Saturday 12th May
Barclay James Harvest (continued) – The following year (1975) saw the release of Time Honoured Ghosts, with the most lovely cover, very arable. Another classic album really; the band were really on a roll, and had settled down to a more settled but still recognisable sound. Woolly still had a couple of songs, still with an orchestral feel, while John and Les were writing more conventional soft rock songs. My favourite songs are ‘Jonathon’ and ‘Titles’, which was a tribute to The Beatles, using several of their melodies, with slight twists and Beatles song titles as the lyrics. Very clever, and a mild hit when it was released as a single. I was seeing the band every few months during the mid-seventies, though they ended up touring far more in France, Germany and Switzerland, where they were evn more popular than in the UK. They still had a loyal fanbase, but they were largely ignored by the music press, who were becoming enthralled by the new sound – Punk. BJH were soon considered a dinosaur band and even ridiculed by the likes of NME and Melody Maker. Such is fashion. And as we know fashions change. Whereas most of the punk bands were one hit wonders or faded pretty fast, BJH and many progressive bands flourished. 1975 was the year too of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark side of the Moon’. And Genesis were making great records too. Luckily bands like BJH had no choice but to soldier on and keep making the music they and their fans loved.
Then came Octoberon, technically their eight release, and maybe their best so far. Quite a radical album in many ways. Woolly had the song Ra, which was an orchestral magnificence harking back to their early days. Les wrote among others ‘’Rock and Roll Star’ which became a live favourite. But John Lees was writing wonderful songs now. He went ‘political’ again with ‘Mayday’ – sort of updated 1984 along with a coda of a choir singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. He also wrote a song about a porn star ‘Polk Street Rag’ – and another masterpiece with ‘Suicide?’, which even had sound effects of a man wlaking to the edge of a tall building and jumping, or being pushed off (and hitting the groundtoo). But despite the subject matter it is still a beautiful song. The album is simply brilliant; it sold quite well too, despite coming out at the height of punk. The band sounded imperious by now, their live shows were getting bigger too. They seemed to have found their style and their distinctive sound was instantly recognisable.
Gone to Earth came next, shorter songs generally and their best seller. Woolly gave us Spirit on the Water, and Les had a few decent songs, but again John Lees was brilliant. The opener ‘Hymn’ -, another anthemic melody, even if the lyrics are too religious for my liking. He also gave us ‘Poor Man’s Moody Blues’, which was how BJH were described by an NME journalist. This song gave the lie to that. This is another level than the Moodys’ who I also liked. Like ‘Titles’, it plays with both the melody and the words of Nights in White Satin, but improves on them immeasurably. This soon became a staple of their live show. But apparently the constant annual round of tour and new album was wearing the band down. John and les were barely talking, just meeting for live shows or recording, where each would bring in almost complete demo’s for the others to learn an play on. Amazingly, this was exactly what happened a decade earlier to their heroes The Beatles, even to George (Woolly) being relegated to one or maybe two songs per album. Another double live album followed Live Tapes, which while excellent seems to really add very little to their collection. Slightly longer versions but no new songs at all