, Rhythm guitar, Vocals; Stuart 'Woolly' Wolstenholme - Mellotron, Electric Piano, Moog, Vocals; Mel Pritchard - Drums


The album opens with one of my favorite John Lees compositions “Summer soldier”. Broad Mellotron strings and melodic guitar solo's that gives you a shivering that runs down your spine. One of the classic BJH tracks. “Medicine Man” is more upbeat and has that great Moog solo of Woolly. The sound could be compared with the Moog solo's of Peter Bardens in the early days of Camel. The music is working towards a big climax. “Crazy City” was I believe the opening of side two of the double album. The vocal refrain has some CSN&Y influences. The instrumental parts are always building up towards a climax. And that could also be a melodic vocal part. “After the Day” has a very emotional opening with a soaring guitar part and that great Mellotron carpets. After a slow delicate vocal part the passionate guitar and the Mellotron strings return in this very melodic track. This live album was a kind of best of album in those days. “The great 1974 mining disaster” is for me one of the classic BJH compositions. A slow vocal opening is followed by a delicate melodic guitar solo. “Galadriel” is a short and delicate ballad where the vocals are put on top of a layer of Mellotron strings that reminds of the early King Crimson sound. “Negative Earth” is also a typical BJH song with a lot of melody and delicate vocals. A song in the tradition of the later albums that brought the band commercial success. It goes seamless into the beautiful love song “She said” where the electric guitar of Lees is competing again with the Mellotron of Woolly. John Lees also plays the recorder on this track. Next is “Paper wings”. After the sad opening this piece reminds me again of the “Mirage” and “Snowgoose” period of Camel. But that has to do with the sound of the Moog. In those days you had only the Hammond, the electric piano, the Mellotron and the first Moogs. For me the golden era of progressive rock. Amazing to hear the emotional and intense music of those days. And after the beautiful “For no one” it is time for my favorite BJH song “Mockingbird”. A piece with broad Mellotron sounds and melodic guitar work. The strength of the composition is that the tension of the music is very slowly building up towards a great climax. After more than 30 years it can still bring me into tears. It is so beautiful. What does this mean? ... well it must be a great piece of music ... if it has such an impact after more than 30 years.


For me this CD reissue (a 24 Bit digital remastering from the original master tapes) is one of the most valuable re-releases of the begin period of progressive rock. Barclay James Harvest Live is one of the best live albums of those days. For Mellotron lovers it is an essential album. For me the highlights are the opener “Summer Soldier” and the last track “Mockingbird”. For a lot of BJH fans this first album is still their finest live album. Because of the unforgettable interplay between Woolly's epic keyboard soundscapes and John's soaring lead guitar.

author - date - rating - label

Douwe Fledderus - February 2006  -   - Eclectic Discs