Barclay James Harvest will be undertaking a short U.K. tour in November, their first since headlining the acoustic stage at Glastonbury this year. 2016 also marks the 50th Anniversary of the inception of the band and The Progressive Aspect’s John Wenlock-Smith caught up with BJH Main Man John Lees for a quick chat about these show and future plans for the band. Read on for more information…
Evening John thanks for calling me, how are you and what have you been up to?
I’m fine. We’ve been doing loads of gigs really, all over the place – Berlin, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Switzerland and we are just about to go to Finland and Denmark. Then a short run of gigs in the UK, back to Zurich and more Swiss and German dates in the run up to Christmas. And then we are busy again in January to March. Busy.
You are obviously doing these shows in the UK, but what is the basis for that, what are you promoting?
They are just general gigs really, we tend to work like that, if the city is nice and the venue is good then we will play there, that’s how we work nowadays. Three or four dates at a time and we have these re-releases coming out and XII is out in November and it’s a good way to let people know these are coming out again. Basically we are touring and playing our songs to people who want to listen.
So are there any new songs on this tour?
Yes there are songs from the last album, North, that was out last year. In the act we cover songs from about thirteen BJH albums in all. We also do our own support so there is no support act, starting at 7:30 and playing some classic songs for about 40 minutes and finishing with On Leave from the North album.
Then in the main set we go right the way across the catalogue really, songs like Fifties Child, Pariso Dos Cavalos, Poor Man’s Moody Blues, Cheap the Bullet.
Pariso Dos Cavelos is done on acoustic guitars as an acoustic interlude and then we’ve reprised In Memory Of The Martyrs that was performed at the Berlin Concert, in front of the Reichstag, where we had an audience of over 185, 000 people.
That was a long time ago, in 1980?
Yes 1980s, and of course Mockingbird and Hymn. If you’re lucky Negative Earth at times, we tend to mix and match. There is a reserve list so anything we’ve rehearsed we can add or change as we want, we change them on the night depending on how we feel.
Got to keep it fresh for yourselves too I guess?
If someone wants a certain song and we have rehearsed it, then we can do that one too.
Yes, Craig the bass player has been very involved. He has just finished doing the mixes for the XII album. Mark Powell at Esoteric has been involved with us for years, in fact he is probably the reason we are still going! He is a very good man.
I like the Esoteric stuff, it’s always well done, good quality and well prepared and produced.
Yes, Mark is a big fan, he comes to all our gigs – whenever we do a gig Mark’s there!
Do you know if Les Holroyd has heard these new masters yet?
I haven’t got a clue, I don’t know. I guess he must have given his consent, he did when Cherry Red wanted to do the back catalogue over, so I guess he must have.
So do you have plans to make some new music?
Yes, but it’s just a question of timing. I’m part retired, Craig the bassist is a builder, Jez the keyboard player is a corporate banker, Kev the drummer is the only full time musician in the band, he’s a session player. It’s kind of like a gentleman’s club, we meet up twice a week to play whether we are gigging or not. All part of the partnership that is the band now is that we all write new material together.
After these shows this year we are planning to spend some time, over Christmas, doing some recording and after the 6 gigs in January to March we are going to stop touring, in June and then spend the rest of the year recording.
You say you are semi-retired?
Yes I used to work in a school and when my wife retired I said I would too, I am 70 next year.
We are all getting older.
There are a lot of people who have invested their money into my products and as long as we can still get up and play it, and they want to hear it, then why not?
You obviously still have a thriving audience in Germany and on the continent, although sadly the name Barclay James Harvest isn’t on people’s minds so much now as it was back in the Seventies.
We were always an album band and never a singles band anyway and we weren’t in the London scene and I suppose it’s still the same today. We were doing massive UK tours in the ’70s and ’80s and only just breaking even, so that’s why we consciously decided to concentrate on Europe, as they had the bigger venues and if we could break through there we could actually make things work. The downside of that is we lost out on a lot of work in England as the show was too big.
It’s a trade-off I suppose and it’s allowed you to keep making music.
Yes that’s true and it’s been good really.
I saw you guys a year ago at the Birmingham Odeon on the Cheap the Bullet tour and I thoroughly enjoyed it. You played all the songs I wanted to hear.
I remember that show, because a guy who used to be a neighbour of mine lived in Birmingham and I’d arranged to meet him after the show but he didn’t turn up. I got an apologetic phone call from him later, saying he’d been too freaked out by it all to actually come and say hello, very strange!
I’ve got the North album and I have to say I like it, I think it’s fabulous.
We do On Leave where we try to encapsulate in a lyric how we were affected by Woolly (Wolstenholme)’s suicide, [Woolly committed suicide in December 2010 after a prolonged battle with depression], so we could draw a line under it really and we also play the title track North as well. We really enjoyed doing it and when everyone is involved in the writing and the creating of the music, it creates a much richer tapestry.
You’ve always had a social and political outlook and stance.
Social and political comment really.
On Leave is a very tender piece though, very poignant.
It encapsulates lots of things that happened, conversations and the chant at the end is crucial to making the whole song work.
Well John, it’s been a pleasure to talk with you tonight, I wish you all the best for these upcoming tour dates.
Thanks for being interested and for talking to me.