Gig review: JOHN LEES’ BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST, Islington Assembly Hall, 8 November 2013

Barclay James Harvest’s long and distinguished career seems to have had quite a low profile in recent years, not helped by the fact that the two surviving members, John Lees and Les Holroyd, front different versions sporting the name. However this could be about to change as John Lees’ variant, on the back of their first all new album in 14 years, North, embarked on this UK tour.

Support came from the intriguing combination of former Yes man and scion of the Wakeman keyboard playing dynasty, Oliver, and veteran guitarist Gordon Giltrap. Their mainly acoustic pieces were pleasant but too much like being at a classical music recital, but the performance shifted into higher gear when the long-haired Paul Manzi came on to sing a couple of songs, ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ and ‘Ravens Will Fly Away’ from their collaboration Ravens and Lullabies.

Yes’ Wondrous Stories was cleverly re-imagined as an instrumental before Gordon humorously talked about his work writing TV theme tunes and played a ‘medley of his hit’ Heartsong, where his furious acoustic strumming meshed nicely with Oliver’s keyboards.

JLBJH, as we must call them, provided excellent value for money with a two hour set, including by all accounts some numbers they hadn’t played for a while.

Bass player Craig Fletcher and John share the vocals roughly equally, both with solid voices that complement each other nicely, though Craig makes no effort to emulate Les Holroyd’s high-pitched, almost effete tones.

However they make for an odd couple, the former,  in his 1970’s hairstyle, chirpy and constantly wisecracking, the latter snowy haired and serious, almost grumpy looking, but with bone dry humour. However I did find it odd that with his long experience, John had a music stand which also obstructed the crowd’s view of him.

Boldly, they must have played half a dozen new songs and to these ears, only familiar with the tip of the iceberg of BJH’s recorded work, what struck me was how seamlessly songs like ‘If You Were Here Now’ and ‘On Leave’ fitted in and it was harder than it sometimes can be to tell old and new apart.

‘Child of the Universe’ stood out with some crystal clear singing from John, great musicianship and a lyrical message that remains just as relevant today as in the seventies. His guitar work was fluent, melodic and concise throughout, and though BJH’s sonic landscapes can still tend towards the bland, songs like the ‘Real Deal’ and ‘Taking Some Time On’ had a more rock n roll feel which made a pleasant change.

‘Song for Dying’ was an epic, while John ensured at least one track written by the much-missed ‘Woolly’ Wolstenholme found its way into the set, and the title track from North was a typically pleasant listen.

While the installation of seats in a venue I have previously known as a standing one could have made for a sterile atmosphere, it was clear they have a fanatical and appreciative following- some of whom were namechecked for travelling all over the world – and the occasional shouted requests were testament to that.

The encores however stuck to their traditional favourites, with their signature song ‘Mockingbird’ also turning into a lengthy tour de force, before finishing with ‘Hymn’, even though the vibe with Craig adding acoustic guitar was a tad too ‘Kumbaya’ for me.

On this evidence, a revival of interest in BJH is overdue but what was particularly encouraging about this night was the faith that a veteran act and their fans showed in fresh material.

Review and Photos by Andy Nathan

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In this show, first broadcast on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio on 2 February 2020, David Randall plays a selection of tracks from some of the artists who impressed at this year’s Giants Of Rock event in Minehead (24-27 January).

Featured Albums w/c 17 February (Mon-Fri)

09:00-12:00 NEWMAN Ignition (AOR Heaven)
12:00-13:00 BLACK SWAN Shake The World (Frontiers)
14:00-16:00 CORMAC O CAOIMH Swim Crawl Walk Run (indie)

Power Plays w/c 17 February (Mon-Fri)

SHAKRA Turn The Light On (AFM Records)
THE NIGHT FLIGHT ORCHESTRA Transmissions (Nuclear Blast)
RYDERS CREED Lost Soul (Off Yer Rocka Recordings)
FRAMING HANLEY Puzzle Pieces (Thermal Entertainment LLC)
ROBERT HART Mysterious (Escape Music)

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