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Barclay James  Harvest - Baby James Harvest CD (album) cover


Barclay James Harvest


Crossover Prog

3.03 | 168 ratings

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3 stars 1972 was not the best of years for Barclay James Harvest. Despite a relentless touring schedule, BJH had yet to produce a successful hit album or single, and their orchestra was dragging them deeper into financial difficulties. EMI were becoming increasingly impatient for a commercial return on their investment so, before embarking on yet another tour, they entered Strawberry Studio to produce this, their 4th album, in a limited time. They were ill prepared and problems with orchestral recordings in London meant that Woolly Wolstenholme only contributed to part of the album.

The result is their weakest album from the 70s, an uneven mix that was unloved, either by the band or the record company, and won them no new fans. No amount of studio gloss or technical proficiency can hide the fact that four of the six songs are average soft rock numbers, pleasant in their own way but generally too few ideas stretched too thinly. It is these four songs which see the smallest input from Woolly - he played some piano on just one of them - and it shows. But they do at least sound consistent with each other, as if they belong together. Which is more than can be claimed for the remaining two, one of which is a soaring Prog-Rock classic, the other is an orchestrated Grand Statement.

Summer Soldier is one of their best songs from this period. Probably inspired by the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland, it was written as a general call to cease futile violence and wars, a message as relevant now as it was then. I recall that John Lees, who wrote the song, was criticised at the time for apparently sympathising with terrorists, but a close look at his lyrics shows he took a humanitarian stance. Musically, Summer Soldier is a minor epic in three sections. Beginning with some sound effects, the first two verses are fairly sparse and 'acoustic' in nature. A stop-start middle section forms a link to the third sector, an ensemble piece with each verse book-ended by an eleven bar guitar phrase which even now has me reaching for my battered old six-string Thing.

Moonwater is Woolly's baby, the culmination of BJHs dalliance with an orchestra, and a logical extension of the style of The Poet from their previous album. Although containing two verses of vocals, complete with somewhat elusive lyrics sung by Woolly in a rather high register, Moonwater is really all about the orchestration. Woolly plays organ, bells and Tam Tam but the rest of the group do not appear except for an excerpt of Les Holroyd playing Mellotron. Once the singing is over with, its tweeness gives way to a more muscular treatment, leading to a dramatic finale, led by various voices from the brass section. One of the bonus tracks on the 2002 re-mastered edition of this album is a newly remixed version of Moonwater which has a much greater depth of clarity.

What of the other four tracks? Crazy Over You is a lacklustre opening featuring some backwards echo on a vocal but otherwise uninspiringly pleasant. Delph Town Morn is much snappier with an 'acoustic' feel augmented by a 13 piece brass section from the band of Syd Lawrence [who incidentally, was the father of Martyn Lawrence who would later feature as a producer of BJH albums]. Thank You, one of those hurriedly constructed songs that seem like a good idea at the time, is simply a list of album credits set to music! It is saved by having an extended guitar solo in the coda and it rocks nicely. One Hundred Thousand Smiles Out is Les Holroyd's answer to Major Tom, an imaginary astronautical scenario featuring a simple yet haunting piano phrase and a strangled snare.

Aside from the aforementioned remix of Moonwater, the 2002 re-mastered edition contains some other interesting bonus material. Their final single for EMI Rock And Roll Woman (average), its B-side The Joker (better though derivative), and the single version of Medicine Man (essentially a live cut) are nice to have. But the real gem is the single Breathless and its B-side When The City Sleeps, which were recorded with members of 10CC and issued under the pseudonym Bombadil as a novelty (Breathless was written by Terry Bull, ha ha!).

Things didn't get any better for BJH once they had finished recording Baby James Harvest as they naively embarked on an ill-advised tour of South Africa, causing an uproar in England. Fans subsequently boycotted their concerts and demonstrated against them. Money was running out and relations both with EMI and their own management were plummeting to an all time low. Sadly, this was not the album to turn things around. They survived, just, but that's another story .....

Despite the presence of Summer Soldier, Baby James Harvest is a clear 3 star album. Summer Soldier is a Prog classic, no question, but its live arrangement was absolutely stunning and is available on Live (1974) so this version becomes less essential. Overall, then, it is good but no more.

Joolz | 3/5 |


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