Perfect Sound Forever

Barclay James Harvest

Mid 80's: photo from the BJH website

Part 2
By Mark S. Tucker

But change is inevitable and the old Preston House gang decided a more marked accomodation with the mainstream was in order, thus XII (1978) saw a marked shift. For one, hooks now dominated the compositions, obvious plays for radio ears. "Loving is Easy," the opener, encapsulated what could be expected. Progheads were nervous. A year earlier, Gentle Giant had tried the same gambit with somewhat shocking results, attenuating their powers greatly, signalling a painful multi-album descent. If BJH's new opener caused wariness, the second song, "Berlin" did nothing to arrest it. Perhaps the blandest cut they'd ever released, it droned on with the piano pushed up front beside vocals monotonically reciting an incantation regarding a cryptic flight into the city. Worse, "A Tale of Two Sixties" was maudlin, yearning for times gone by and naming old classics while plodding along as a melodically stiff and unyielding brick, completely absenting the immense flexibility they'd possessed just a year earlier. Basically, the group had adopted the simplisms of chart residents, faithfully eyeing Billboard. XII evinced a radical change, boasting little of the trademarks. Pritchard's drums are hollow and slavish, Holroyd's lines abysmal, and you can practically hear Wolstenholme following a click track while Lees seems to be plucking from the depths of slumber. There was nothing about the release that wasn't sophomoric, yet it sold well!

It appeared they'd been correct: this is what the larger public really wanted. If the album gave away a management decision to keep sales up by abandoning the old, then that judgement was seen to be correct. The group played to ever larger audiences and enjoyed greater returns on vinyl. But, a cursory read of the lyrics, especially songs like "The Streets of San Francisco," reveal the level of insipidity adopted for these transitional riches. XII remains the worst LP released by the foursome, bar none.

The boys seemed to understand how poorly they'd manifested, changing things considerably with Eyes of the Universe (1979). This didn't mean the newly adopted outposts had been thrown aside, not at all; those casting runes to predict when the aggregate might come to its senses would never see a resolution to that despair. Nonetheless, the LP's presentation classed up immensely. Martin Lawrence was brought in to spice up BJH's long string of self-produced works and rapidly proved to be the element needed, especially when doubled up as engineer (with assistants) for the entire set. If the band was going to service the herd, then they could do it while emulating examples tellingly shown in their shifting alliances, lavishing the same technical attentions Little River Band, Styx, and other polyethylene ensembles were presenting, mixing embarassment with acceptability: beside its grammatical imbecility, "Alright Down Get Boogie," for instance, is an absolute groaner lyrically yet passably attractive to the ear.

Sound bad? It was, for the most part, when contrasted to the early '70's, yet the LP charted far better than any of those momentous stunners, proving to be one of their all-time best sellers. Wolstenholme, probably half out of his mind merely from the cognitive dissonance of it all, took the first bus out of town, delivering a major blow to the group. His and Lees' musical ideals had become no longer even faintly congruent. He proceeded to tour with his Maestoso ensemble under, speaking of incongruities, Judy Tzuke, then touring under Saga before throwing hands in air and retiring to adopt the life of an organic farmer. Elder fans shook their heads at the turn of events; however, that Wolstenholme showed integrity in abandoning the new saccharine merchants has been little commented on. He had forsaken the band he'd been hugely responsible for bringing to success, on grounds of idealogical betrayal, choosing integrity over lucre. There was a more suspicious move afoot, though: prior to Baby James, he'd been a full writing partner; from Baby on, that changed radically and he would never, at any point, again be attributed as a main writer, most often credited in only one, two, or no songs. Were we seeing something had manifested previously, with Robert Godfrey?

It brings up a subject feverishly avoided in music. Who gets credit for what? The answer's not easy. A lyric writer is the easiest to credit. Not many musicians pen poetry, and most of the ones who do inevitably produce rhyming triviality - rock has had only so many Jim Morrison's, Keith Reid's, and Peter Sinfield's - but a written sheet of verse is easy to produce and lay claim to. The musical portion's far more difficult. The "writer" may present as little as a set of chord changes to the ensemble and, though the group may actually dress up those bones in immensely grander habilement than anything the writer ever created or imagined, the baseline hand will often come away with sole credits, depending upon personalities and psychological tensions within the aggregate; more than a few musicians have grumbled at precisely this sort of arrangement. Once the basic song is eked out, do the often overpowering contributions of the rest count for nothing? One thing's certain: writers automatically get a larger share of royalties, thus the potential for contention is seen. It has been said, within BJH itself, amidst a present mildly rancorous milieu, that the early all-up credits were far too generous, a rather bare slap, one can't help but notice, in Wolstenholme's face and perhaps in Pritchard's as well, no longer among the living to answer the charge.

1980-1989: Charts? What Charts?
Whipstalling and Stumbling

A year was skipped, a lapse that will be entertained momentarily, and Turn of the Tide (1980) came out - and turn it indeed did. Opening with "Waiting on the Borderline," drenched in the deservedly reviled DX-7 sound, it seemed that the earlier trampled hopes of aficionados were now to be crushed completely but, happily, such was not the case. The group had merely chosen the opening track poorly, as the LP lifted itself up significantly just after. Where Eyes had shown spark in the new Little River Barclay, Turn ratcheted even that up. Obviously, Martin Lawrence had been retained. Ironically, keyboards still dominated the mix and it took two men to fill Wolstenholme's shoes. Lees and Holroyd took up all the writing, as they'd continue to do from here on out. It appeared Holroyd's pop-ish penchants were standing up nicely, especially in "Back to the Wall," with its multi-syncopations, interlocking melodies, and rondo'ed refrains, the LP's stand-out and worthy of appearance on an Al Stewart release. If anything, it now appeared that Lees' soupy sentimentations were a trifle damaging, although he injected a chuckling degree of musical whimsicality in "Doctor Doctor" (not a take on the Scorpions' tune). The album went to the top in Germany but declined significantly elsewhere. The early fan base deserting in droves may supply the answer, offsetting increased sales in the mainstream, but this LP marked the start of a non-stop downslide in the ensemble's fortunes.

Whatever might have been happening, it was undeniable that the post-Baby lords of the manor, Lees and Holroyd, had eventually been commercially vindicated. Whether or not they were reaping diamonds for pap was another topic, and whether or not this state of aesthetics would prove sustaining was an even more pertinant question. As the live format had ever proven providential, 1982 saw, two years after the performance itself, the disbursal of Berlin - A Concert for the People, from an August 30, 1980, event that, though impressive for numbers too easily slung around, is more than a little deceptive. For the longest time, capital was had in constant reference to the "fact" that the concert attracted 175,000 people (received wisdom, for whatever credit we may want to give promotion departments - some estimates had really gone overboard, citing a quarter million, which a few websites still echo) but most of the album's consumers didn't find out until much later that it had been a free concert, well advertised as such in advance in-country - and how does one calculate the gate at a free concert? And what, another unanswerable question goes, would that crowd number have been had the Barclay boys gone the concert hall route, charging admission? It does seem strange that the group would go to immense expense merely for a two-hour unremunerated concert, especially at a world-famous landmark, which woud require no end of permits, licenses, and whatnot. The website's silent on matters surrounding the gig and not only did the vinyl release refuse to list the performers on jacket and sleeve but the site also will not correct the absentures. Where every other LP they ever issued is meticulous as to base and supporting personnel, this one doesn't credit even for the grounding trio, the group itself. More, while the live engineer is credited, the studio engineer's conveniently ignored. Since Lawrence is one of three producers (for a live LP???), we may assume it was him.

But there are other problems. The reason given, admitted by the group itself, for the time lag - two years to release a document of "the most important gig they ever did"??? - was due to a poor recording requiring "a LOT of new overdubs" [emphasis mine]. Are we smelling something here? A rat perhaps? So, journalists must ask, just how extensive were those reparations? Dead silence. Perhaps that's why the players were uncreditted? A pin drops. The whole thing, despite the crowd, appears to have been something of a disaster (also admitted on the website). The photograph of the set-up at the Reichstag (!) shows that extraordinarily little was lavished on the presentation, just a bare-bones skeleton of rigging and a shitload of trucks. Something's a little fishy here, but be that as it may, it resulted in not only a now-dubiously attributed live LP but a video as well, both of which sold quite gratifyingly.

And well they should have; despite whatever the real background story is, the LP's a nice little compendium. Whoever masterminded the innumerable dub-ins had a sharp ear, blending studio and open-air tonicites adroitly. Wisely, more than half is comprised of old catalogue leavened with recent cuts more in accord with the bygone vibe. Once again, the ace card - live work - was dragged out, illustrating that the indomitably sidereal facet of the BJH psyche never really went away, capitalism and market enticements to the side. The slab went to #1 in Germany and did well elsewhere.

Hiding below the ledger sheet was a small awareness. Save only for 1973, Barclay James Harvest had issued an album a year since its inception up until Turn of the Tide (two years between it and Eyes of the Universe). Considering that they issued two new LPs and an anthology in '72, and would issue a studio album and live double in '74, 1973 was readily excusable - it was also the year everything collapsed: Harvest dropped them and time was needed to re-group.

At this later time, like all bands, BJH were trying to make a living from their art, so skipping a year, it's easy to see, meant leaner times, with only concerts providing income. Normally, a thriving group is ill-disposed to such an action, but now the home front was in turmoil. A founder had decamped and the sound was degenerating noticeably, albeit to great fortune. Something was amiss. Berlin seemed to be providing a stop-gap for whatever it was.

Ring of Changes (1983) then administered a shock by opening with an orchestra, presenting their boldest leap back to roots so far. And here again, were they truly as tired of the Moody Blues comparisons as they oft publicly lamented, the gentlemen would have done better not to track that brilliant group so perfectly. The Moodies came out with The Present the same year, the most abrupt change from their own cosmic roots (other than Octave, their worst LP to that moment). Preternaturally, Barclay James was subbing Bias Boshell, a keyboardist who'd much later sit in with the Moodies after the departure of Pat Moraz, for Wolstenholme. Retrospect, we can see here, oft provides wry smiles, especially in this group, forever inexplicably surly on the subject. In fact, in "Teenage Heart," the similarity between Boshell's lines and fills and the ones being tossed out by Moraz on The Present are amazing. Lawrence was absent but Pip Williams had been drafted to ride herd on the LP, a sound decision. He maintained Lawrence's regimen of profuse ornamentation, keeping standards high. One silent shift lay in the fact that Williams assumed all production chores 100%. The group had apparently seen the advantage of detached sonic management and yielded entirely, subtracting themselves from the process. Ring stands closely by Turn in all respects, and if the band was going to remain steadfast in this new incarnation, then so be it; it could be borne with music of this quality, though each LP carried a few mediocre-to-clunker cuts, such as "High Wire," which barely managed to get off the floor.

Never at a loss to screw some aspect up, major or minor, Victims of Circumstance (1984) carried a ridiculous cover, a gross caricature of an ugly woman that related to nothing at all, not only quizzical but repugnant. Williams remained at the helm and the orchestra, as before, made appearances on a few cuts, but an entirely new element had been served up: female backing vocals. Well, if you're mainstream, it's a biblical requirement, so BJH had finally ducked its head under the water at the high end of the pool, surrendering every last vestige of its youth. Boshell was likewise kept and the similarities to the Moodies kept dutifully on course. They would never ever escape the echo. If Everyone, Ghosts, and Octoberon had showcased the band's Mellow Period, they were now irrescuably domiciled in their Chart Era. The LP was a bit staler than the Lawrence captaincy, none of it being the fault of engineer Gregg Jackman, but Victims nonetheless inexplicably hiccuped just above Ring in sales. Like the Moodies, the new style was serving them nicely. It wouldn't last.

Face to Face (1987) was alarming for its tardiness - three years in the making. Many considered the band kaput and no reason was given for the layover, nor has any now been presented on the site. Jackman had graduated from knob-fiddler to producer while still tackling the lion's share of the boards, another good move. He'd digested the Lawrence/Williams changes, adding dimension, acting more like the estimable Tony Clarke (egads! the Moodies!) than anyone else. Clarke's ace had always been a unique spatiality and Jackman developed the same here, to excellent effect. His brother Andrew even scored the strings on a cut while the roster of backing musicians was larger than ever. After a long absence, the old Christian lyrics were exhumed for a short residence, undisguised in "He Said Love," as proselytizing a tune as one might never wish for, but well executed and glossily inspiring.

In fact, Face became their solidest mainstream slab. It has been objectionable to the old guard, what with its Whitesnake slickness, but possessed power, beauty, harmony, and cohesivity, not to mention a passion that had been distinctly tepider beforehand, rich with the sort of emotionality so favored of yore. One must give the devil his due, Face was their best LP in a long long time. Irony upon irony, Lees was now more an artistic brother to Justin Hayward than had ever been the case. Why the album then sold so poorly is a mystery. Plunging from a 33 to a 65 position, precipitious enough to induce cardiac arrest, it stumped everyone. How to explain the bizarre belly-flop?

No one could figure it out, yet the answer is obvious: when you choose to swim in the mainstream, be prepared for the fickleness that exceedeth all reason. The public had simply grown weary of the BJH sound, for whatever reason. Hilarious, when you contemplate it: consumers were inexplicably fascinated when BJH had given the yo-heave to their trademark, adopting a forté oft clumsily wielded, yet abruptly became disinterested at the very moment the group had, thanks to Jackman's influence and technical wizardry, achieved their second apotheosis. Such a cold shoulder, though, was not unparalleled, not even in pop-prog. Tony Carey had, contemporaneous with Ring, released the bouncy Planet P debut to general acceptance; then, the very next year, when he switched to a concept format and left the debut looking pale in comparison, was bafflingly dropped from affection like yesterday's news.

Alarming indeed. What to do? Well, fall back and punt, obviously, so it was back to the live format. Seven years after the Berlin LP, Germany was celebrating that city's 750th anniversary and invited the group to be a part of the lengthily festive proceedings. The original locale slated was the Island of Youth, a mid-river landmass, and the occasion was doubly auspicious: the first time a Western band had been allowed an open air concert in the GDR. However, the tickets were cheap and the response massive. Within a fortnight, 50,000 requests overwhelmed the pool of 10,000 tickets, so the venue switched to Treptower Park and, shades of Woodstock, the place was overrun, with most of the 130,000-170,000 attendees getting in free. Again, true numbers are impossible and we glance confidently at a wide margin of exaggeration, but, whatever the truth, it was an impressive occurrance by anyone's standards. The group was well-loved in Deutschland and fans would stop at little to see their heroes. Galvanized, BJH staged a great concert and, this time thanks to Jackman, the recording was captured with little mishap. The reverse of the LP jacket shows an ocean of people, faces enthusiastic, vibe exuberant. The A-side's a bouncy mixture of some of the best of their most recent while the B-side is, except for "Kiev," all oldies. The rendition of "Medicine Man" is unbelievable, hypnotizing, drawing the LP to its loftiest height. Weirdly, it didn't do at all well in Germany.

1990 - 2002: Resurgence and Goodbye
Going Out in Glory

There was to be another three year period between studio albums. Welcome to the Show (1990) picked up Jon Astley for production and Andy MacPherson for the boards, a double-barreled mistake (Astley had worked with Clapton, The Who and others, groups vastly different from Barclay James, but what had been MacPherson's triumph? Well, ahem, Sad Cafe!). The entire thing was several notches below the Jackman materials but still pretty good as mainstream fodder goes, close enough to pass a careless inspection but far more plasticene than should have been the case. Boshell, unfortunately, was gone but the session roster waxed full and Storm Thorgerson (ex-Hipgnosis) designed a HipG cover. Surprisingly, the CD leapt up the charts in Germany (and Switzerland, which had always been just behind them in accepting the group) but didn't even make the top 200 in the homeland. It turned out to be a just judgement. Welcome is glossy and pretty but not at all involving - save for "Lady MacBeth," "Origin Earth," and "If Love is King" - warranting little notice overall. Lees himself had turned nasty, penning "Psychedelic Child," a piss-take on the 70s, an era he'd solidly occupied, probably indulging in much of what he excoriates. He also continued his sometime exercises in unrestrained bathetic ditties baked through maudlinism, this time in "John Lennon's Guitar," capitalizing as best he could on a brief distanced brush with celebrity... via an opportunity to use a guitar Lennon had stored in a studio BJH was using.

Taking another trio of years to manifest, it appeared that the next release, Caught in the Light (1993), was the bow-out. The group decided to take the curtain in style. Calling back Martin Lawrence, they turned out the kind of work that should have arisen every single time, post Gone to Earth. Surprisingly, it boasts only one sessioneer, Kevin McAlea, on all keys not taken by Lees and Holroyd. The group knew this was probably their swan song: the entire release shimmers with a glow of wistfulness and regret, despair not exactly being an unknown flavor to them at any point in a 23-year career. The CD's long, 70 minutes, and hangs together beautifully, throwing a harsh glare on the Astley one-off. Lawrence appears to have picked up a trick or three from Jackman and lavishes yet more Clarke-ian painterly virtues on each song, sewing them together in a seamlessly fetching quilt. Lees guitar is in fine fettle, more pensive and considered than had been the case in many years, dripping with deeply felt emotions. From start to end, Caught is a marvelous album, their best since the old days and a superlative way to extinguish the flame.

But, heh!, following a torrential history of gainsaid indications, it turned out not to be the closer after all, only penultimate. 1997 saw River of Dreams, which the site is again suspiciously silent on regarding base membership. Lees and Holroyd, as usual, wrote all the songs, so perhaps Pritchard had been 86'ed. Being solely an import and not easy to find, I haven't the CD and cannot give a critique, but as Martin Lawrence remained in the chaffeur's seat, it must be worthwhile. After this, the band would splinter harshly, with veiled recriminations and odd business moves aplenty. The site presently features a whimpery letter from Lees regarding some odd affair between he and Holroyd. Wolstenholme and Lees had attempted a reconciliation but it fizzled and the famous "Wooly" retreated to solo work again, publishing fitfully. In an long string of on-again/off-again moves, the keyboardist and guitarist appear to have kissed and made up and are planning a 2005-2006 small tour... that is, if Lees doesn't once more decide his, as he puts it, "inspirational muse" (not too redundant there, John) has once again failed him amidships.

A last Moodies imprint here: co-founder Wolstenholme was BJH's quintessential keyboardist and the only guy to ever give... guess who?... Mike Pinder, the Moodies best ivory tickler, a run for his money. In the annals of Mellotron Madness, only two topped the dogpile: Pinder and Wolstenholme, the rest, including Robert Fripp and Ian MacDonald, being inexplicably too timid of so lush an application of the marvelous instrument's entrancing strains.

There's an auxilliary treat in store for the old and new cultist, in the form of many anthologies and recent remasters. The group was ever grateful to its fans and, when publishing best of's, often put a highly satisfying trove of treasures in many of them. In fact, their very first compilation, Early Morning Onwards (1972), was considered almost a normal release by collectors, featuring the three early singles, A & B sides, plus five cuts from the LPs up to Short Stories, two of which were curious artificial-stereo mixes, presenting a kind of variation on the originals. The later The Best of Barclay James Harvest (1986), the first of three volumes titled thusly, re-presented three of Early Morning's single sides, that anthology having long been deleted plus the single "Rock & Roll Woman" and "The Joker," "R&R Woman" 's B-side, both of which also were out of print. The Compact Story of Barclay James Harvest (1985) boasts a number of unusual cuts, including a live version of "I've Got a Feeling." 1990's Alone We Fly features various singles' A and B sides along with LP cuts, while '91's The Harvest Years, a two-fer, caused fans to stroke out: it had three unreleased cuts, CD re-presentations of all three Early Morning singles, a couple of quad mixes of old tunes, the A & B side of a stray single the group had released under the mystery name of 'Bombadil' (!), and "The Joker" once again.

Endless Dream (1996) was the ultimate in such things, a veritable cornucopia of unreleased cuts, extended songs, remixes, and the only instrumental they'd do, a version of "Victims of Circumstance." Master Series (1999), a release that was not part of a series, had a number of edits, live cuts, and a newer fuller version of "I've Got a Feeling." Clustered around these were several other compilations with only a cut or two not part of an authorized release, but, in 2002, Harvest reissued its entire catalogue in remastered editions with a wealth of bonuses. The re-releases were issued in linear order and all within a year. Barclay James Harvest emerged with 13 songs tacked onto the original 7, most of them unreleased from BBC sessions. Once Again carried two unreleased cuts, and three quad mixes. Through those five additions, the LP now totaled a little over an hour - bliss, o' bliss! Baby James Harvest proffered three unreleaseds plus a new remix of Wolstoneholme's magnum opus "Moonwater," and so on. A number of the cuts were remastered from what had been sliced into other anthologies, but still prized for that virtue. And Other Stories received similar treatment, with all six cuts added cuts unreleased, and, finally, a complete surprise capped it all: a 2-CD edition, Barclay James Harvest...BBC In Concert, one disc in mono and the other a repeat in stereo, a bit of overkill perhaps but welcome nathless.

At the end of all this, fans were broke, exhausted, and in heaven, supplied with all they'd need to establish paradise on Earth.

Godfrey to Polydor: "It's the law, gentlemen"
Polydor to Godfrey: "Ehhhh, ya muddah!"

Noted earlier was the contention 'twixt Robert John Godfrey and the group. It proved to be a long argument, starting in 1971 and ending in 1995 (so much for any notion of "swift justice" here or abroad, hm?). Godfrey, a daunting composer in his own right and the founder of The Enid, a cult band prized by sophisticated progheads, made an indelible mark in the band's musical style, the proof lying in the magnificence of the two LPs he was involved in: Barclay James Harvest and Once Again, the two items inarguably pointed to as the group's finest moments, firm fixtures in the progressive canon. At issue was the question of Godfrey's contributions to the songs themselves. Though he has never been publicly credited in any way by BJH, save for a reference to conductorship, the record is somewhat surprising when inspected with logic.

The BJH website claims Godfrey had ambitions to join the group properly, as a full member, which the ensemble was not open to, despite having invited him to live with them in 1969 at Preston House (!). Godfrey's own words do not echo any such ambition. This refusal led to a parting of the ways after only a few years collaboration. Harvest's manager, Crowther, paid Godfrey 100 pounds (Brit currency) and the details of that payment, whether or not it carried legal obligations, is not explored by either, nor are the court's contemplations of it, in the decades-later suit, revealed. It must be kept in mind that Crowther was a successful businessman acting professionally and knowledgeably in culturing Barclay James Harvest as a large enterprise, thus a presumption that he was at least rudimentarily savvy would not be out of place. So, was any release form involved? Hard to say. The group, at pains to minimize Godfrey's involvement as much as possible, would certainly want to mention such a thing if it existed. And if it did indeed exist, it would be a damning artifact against Godfrey legally, yet Godfrey clearly satisfied the court that he was just in his claim; therefore, it may be assumed, at least for the moment, there were no strings therein. Any other situation argues against itself.

See Part 3 (of 3) of the BJH article

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