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Barclay James  Harvest - Octoberon CD (album) cover

OCTOBERON

Barclay James Harvest

 

Crossover Prog

3.75 | 171 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars This was supposed to have been the second consecutive album produced by American Elliot Mazer, best known as the longtime producer for Neil Young as well as Linda Ronstadt, Gordon Lightfoot and Janis Joplin among many others. But Mazer was busy putting together actor and pop-star David Soul's first record so after cutting a few backing vocals for that album the members of Barclay James Harvest trucked on back to England and ensconced themselves in Strawberry Studios for most of the spring and early summer of 1976 determined to produce the album themselves. Not surprisingly the tone of the music shifted dramatically from the heavily American country/folk-rock influenced 'Time Honoured Ghosts' and back to the sort of classically-tinged music the band cut their teeth on in the early days.

And for the first time since 1971's 'BJH and other Short Stories' the band employs an orchestra and arranger (in this case the late Ritchie Close) along with sound engineer David Rohl of Mandalaband. Both close and BJH would return the favor by participating in the Mandalaband revival project 'The Eye Of Wendor: Prophecies' several years later, along with former members of 10cc and Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues.

Like I said, this album is much more like the early BJH albums than the last two. Orchestral as well as choral arrangements abound throughout, and the songs are quite a bit longer than their more radio-friendly stuff of the mid-seventies. There are only seven tracks on the original vinyl release, despite this being one of the band's longer studio releases. The opening track "The World Goes On" finds the band in familiar sound territory with an arrangement that emphasized orchestral strings and Lees' distinctive electric guitar work in a song that could easily have fit on one of their earlier albums alongside the lush Robert John Godfrey-arranged orchestra pieces. "May Day" offers more of the same but also introduces extensive choral passages led by Close and including vocal contributions by both Rohl as well. The choral passages are renditions of several traditional folk standards layered over Lees' odd tale of a nameless soul seeking 'truth' amid a world of partisan zealots. It's a beautiful BJH piece that was perhaps overshadowed by another even more stunning work, the Woolly Wolstenholme-penned "Ra" which grabs the listener's attention by melding intricate orchestral work with Woolly's inimitable keyboard forays.

"Rock 'n' Roll Star" was reportedly inspired by the Byrds tune "So You Want to be a Rock and Roll Star" and has a similar theme, although the Lees guitar riff in the middle is an unmistakable lift from the Eagles' 1975 #1 hit "One of These Nights" and perhaps a holdover from the band's experiences on the U.S. West Coast during the same period that song was topping the charts. "Believe in Me" is another song later on the album that seems to have been inspired by pop music of the period and doesn't quite fit with the rest of the songs on the record, although Woolly's keyboards and particularly piano along with some faint strings manage to give it at least an inkling of the BJH sound.

"Polk Street Rag" is another more rocking tune without orchestral or choral accompaniment, possibly intended as a single and also hearkening back to the band's San Francisco experience since Polk Street is the hooker district there and the song is about prostitution. The closing tune "One Night" from 'Time Honoured Ghosts' (another Lees song) was also about prostitution so one has to wonder what he was doing with his spare time while recording that album in the spring of 1975.

The closing "Suicide?" isn't one of the most recognizable songs for casual Barclay James Harvest fans, but it is one that is often called out as the highlight of this album by reviewers. I tend to agree even though the subject matter is depressing and it's intentionally unclear if the poor soul who is out milking a broken heart has jumped or been pushed to his death. The lengthy closing bit with footsteps and whispering leading up to the fall could probably have been condensed somewhat, but given the timeframe in which this was recorded it's surprising that the band was able to get this one past the label, there being all kinds of dramatic sequences in rock music at the time thanks to the likes of Meat Loaf, Queen and even Kansas.

I like this album. The songs are easily recognizable as Barclay James Harvest compositions, with the possible exception of "Rock 'n' Roll Star", and the band acquitted themselves quite well in producing it themselves. I also liked the direction they took on the prior 'Time Honoured Ghosts' but realize that this the orchestral and keyboard-heavy approach was more in line with both the band's comfort level and fans' expectations, so some accommodation has to be made for that. I have an old vinyl copy of this one that I picked up at a used record store a few years ago, and I have to admit feeling really good about holding the textured, solid cover in my hands with its elaborate artwork and throwback progressive style. This is an album that makes an excellent addition to any progressive rock collection you may find it in, and I would suggest you should find it in yours. Four stars and highly recommended.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |

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