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Barclay James  Harvest - BJH Through The Eyes Of John Lees: Nexus CD (album) cover


Barclay James Harvest

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4 stars After the River Of Dreams tour in 1997, BJH decided to take a sabbatical. In other words, John Lees and Les Holroyd were "allowed" to pursue "solo" projects under the name of "BJH through the eyes of John Lees" and "BJH featuring Les Holroyd". Later on, this way of using the name Barclay James Harvest led to great confusion amongst the audience.

Nexus is John Lees's project. On this album he worked together with BJH-founder member and master-of-arrangements Woolly Wolstenholme.

The record company (Eagle) obviously wanted them to re-record BJH-Hits and record new material. So this album is a strange combination between a greatest hits album and a new record.

Amongst the re-recorded classics are Mocking Bird (proving Mr Godfrey wrong!), Hymn, Titles (definitely better than the original!) and Loving Is Easy (groovy!). They are good versions, capturing the essence of those songs whilst being different enough to justify the re-recording.

The new songs are Festival (a rather strange but interesting rock-number), Brave New World (probably closest to latter-day BJH-material), Float (dark and moody Woolly stuff), Sitting Upon A Shelf, The Devils That I Keep and Star Bright (classic John Lees!).

A return to form, particularly inspired by the return of Woolly Wolstenholme.

Report this review (#22739)
Posted Sunday, October 17, 2004 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Out go Les and Mel, back comes Woolly

"Nexus" is actually by "Barclay James Harvest through the eyes of John Lees", reflecting the fact that he and Les Holroyd are now sharing joint custody of the BJH name, while going their separate ways. Lees is joined by former band member Woolly Woolstenholme, whose was notably absent from their disappointing albums released immediately prior to this one. Prior to his untimely death, drummer Mel Prichard on the other hand, chose to join Holroyd's version of the band. The line up here is completed by Kevin Whitehead and Craig Fiescher.

Nexus is a mixture of new material and reworkings of old BJH tracks such as "Titles", "Hymn" and (inevitably) "Mocking bird". I can only assume that their record label demanded that some songs already familiar to fans of BJH be included in an effort to stimulate sales.

Taking the reworkings first, these are different enough from the originals to make them worthwhile. Most are slowed down slightly, with sparser instrumentation. "Mocking bird" is probably the best of these. Lees and Woolstenholme alternate on the lead vocals, dueting on some passages. Given the lack of opportunity Woolstenholme was given to sing in the originally line up, his vocals contributions are surprisingly frequent here. The main instrumental break, while familiar, also has some excellent and imaginative variations. The track is preceded by a brief symphonic introduction called "Hors d'ouvre". While this piece sounds orchestral, there is no mention of an orchestra being used. Presumably, therefore it is Woolstenholme who recreates the sound on keyboards. (The sleeve notes include a comment to the effect that "All extraneous noises supplied by real people playing live".)

The other notable reworking is "Titles", the collage of Beatles song names which originally appeared on the "Time honoured ghosts" album. Here, a new verse is added, together with a "Let it be" style guitar break and an a-cappella ending which features Oasis' "Wonderwall".

The other revivals are: "Loving is easy", which becomes almost funky with some nice guitar. "Hymn", which while sparser has a big sound and some good guitar. Sarah Pickering is listed as contributing vocals here, but they are not easy to spot being well back in the mix, behind Lees' lead. "The iron maiden" which is pretty faithful to the "Barclay James Harvest" (first album) original.

The writing of the new tracks is credited to Lees/Woolstenholme throughout. Given the significant differences in the styles of the two, it is easy enough to spot who is actually the main writer for most of the time. The opening track, "Festival" is clearly a Lees effort, being an upbeat song full of reflective and nostalgic references, and a number of irritating "private jokes". The time changes and fairground instrumental offer a more progressive feel than the direction the band had taken of late, although this is only carried through occasionally on other tracks.

"Float" and "Star bright" are softer songs, which while melodic, have an almost depressive feel. The former is similar to Woolstenholme's occasional offerings on their early albums, with symphonic sounds, and some pleasant guitar. The lyrics of the latter belie the lullaby feel, the track closing with a commendable symphonic section.

Other tracks such as "Brave new world", "Sitting upon a shelf" and "The devils that I keep" are well performed, but largely undistinguished.

"Nexus" represents BJH's strongest album for some years, the return of Woolly Woolstenholme compensating well for Les Holroyd's absence. John Lees guitar work is as ever excellent, and while it is heard throughout the album, it would have been better had he developed some of his solos further. The disappointing "River of dreams" album was clearly a watershed in the history of the band, and the line up upheaval which followed appears to have provided Lees at least with the stimulus needed.

Report this review (#22740)
Posted Tuesday, March 8, 2005 | Review Permalink
Andrea Cortese
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars I have already bought this album from the duo Lees-Wolstenholme (I've tried to understand why the return of Wolstenholme also represented, in the same time, the division of BJH in two separate sub-groups...I cannot accept that!). By the way the album is enjoyable, good in particular the new tune Festival! which has a particular fresh arrangement. Many classic pieces re-arranged: Hymn is very lower acoustic guitar played; Titles is not acoustic guitar played; in Loving Is Easy you can hear harmonica; better are the eternal Mocking Bird (also not at the level of the original track which was in an orchestral arrangement) and The Iron Maiden that seems taken from the 1970 album. For Festival! and Star Bright four star rating but for the classic re-arranged.....I (strongly) disagree with the opinion of whom says it's better than the original!! (how you can say that?). The new songs of this album are all good tunes, revealing good contribution by Wolstenholme. The (remaining?) other five are or faithfull to the original sound or without the mordant of the classical spirit!!! (nothing new!). Good as a compilation album, good only for fans... (P.S. I'm a lover of the music of BJH!)
Report this review (#43219)
Posted Wednesday, August 17, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars A timid new beginning...

"Nexus" sounds strange if you got used to where BJH had gone in the years before, it's so far from being "commercial" it had to disappoint some fans, but what it lacks in productional perfection it's making up for with musical honesty.

First of all: Woolly Wolstenholme was back, something ( not only me ) had wished for the longer BJH had gone on as a Trio, his unique musical education and harmonic versatility could not be replaced all over the years... and it was up to him to make "Nexus" a very special album for lovers of the original BJH-spirit, delivering great arrangements ( who needs an Orchestra when he's got a keyboard-player like him ? ) to old and new songs.

No, the new readings of the old aren't "better" - with one exception, "The Iron Maiden" - but always interesting... "Loving is easy" as a bluesy tune really made it live, "Titles" is beautiful ( with an additional verse )...

The absence of Les Holroyd in particular meant there were far less "poppy" moments on the album, though "Brave new world" ( with John Lees' voice sometimes disappearing in the mix... ) has got a lighter feel and the until-then-unknown oldie "Sitting upon a shelf" is a nice and simple tune.

Really great are "The devils that I keep" - dealing with severe depression offering a fine melody and a dramatic instrumental section in the middle - and, my favourite track on "Nexus", "Float"... pure genius. John Lees' strongest moment is "Star Bright", a brand of classic BJH you can enjoy best with headphones on listening carefully... and whatever promises "Nexus" didn't really keep where kept in concert afterwards... where you finally got the "return of the mellotron".

There are some weaker moments concerning production and sound ( I always think of an old tape used for re-recording but I definately don't know, some say it sounds great on superior equipment and fails to do so on average players ) and, sometimes, in the singing, but "Nexus" is a pleasant and honest affair, no more, no less.


Report this review (#66081)
Posted Sunday, January 22, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is a great album, no les or mel, but there are some great tracks on this cd. Stand out track must be starbright, this is one of john's best ever songs, went to see them live, what a great show. They still rock with the best, to see them perform the long version of medicine man and she said, well just a dream come true.Keep on rocking lads, been following bjh for over thirty years now, and still love them. Just get the cd, and festival is straight in your face, also a nice version of mockingbird.
Report this review (#72251)
Posted Saturday, March 18, 2006 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Nexus, the first album from the John Lees version of BJH [JLBJH], was something of a return to roots both in style and method though Lees was constrained by his record company's insistence on incorporating several old standards in a re-worked form. Moods range from the blockbuster opening of Festival, which has a wonderful little organ sequence around the "ticking of the clock" vocal and reminds me somewhat of Renaissance's Trip To The Fair, to the oh-so-languid closer Star Bright with a space-scape keyboard backdrop as John's guitar reaches for the heavens.

All the new songs are good, but I should pick out the orchestrated effects of Float and The Devils That I Keep which juxtaposes a jaunty tune with lyrics depicting hopeless despair. The re-hashed classics are arguably less successful and more controversial. For me, The Iron Maiden works well, Mocking Bird is good and I now prefer it to the original [but I seem to be in a seriously small minority here!], Hymn is a radical new arrangement which takes some getting used to, while Titles and Loving Is Easy are taken a little too slowly for my taste.

Nexus is hugely underrated even by BJH fans and deserves to be heard much more, in my opinion. Irrespective that it was recorded 30 years after the band's formation and long after they last did anything remotely progressive or adventurous, it contains some very high quality material indeed, some of it old-school melodic Prog. Could it be significant that this project saw the re-emergence of former BJH keysman and Mellotron tickler extraordinaire Woolly Wolstenholme from musical exile? Certainly, his influence cannot be doubted, and at times the album has his character crawling all over it.

Not too long ago I dismissed Nexus, as many others continue to do, for being far too disjointed, but having made a greater effort to make its acquaintance I now appreciate it as an excellent return to form. Recommended.

Report this review (#94500)
Posted Saturday, October 14, 2006 | Review Permalink

So, here we go for a new (?) BJH album. It is with a certain enthusiasm from the fans that Woolly gets back on board. Did it mean a return to the roots ? At least, the return took place in the sense that several tracks are new versions of old songs (six in total, some faithful, some different). All these re-works are pleasant although "Titles" is a bit over-extended.

If I except "Caught In The Light" ('93), none of BJH albums could really pleased me after "XII" released in ...1978. Actually, the global flavour of this album is close to "Caught...". Thanks to the rework of existing songs, to be honest.

Very few highlights as far as new material is concerned. "Festival ! is an average song, the title "Hors D'Oeuvre" speaks for itself. Less than a minute of useless music. The march type "Sitting Upon A Shelf" is harmonious but its tempo is pretty boring. "The Devils That I Keep" is a bit better, but it reminds me the Marillion Mark II mood (if you see what I mean : zzzzzzzzzzz).

The melody for "Float" is nice and gentle. My fave new track on this album. As melancholic as BJH could be. Good work from Woolly on the keyboards. "Star Bright" is also a very quiet song. Again, melancholic and poignant. But lyrics are really poor.

IMO, "Mocking Bird" is the best song of the whole. But it has been featured quite extensively in live albums so, was it really necessary to add another version ? Maybe that it was to revive the interest of old fans into a band which had lost most of them by then. Actually, it would have been wiser to create an album with pure reworks when I hear the quality of these here as well as the little inspired new songs.

Three stars (but this is an upgrated rating). Five out of ten is closer to what it should be. This rating is reached thanks to the old material (even if "The Iron Maiden" and "Brave New World" are not great (but the originals weren't either, so). The dreadful "Loving Is Easy" even sounds OK here (at least the awful AOR-ish, disco-beat style has been softened).

Report this review (#131655)
Posted Saturday, August 4, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / In Memoriam

I guess long lasting chidhood friendships never die. When BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST was formed back then in 1967 JOHN LEES and WOOLY WOLSTENHOLME were already friends for a long time before joining forces with LES HOLROYD and MEL PRITCHARD who both grow together. And when the official band ceased to exist in 1997, the old friendships followed their natural paths. Wooly came back from musical retirement ( he is a farmer) to help JOHN LEES launch a new BJH version when MEL PRITCHARD chose to stay with his childhood buddy LES.

I was very happy about WOOLY WOLSTENHOLME playing again with John as these 2 musicians incarnated more the BJH spirit than the dull HOLROYD compositions. Woolstenhome in, Holroyd out, that was perfect for me! In a way BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST through the eyes of JOHN LEES sounded as a possibility to a return to past glories!

NEXUS cannot be compared as favorably as the classic works from the golden age such as ONCE AGAIN or TIME HONOURED GHOSTS but at least that was a step to the right direction following the boredom of RIVER OF DREAMS. To bridge the 2 periods, the band ( or the recording company marketing branch maybe!!!) decided to mix new songs with new readaptations of old classics.Surely a good idea to bring back home old fans who had deserted tha band since the eighties.

NEXUS is a good BJH album trying to recapture the sensations of the good old days. JOHN LEES shows he has no ego problem as WOOLY WOLSTENHOLME is credited as co-writer on all new tracks and shares the vocal duties equally with his pal. There is no interest wasting time to decide if the new arrangements of the classic songs are worthy or not, if they should have done this one or another song. It doesn't matter!!! That's old BARCLAY back in business.

Of course, you guess the band will perform MOCINGBIRD and you are right!A nice stripped down version with no orchestra, just WOOLY and his toys!! THE IRON MAIDEN is relatively a copy conform to the original and LOVING IS EASY is even improved. TITLES was never a favorite of mine, but is performed rather pleasantly to my ears on this recording.

The new tracks are good as well, almost reminiscent of the seventies spirit except BRAVE NEW WORLD which sound more ''modern days'' BJH .But tracks like FLOAT , THE DEVILS THAT I KEEP or STAR BRIGHT show that our 2 musicians haven't lost it: pure old BJH magic back! very nice melodies, wonderful haunting athmosphere created by WOOLY, beautiful guitar playing by JOHN LEES! What else do you want?? what i don't want for sure after that is another CHICAGO track performed by LES HOLROYD!! and thanks god, LES is nowhere to be heard on NEXUS.

NEXUS is not a masterpiece, but is a good BJH album released to pleasure the old fans, a work of collaboration between the 2 main musicians sounding like a band effort, not just 2 solo projects living under the same roof as it was for the past 2 decades.

3.5 STARS.

Report this review (#142383)
Posted Saturday, October 6, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Well, they´re back again. And the future looked bright, listening to their first combined achievement in more than 20 years. Too bad that this album has not been followed by another and another and another good and inspired studio album. Because that is exactly what we as fans expected when Nexus came out: an outburst of renewed creativity, based on working together again. But until now, no new material.

What good did Nexus bring us? First of all there are six 'new' songs. Some of those appeared not be very new actually as John Lees had already recorded a demo of 'Star bright' decades before this release. But especially that song is almost worth the purchase: a mellow melody, good lyrics, haunting keyboards by Woolly, a mysterious end and all in all a very calm atmosphere. A really gem, this 'Starbright' and it should have lasted longer. Classic Lees!! But before you listen to that great song more beautiful music has struck your ears. Listen to 'Float' or 'Brave new world' and you'll hear again how these tow musicians inspire each other. The classic BJH sound is back and proves that it is not outdated at all. Good guitar work and, expecially, good singing. The latter is somewhat lacking in the remaining two new songs, 'The devils that I keep' and "Sitting upon a shelf', both sung by Woolly. The melodies don't seem to fit with his voice and therefore the vocals are not great at all. Quite pleasant, not more. Oh, and the opening track is not meant very seriously. It showed me that John and Woolly are not taken themselves too seriously and that leaves the unknowing listener puzzled at first, but grinning at last.

The other six songs are remakes of classic BJH-songs. Well, 'Mocking bird' can hardly be called a surprise and this new version is nice, with a new intro as a bonus but not spectacular at all. 'The iron maiden' is very good in the new version and a very nice choice, as are 'Hymn' (it is quite courageous to redo your biggest selling song...) and 'Titles'. The song that profits most from its newly acquired arrangement is 'Loving is easy' that gets a deep bluesy feeling. Given the rather explicit lyrics you'll get a real blues played by BJH. Well, that's a surprise. And even more because it works well. The vocals are more harsh, the guitar playing more adventurous and Woolly's organ sounds like the marshes of Mississippi.

Nexus has become a very nice album and a big promise for more beautiful music to come. Unfortunately the guys have let us waiting ever since. Maybe in 2008?

Report this review (#142796)
Posted Monday, October 8, 2007 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
2 stars Brave new world or sitting upon a shelf? The latter, I'm afraid!

After the dreary River Of Dreams album in the early 90's, Barclay James Harvest fell apart. The two principle songwriters of the band, John Lees and Les Holroyd, finally parted company. I say 'finally' since the conflict between them had probably been raging for a long time and the split thus came as a relief and allowed greater creative freedom for the both of them. The situation can favourably be compared to that of David Gilmour and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd or that of Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies of Supertramp, but what makes Barclay James Harvest somewhat unique is that both camps went on using the Barclay James Harvest name with different subscripts. Holroyd took drummer Mel Pritchard with him and continued to make music under the name 'Barclay James Harvest featuring Les Holroyd' while John Lees reunited with Woolly Wolstenholme (who had originally left the band in the late 70's) under the (somewhat pretentions) name 'Barclay James Harvest Through The Eyes Of John Lees'. (Given the return of Woolly, a better name had perhaps been 'Barclay James Harvest featuring Woolly Wolstenholme'!). So this is in effect an entirely new band with only John Lees being left from the previous River Of Dreams album.

Those who know the band's 70's output are bound to rejoice upon hearing about Woolly's return to the fold, but they are equally bound to be disappointed by Nexus. The weakest aspect of this album is that half of it consists of remakes of older songs! This move is very unimaginative and the result is not very interesting. The choices are also quite questionable and they do by no means represent the best of the band's classic era. Hymn and Mockingbird are relatively good but very predictable choices; the silly Beatles-pastiche, Titles, and the embarrassing Loving Is Easy, are both slightly better than their original versions, but given just how poor the original versions were, that is not very comforting; only Iron Maiden is a good choice and Woolly sings it wonderfully.

The primary reason for including remakes of old tunes was probably that the new songs were not good enough in their own right. Still, there are some half decent tunes here. But nothing too impressive. While it is great to have Woolly back, the end result is not very good and it fails to be much better than some of the band's weak 80's and 90's offerings. It is not surprising that the subsequent live DVD called Legacy did not include a single song from this album (apart from the ones originally from the 70's, that is).

If the return of Woolly Wolstenholme appeals to you, I would strongly recommend you to invest in the very good live DVD John Lees' Barclay James Harvest: Legacy and also in Woolly's recent Maestoso albums Grim and Caterwauling. These other releases featuring Woolly are very much better and more interesting than Nexus.

Only for fans this one.

Report this review (#291867)
Posted Sunday, July 25, 2010 | Review Permalink

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