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Barclay James  Harvest - Live Tapes CD (album) cover


Barclay James Harvest


Crossover Prog

3.73 | 75 ratings

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4 stars Make no mistake that Live Tapes is A Very Good album indeed, perhaps good enough to be considered a suitable 'Best Of' type compilation thanks to spotless performances and pristine sound. Most songs are in the good to excellent category, with only Poor Man's Moody Blues lagging behind a little possibly because John's vocals are simply not energetic enough. While the start is brilliant, with a pre-recorded spacey instrumental and roto-toms leading into Child Of The Universe in classic style, the album really picks up in the second half. The sequence from Suicide? to the climax of Hymn is stunning.

Stand-outs are: Jonathon is more gutsy than on the studio version and features a wonderful short burst of Mellotron choir at the end; For No-One too is a classic, perhaps even the definitive version of this anthemic song; as is Taking Me Higher, which builds on the slightly limp studio arrangement by adding a rockist coda with lovely guitar soloing; and Suicide? is more 'involving' than the studio original with a proper guitar solo for a coda without the 'clog-walk' sound effects!

Live Tapes is the second of a pair of BJH live albums released just four years apart during the 1970s, the first being Live (1974). This close proximity inevitably invites comparison, yet they are quite different beasts:

- Live (1974) has a warm analogue ambience, perhaps aurally substandard but with an excess of character. Live Tapes is sonically almost faultless, dynamic, punchy and detailed, offering a full soundstage with excellent clarity. All instruments and voices are clearly defined and well placed with no issues relating to the mix.

- The performances are also substantially different: on Live (1974), the band may not reach the same high level of professionalism, but they show greater willingness to develop and stretch song arrangements, especially early in the set. On Live Tapes, though adapted for a live setting, most renditions are faithful to original studio versions, even John's solos barely stray from familiar templates, though there are some memorable exceptions and his guitar is here much more incisive.

- Live (1974) belongs to the early 1970s BJH 'guitar-and-Mellotron-anthem' period and represents the zenith of that phase of the band's career, Woolly and John each vying for attention with strong themes and solos. Live Tapes is altogether more balanced: similar to contemporary studio work [eg Octoberon and Gone To Earth], guitars continue to provide the dominant themes, but keyboards are now more often 'relegated' to a supporting role.

- Origins are quite different. Live (1974) is essentially a single concert performance with the insertion of just two [perhaps three] songs from the previous day. By contrast, Live Tapes was compiled from a number of different live recordings over the course of two years [1976 - 1977]. While this is in no way apparent while listening to Live Tapes, and certainly does not detract in any way from the listening pleasure, the 1974 set has a greater sense of 'being there as it happened'.

- It is well known that Live (1974) is truly live except for some Mellotron overdubs made necessary by the Mellotron playing up on the night, and minor changes to a couple of vocal harmonies. No such information is known about Live Tapes but I suspect extensive overdubbing has taken place, especially processing of vocals but I may be wrong.

- What sets Live (1974) apart is its heightened sense of emotion spilling over from an infectious enthusiasm from the performers, particularly Woolly's keyboards. By comparison, Live Tapes sometimes gives the impression of being a little colder and more clinically correct, probably because it adheres too closely to the studio recordings.

- Obviously, there is variation in the setlists, though with a degree of overspill. Clearly, those listeners with a penchant for material from the Time Honoured Ghosts, Octoberon and Gone To Earth albums will have a preference for Live Tapes.

Really, between Live and Live Tapes you 'pays yer money and takes yer choice'. For me, Live has an extra little indefinable quality that takes it further into my soul than Live Tapes but it is a close run thing. Certainly the improved sound is a great bonus, and perhaps the three tracks added to Eclectic's 2006 remaster edition might tip the balance in Live Tapes favour!

Joolz | 4/5 |


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