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John Lees Barclay James Harvest Logo

John Lee's
Barclay James Harvest

Saturday, 4th November 2006
City Varieties, Leeds, UK

Written by
Geoff Feakes


Back in the 70’s when the topic turned to favourite prog rock bands amongst the usual suspects of Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd the name Barclay James Harvest would be there. Hailing from Oldham in Lancashire the band achieved cult status in the late 60’s/early 70’s following four memorable albums released on the Harvest label. Major success came their way following a move to the Polydor label and a string of excellent albums during the 70’s. Following the departure of keys player Stuart ‘Woolly’ Wolstenholme the album releases continued during the 80’s and 90’s with variable results. For some inexplicable reason best known to the Americans transatlantic success always eluded them. Popularity in Europe was assured however, especially Germany, Switzerland and Holland. Although not unique for a prog act, the music press were particularly unkind towards the band. Guitarist John Lees took advantage of the infamous put down “poor man’s Moody Blues” turning into one of their best known songs.

As I drove to the gig the colourful flashes in the night sky around me were a constant reminder that this was Guy Fawkes weekend. When BJH took to the stage some two hours later they delivered their own musical fireworks. First of all however a mention for the excellent support duo of singer/guitarist Jim Leverton and multi-instrumentalist Geoffrey Richardson, both taking time out from Caravan. Following a protracted bout of tuning up they played a mostly folk tinged set of cover songs to an appreciative audience. The surprise inclusion of Disassociation from Caravan’s Nine Feet Underground was rewarded with their warmest response of the evening. Some bright spark in the audience requested For Richard prompting a smile from Richardson remarking that for an acoustic duo that was nigh on impossible. Leverton was in fine vocal form throughout and Richardson especially impressed moving from viola to mandolin, flute and acoustic guitar with consummate skill. Other highlights in the forty minute set included Ronnie Lane’s breezy How Come and a personnel favourite of mine to close Murray Head’s eloquent Say It Ain’t So Joe.

Following a twenty minute break John Lee’s BJH took to the stage without ceremony launching straight into a rousing version of For No One. From then on it was one hour and forty five minutes of musical nostalgia and bliss which filled this compact but atmospheric vintage music hall. The sound balance was a little shaky to start with Kevin Whitehead’s over loud drums in particular having a tendency to swamp the keyboards. Things improved immensely by the time they reached The Great 1974 Mining Disaster, which benefited from stirring piano and synth work from Woolly and a dazzling guitar/Mellotron climax. Woolly was clearly struggling vocally as a result of a head cold. It didn’t dampen his spirits however with his sharp humour keeping both the audience and the rest of the band entertained between songs. John Lees was on top vocal form however; clearly evident during both Poor Man's Moody Blues and Galadriel with the former benefiting from his soaring guitar solo and lyrical lead piano from guest keyboardist Mike Bramwell.

Suicide? is one of the best things penned by Lees in my opinion and the band did full justice to this most moving of songs. A change of pace with the rocking Medicine Man with storming organ work from both keys players and a rare solo from bassist Craig Fletcher. An awesome version of Mocking Bird remained faithful to the original save for the strident classical bridge section and Lees’ son JJ joining the band on stage to add cornet to the stately finale. They saved the best until last for my money with the symphonic glory of The Poet flowing seamlessly into the apocalyptic After The Day. No matter that Woolly’s vocals were almost inaudible by this point I could hear every poignant word clearly in my head. Lees gave his best performance of the evening with a scorching solo to close.

There could be only one choice of encore as far as the assembled fans were concerned and they were not to be disappointed. I must confess that the arm waving anthem qualities of Hymn are usually lost on me but tonight it packed an emotional punch. I even spotted a least one young lady dancing in the aisles. Following a brief burst of Jingle Bells and “merry Christmas” the band waved their goodbyes. Whilst the hopeful shouted out for more, the more realistic headed slowly towards the exits comfortable in the knowledge that they had just witnessed a stunning performance from one of the finest symphonic rock acts of all time. Here’s to the next time.

Setlist
For No One
Child Of The Universe
Harbour
The Iron Maiden
The Great 1974 Mining Disaster
She Said
Cheap The Bullet
Poor Man's Moody Blues
Galadriel
Suicide?
Medicine Man
In Search Of England
Poor Wages
Mocking Bird
The Poet
After The Day
Hymn
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