Impressing critics in the early Seventies with their fusion of rock, and classical music, and a classic trademark of memorable songs and beautiful harmonies, Barclay James Harvest created seminal albums like Once Again (featuring the classic Mockingbird) and Barclay James Harvest And Other Short Stories and made their mark with stunning live performances. Barclay James Harvest began to enjoy greater commercial success in 1974 with Everyone Is Everybody Else and Barclay James Harvest Live, a double LP which became their first chart album. Founder member Woolly Wolstenholme left in 1979 to pursue a solo career and the band continued as a trio until 1997 when musical differences led to the creation of two splinter groups led by the principal songwriters, Les Holroyd and John Lees. Both bands have continued to be active since 1997, each focussing on that songwriter’s music.
John Lees had recruited Wolstenholme back into his band, which started with the monicker Barclay James Harvest Through the Eyes of John Lees, but soon became John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest. After the tragic death of Wolstenholme in December 2010, the band honoured his memory with a moving sold-out tribute show; later in 2011, they went on to play a triumphant series of headline festival slots in Germany, Switzerland, France (with Status Quo) and the UK, including a headline spot at the High Voltage Festival in Victoria Park, London, which was their last UK performance to date. Following the release of the Live at Metropolis Studios CD/DVD set, in August 2012 John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest made their first appearance in Japan, playing a sold-out show in their own right and performing on the bill at the Open Air Progressive Rock Fest in Tokyo to an enthusiastic reception. The band have now announced their most extensive UK tour in recent years, which will take place in October 2012
The band line-up is: John Lees on vocals, guitar and recorder; Craig Fletcher – vocals and bass guitar; Jez Smith – keyboards, vocals and acoustic guitar, and on drums, Kevin Whitehead.
DPRP reviewer Alex Torres had a chance for a short conversation with band founder John Lees, as he prepares for the tour.
Alex: Would you like to tell me a little bit about the forthcoming tour?
John: Well, it’s more extensive than we’ve done for a long time: we’re visiting seven cities throughout Britain. It’s going to be a celebration of Barclay James Harvest’s music, as written by myself, from the beginning right through to some more contemporary stuff, so really it’s a chance to see where we are.
Alex: So, as well as more recent Barclay James Harvest material, will you also be playing material from the forthcoming album that I understand you are recording at the moment?
John: We have trialled some of the material and some of the songs are already recorded, but others have yet to be done and we are continuing recording with a projected release in April. We will need to support the album’s release around that time and so the feeling was that it was best leaving the new album’s songs out of this tour, and supporting it in the Spring. The contemporary stuff is taken from the post-Woolly [Wolstenholme] era.
Alex: Ok, so from the 80s and the 90s, songs up to the River of Dreams album?
John: Yes, there’ll be a few things from that period.
Alex: Last year you surprised the fans when you played Taking Some Time On [from the band’s first album released in 1970, and not played live since that time] at the High Voltage festival: will there be any more surprises in the autumn set-list from the band’s Woolly-period?
John: Yes, there will. What we’re going to do is that we’re not using a support band for the tour; we’re going to have an intermission, so we are thinking of using the first half to include a few “surprises”.
Alex: I’ve seen John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest playing several times now and it seems to me that this latest version of the band play with a lot of joy and a lot of fun, which I guess must make it easier for you to continue.
John: Yes, first of all I’ve had real support from these guys who are all fantastic players from the local area [Oldham, UK]. When Woolly and I got this band back together back for Nexus, I wanted it to be like the original band’s [early days]; like a partnership with everybody sharing equally, and we’ve achieved that. That’s the way we work and that’s the way that the new material has been recorded as well with everyone contributing to the arrangements. That’s one of the reasons that we are such good friends. There’s no competition within the band, it’s a great atmosphere and it’s nice that you say that comes across on stage because it’s very much happening on the stage as well.
Alex: As a guitarist you’ve not been recognised in any “best of year” polls or stuff like that which I’ve seen, but your fans always look forward to your guitar playing, especially during the live performances as a major highlight of the music. How did you develop your guitar style, John?
John: I think some of the songs call for those guitar parts: I think the solo parts are probably the classic rock/progressive rock element in what is quite often pastoral music really. I’ve gone through quite a few differences in songwriting over the period of time I’ve been doing it.
Alex: Yes, the band’s music has progressed over the many years you’ve been playing but the guitar style, certainly in live performance, has stayed reasonably constant wouldn’t you say? How did you develop it?
John: Well, I think it was just a natural progression really. I must admit that over the last ten years I’ve played a lot more than in the previous ten. I’m playing all the time now, which I didn’t do before. I’ve taken influences from certain people over that period but it’s never been anything conscious: essentially, it’s developed and I play like I play, without trying to emulate anyone particular individual or style.
Alex: Does it upset you personally that you’re not – other than by the band’s own fans – generally more widely recognised as a guitarist?
John: No, not at all! Less pressure! (laughs)
Alex: What is it that keeps you playing after all of these years?
John: Well, it’s the desire to have a celebration of the music that has been created over all that time. I mean, for me personally, revisiting and reworking some of the older material, because some of that material was written so long ago, I get a totally different “rocket burn”. I really love technology; I’ve always been trying to keep in with everything that’s current and everything that’s new, so that’s something that also keeps me interested in music: the “toys”, if you like. It’s something you can’t put down: it applies if you were an artist or painter, you’d always do it, wouldn’t you; and I’m fortunate that I’ve got the opportunity to still keep doing it with younger people who are every bit as enthusiastic about it as I am.
Alex: Pressing on this point of the band carrying on though: there was a bit of a lull after the 2006 Legacy tour, almost as if the band was saying “this is what we want to be remembered for” and the fans were perhaps surprised – but also pleased – when you returned to regular activity. Now that you’ve got the tour coming up and the new album in the Spring, can we expect the activity to continue?
John: Yes. There’s a very good reason for that hiatus, which is that I went into education. I actually went and worked in a sixth form at a school helping children to study music technology. I did that for five years and I’ve just retired from that with a view to spending more time on Barclay James Harvest. To be honest, what we were doing before had to be concentrated around half-terms and school holidays, which is quite restrictive. I’ve done my five years and I really thoroughly enjoyed it, I enjoyed helping the kids and I’ve come back to concentrate on Barclay James Harvest while I’ve got the time to do it.
Alex: Has the new album got a working title?
John: No it doesn’t.
Alex: And the music itself, what kind of Barclay James Harvest period would you put it into, John?
John: A continuation of the later albums really; probably a continuation of Nexus [released in 1999 under the Barclay James Harvest Through the Eyes of John Lees brand], which was the one with Woolly. Very much “John Lees” style, and the new guys. It’s a stage further on from that.
Alex: Have the new guys written any songs towards it?
John: Yes, everybody’s contributed.
Alex: I look forward to hearing it. You said you were going to support the album in the Spring, so does that mean plans to tour again and perhaps play some dates further across Europe?
John: The plan is – in late April I think it is – we’ve got some dates pencilled in for Switzerland, Germany, Holland and Belgium, but that will be the first phase. I suppose we’ll look at what the state of play is after we’ve done these seven concerts here with a view to maybe doing some more next year.
Alex: It certainly seems as if the band – unlike decades ago – seems to have a reasonably high profile in the music press that covers this type of music.
John: Yes, which is somewhat down to Eclectic [Esoteric Recordings] and Mark Powell [the band’s manager and director of Esoteric Recordings]. He’s been very supportive in his work in keeping the music going. It’s great; they’ve been really good for us. We’ve just been to Japan, where we’d never done a performance, and we got a great reception there!
Alex: Thanks John, good luck with the tour.
John Lees’ Barclays James Harvest October 2012 UK dates are:
19th Manchester – The Ritz 0843 221 0976 hmvritz.com
23rd St Albans – The Alban Arena 01727 844488 www.alban-arena.co.uk
24th Bristol – St. George’s, Brandon Hill 0845 402 4001 www.stgeorgesbristol.co.uk
25th Leeds – City Varieties 0113 243 0808 www.cityvarieties.co.uk
Germany & Switzerland 2013:
13th Aschaffenburg Colos-Saal
14th Stuttgart LKA
15th Pratteln, CH, Z7
16th Ravensburg Oberschwabenhalle
18th Leipzig Gewandhaus
19th Dresden Alter Schlachthof
21st Berlin Kesselhaus
Official website: http://www.barclayjamesharvest.com/