This 3CD and 1DVD boxed set consists of the recent Esoteric Recordings reissue of Barclay James Harvest’s self-titled debut album, originally released in 1970. Esoteric have a good relationship with the band, previously reissuing expanded versions of Octoberon, Live Tapes, Gone to Earth, XII and Everyone is Everybody Else, to name a few.
Barclay James Harvest was formed in 1966 in Oldham, an area of England with a rich history in coal mining and engineering, by Les Holroyd, John Lees, Stuart “Woolly” Wolstenholme, and Mel Pritchard who came together from such groups as The Keepers and Heart and Soul and The Wickeds. According to the liner notes the band’s name came from the Barclays Bank, as they wanted to make money, James was the middle name of Rod Buckley who used to sing with them, and Harvest was a nod to the farmhouse in which the band was living during that period.
Cut to December 1968, the band were performing at The Roundhouse where they met conductor, composer, and pianist Robert John Godfrey, who would later find aclaim with his own band, The Enid. He saw the interest in BJH’s music and formed a scratch orchestra from students he found at the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy, changing the name from The London Symphonia to The Barclay James Harvest Symphony Orchestra. Robert conducted the band with a little help from his acquaintance Martyn Ford leading the orchestra.
I’ve admired BJH since first discovering them in the fall of 2005 when I bought a copy of MOJO magazine covering the story of Prog Rock. Their second album, Once Again, appeared at number 39 in the list of top 40 Cosmic Rock albums, so I had to dig beyond Pink Floyd, King Crimson, and Genesis to search the hidden treasures of the genre and see what I was missing. Barclay James Harvest was one of them. The late great Harvey Pekar said in the 2003 film about his compulsive collecting of Jazz records and comic books as a teenager, American Splendor, “It’s like the Treasure of the Sierra Madre or something. You know you go to Thrift Shops and you go to garage sales because you going to find something that’s real rare. And you know most of the time it’s a total waste of time, but once in a while, you’ll come up with something and it’ll whet your appetite.” That’s how it was with me; I wanted to discover something that was hidden and under the radar, something beyond the big names of Prog Rock.
Barclay James Harvest was recorded at Abbey Road Studios between November of that year and 26th January 1970, originally released on the Harvest label in the U.K. and on Seymour Stein’s Sire Records in the States. Listening to the album again, it is like a giant flower ready to burst open at any second. This box set contains the original mix on the first disc, a new stereo mix on the second disc, the third disc containing a soundtrack version of Mr. Sunshine, Woolly’s demo of The Sun Will Never Shine, and BBC Sessions from John Peel’s Top Gear, along with a 1971 live recording of a killer performance of Dark Now My Sky. The DVD contains the 5.1 mix and the original mix along with a short film called Mr. Sunshine, which I will get to later on.
The album begins with the quirky, trippy anthem for Hippies, Taking Some Time On which shows Barclay’s sense of humour. Sung by Les Holroyd, it features a psychedelic swirling introductory riff with a Beatles-esque sound that goes into an underwater voyage like something straight out of the groundbreaking 1968 animated classic, Yellow Submarine.
The band takes you into those places between the sky and the sea, meeting interesting people in this new world. Good Love Child is probably inspired by the early beginnings of the Power-Pop genre. It’s a crossover between The Beatles’ Day Tripper and Badfinger’s first two albums, Lees and the band taking a little break from their symphonic approach and having a bit of fun here.
Woolly Wolstenholme’s Mellotron sets up a mournful background on The Sun Will Never Shine, I can imagine it is set in a dystopian landscape as Lees’ guitar sets up grey clouds in the sky, as if the chance of seeing a ray of light is never going to happen. Woolly’s vocals send up emotional vibes as he and the band follow suit. I can almost imagine Woolly writing this song for the opening sequence of the film version of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
The 12-minute Dark Now My Sky begins with a booming timpani and some insane dialogue, Woolly taking inspiration from Peter Sellers’ Shakespearean take of A Hard Day’s Night. When the dialogue ends, Godfrey’s maniac laughter comes in, right on time before the orchestra goes into a bright morning piece, somewhere between Jean Sibelius and pre-Phillip Appleby’s score for Tony Collingwood’s 1988 animated short, Rarg. It has a morning-rise epic score with an overture from the piano, haunting guitars, crescendo drums, and organ. The string sections walk through this hopefully glorious day, but then it becomes a nightmarish atmosphere. Woolly’s keyboards, Les’ bass and his singing of a wonderful concept of hope for peace and happiness has suddenly vanished. The last two minutes of the piece takes ideas from Pink Floyd’s Celestial Voices, from A Saucerful of Secrets, and Procol Harum’s Grand Finale from In Held ‘Twas in I.
There are some amazing moments amongst the bonus tracks, Sgt. Pepper meeting Days of Future Passed-era Moodies with Eden Unobtainable. You can hear some of the Mellotron elements of The Court of the Crimson King too, and there is a never-before heard demo of Wolstenholme’s The Sun Will Never Shine, Woolly playing acoustic guitar on a folk-like work-in-progress.
Now on to the new stereo mixes by Mark Powell and Ben Wiseman. On Taking Some Time On I can hear Lees’ guitar and the clapping section very clearly, along with Mel’s drumming, claves, and cowbell which are at the front of the mix. On Pools of Blue, which is the Chappel Studios version on both discs 1 and 2, the flute, Mellotron, and guitar come together melodically in the new mix. At first I thought the new stereo mix was going to be an instrumental version of the piece, but the lyrics are there and it gives a chance to dive into the ocean to discover this new area. The DVD contains both the original and 5.1 mix of the album, including the short film Mr. Sunshine from 1968. Directed by Lawrence Moore, the film was shown originally on Granada TV and it shows some of the earliest footage of the band, along with alternative versions of Early Morning and Mr. Sunshine. There’s also the Vaudeville meets Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band banjo sing-along of Washing the Dishes.
The box set contains a 66-page book with liner notes by Keith and Monika Domone, who run the International Barclay James Harvest fan club. It contains photos of the band, newspaper articles, photo sessions from March 1968, pictures of the original EMI and Chappel Studio master tapes, ads, reviews and pictures of the Early Morning single, along with other international singles, the original acetate of Early Morning and a recording sheet of Dark Now my Sky. There is a promo poster for the debut of the ’68 single, PR from Harvest and EMI, postcards of the band members, and a program of their performance with the Barclay James Harvest Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall which contains four of the songs from the band’s second album, Once Again.
Barclay James Harvest have not always been given the credit they deserve in Progressive Rock history. There’s no denying that the band took aspects of both Progressive and Symphonic music to a new place. They are still one of my favourite bands and this album shows how far ahead of their time they were. I hope that Esoteric Recordings reissue more of the band’s Parlophone-Harvest years from 1971 to 1972 as they have scored a home run here and I look forward to what the label will deliver next.
Disc One – Original Stereo Mix
01. Taking Some Time On (5:29)
02. Mother Dear (3:18)
03. The Sun Will Never Shine (5:05)
04. When The World Was Waken (5:47)
05. Good Love Child (5:08)
06. The Iron Maiden (2:41)
07. Dark Now My Sky (12:00)
08. Early Morning (A-side of single) (2:32)
09. Mr. Sunshine (B-side of single) (2:53)
10. Pools of Blue (Advision Studios, Aug. 1968) (3:08)
11. I Can’t Go On Without You (Advision Studios, Aug. 1968) (2:12)
12. Eden Unobtainable (Advision Studios, Aug. 1968) (3:02)
13. Pools of Blue (Recorded at Chappell Studios) (4:52)
14. Brother Thrush (A-side of single) (3:04)
15. Poor Wages (B-side of single) (2:33)
16. Taking Some Time On (Single version) (4:35)
Time – 68:28
Disc Two – New Stereo Mix
01. Taking Some Time On (6:38)
02. Mother Dear (3:17)
03. The Sun Will Never Shine (5:09)
04. When The World Was Waken (6:02)
05. Good Love Child (5:07)
06. The Iron Maiden (2:42)
07. Dark Now My Sky (12:06)
08. Pools of Blue (5:07)
09. Brother Thrush (3:43)
10. Poor Wages (2:32)
Time – 52:29
Disc Three – Bonus Tracks & BBC Sessions
01. Mr. Sunshine (Early Morning Film Version) (2:57)
02. Early Morning (BBC Top Gear, 14th April 1968) (2:59)
03. So Tomorrow (BBC Top Gear, 23rd April 1968) (3:26)
04. Eden Unobtainable (BBC Top Gear, 23rd April 1968) (3:09)
05. Night (BBC Top Gear, 30th July 1968) (3:16)
06. Pools of Blue (BBC Top Gear, 30th July 1968) (3:27)
07. Need You Oh So Bad (BBC Top Gear, 30th July 1968) (1:15)
08. Small Time Town (BBC Top Gear, 30th July 1968) (2:11)
09. Dark Now My Sky (BBC Top Gear, 30th July 1968) (3:41)
10. The Sun Will Never Shine (Woolly Wolstenholme Demo) (1:54)
11. Dark Now My Sky (BBC Radio Theatre, 11th Feb. 1971) (9:38)
Time – 38:00
Disc Four – DVD: Original Stereo & 5.1 Surround Mix
01. Taking Some Time On
02. Mother Dear
03. The Sun Will Never Shine
04. When The World Was Woken
05. Good Love Child
06. The Iron Maiden
07. Dark Now My Sky
08. Pools of Blue (Chappel Studios, 10th Aug. 1968)
09. Brother Thrush (Abbey Road Studios, 11th March 1969)
10. Poor Wages (Abbey Road Studios, 11th March 1969)
Visual Bonus Material – Mr. Sunshine (1968 Short Film)
11. Early Morning
12. Washing the Dishes
13. Mr. Sunshine
John Lees – Guitar, Vocals, Recorder
Stuart “Woolly” Wolstenholme – Keyboards, Mellotron, Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals
Mel Prichtard – Drums, Percussion
Les Holroyd – Bass Guitar, Vocals, Cello
Jim Litherland – Guitar, Percussion (disc 1 tracks 1 & 16, disc 2 track 1)
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue#: PECLEC 42627
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 25th May 2018