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Pop - Released January 1, 2003 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

Barclay James Harvest had streamlined their sound considerably after leaving the Harvest label, culminating (so many felt) in the mellifluous music of Gone to Earth. Their pretensions to progressive rock all but abandoned, BJH here invites comparison to contemporaries like Supertramp, REO Speedwagon, and Fleetwood Mac (some of whom were similarly tagged with the prog rock label early on). Even at their most ornate, songwriters John Lees and Les Holroyd were simple balladeers at heart, and the decision to unclutter their arrangements allows the material's intrinsic beauty to shine through with clarity. For this reason, Gone to Earth is regarded by many as the band's best album, and judged on a song-by-song basis, it's hard to argue against it. Lees' "Hymn" and "Poor Man's Moody Blues" swell from simple beginnings to majestic heights, while Holroyd provides a cache of catchy rock songs, incorporating Beach Boys' harmonies on "Spirit of the Water" and "Taking Me Higher," soaring with the Eagles on "Friend of Mine," and even dabbling in reggae on the popular "Hard Hearted Woman." Again, the album's lone orchestral moment comes from Woolly Wolstenholme, the transcendent "Sea of Tranquility." (The keyboardist, whose once-omnipresent Mellotron now played a diminished role in the band's sound, left after the subsequent tour, releasing the first of several solo albums in 1980.) Although the songs are almost uniformly light on their feet, the lyrics reveal some heavy thoughts: Lees' "Lepers Song" laments "The end of the line's where I'm at/'Cos there's nothing left to be," and "Spirit of the Water" deals with killing seals for coats. Fortunately, it's not the uneasy alliance you might expect. Rarely has the band sounded so comfortable in the studio, and the result is as lovely a record as they've made. © Dave Connolly /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 1992 | Polydor Records

Although there are a few Barclay James Harvest classics like "Mockingbird" included in this 15-track set, most of the selections are lesser-known singles and B-sides, which isn’t really a problem, since this is one of the best British bands no one has really heard of. Their recorded legacy is deep and wide. © Steve Leggett /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2010 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

Cut live at the Reichstag in the German city, Berlin is very different from The Live Tapes, with a rather leaner, harder-rocking sound, and more of a dance-rock feel as well, and is also miked much closer for a more intimate sound. "Mockingbird," "Child of the Universe," and "Hymn" are all performed rather more tightly than earlier live renditions, and with more flamboyant electronic effects. "Sip of Wine" represents the group's harder, post-progressive-era sound, while "Nova Lepidoptera" is a pretty piece of space rock, and "Life Is for Living" is so upbeat with its disco-dance sound that it could almost pass for an ABBA cut. Except on the latter, where the keyboards rule, John Lees' and Colin Browne's guitars are the most prominent component of the group's sound, and it's easy to see why this album, covering so many bases so well, took British audiences by storm -- the Moody Blues in their post-psychedelic era have wanted to make a live record this tight and bracing for ages. And the CD is even better than the LP. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 1978 | Polydor Records

This double-live CD, made on BJH's last tour with Wooly Wolstenholme, is one of the better live albums to come out of the progressive rock genre. Though not as exciting as Genesis Live or as majestic as Yessongs, it shows the group in excellent form, playing and harmonizing beautifully and doing many of their best songs, among them "Child of the Universe," "Rock and Roll Star," "Poor Man's Moody Blues," "For No One," and "Mockingbird" (the latter never sounded more beautiful). All of the tracks work significantly better as live cuts than they do in their original studio form. Lees' guitar and Wolstenholme's keyboards work together very well on-stage and within the songs. The only complaint one could have is the price -- for just under 80 minutes of music, the two CDs could have been combined on one disc. The sound is good, though there is no real audience "presence," except between songs. [The 2006 British import version has several bonus tracks: "The World Goes On," "Medicine Man," and "Hymn for the Children."] © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1979 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

Punk's rise in Britain seemed to be leading to the demise of Barclay James Harvest, the fate awaiting so many of the island's veteran rock bands. Although 1976's Octoberon had finally pushed the band into the U.K. Top 20, it was all downhill from there, as the group's follow-ups in 1977 and 1978 landed ever lower in the listings, something that Barclay James Harvest's shift to a brighter, more American sound did nothing to prevent. Keyboardist Wooly Wolstenholme had enough, and announced his decision to depart in early 1979 during the rehearsals for their forthcoming album. Graciously, he agreed to take the stage with the group for its European tour that summer, with his final gig recorded and subsequently released as The Live Tapes. Les Holroyd initially filled in on keyboards in the studio, until Kevin McAlea was brought in, and recording proceeded apace. The eight-song Eyes of the Universe album was released later that year, a strong set that kicked off with the spinoff single "Love on the Line." If that number showcased their more Americanized style, "Sperratus" highlighted their British roots, with its Renaissance-rinsed ersatz harpsichord and soaring guitar parts. "Alright Down Get Boogie (Mu Ala Rusic)" illustrated that Barclay James Harvest were open to new sounds, in this case disco, and "Rock n' Roll Lady" to old, its riff obviously inspired by Blue Öyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper." The epic "Play to the World," meanwhile, slowly builds in scope, growing ever more grandiose across its six-plus minutes, until finally Alan Fawkes' saxophone solo kicks in, adding a sweep of Springsteen to the proceedings. "The Song (They Love to Sing)" is nearly as majestic, while "Capricorn" is just lyrically baffling, although musically upbeat. Considering the events swirling around its making, Eyes was a triumph, although once again it took the band even lower in the British listings. But, oh, its impact in Europe! The set soared up the charts across the continent, turning Barclay James Harvest into instant superstars. Eventually, the band would reach new heights in Britain as well, but from this point forth, it was across the channel that the band's fate truly lay. © Jo-Ann Greene /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 2003 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

The group's first album for Polydor is several steps above their EMI work. Most of the psychedelic-era influences are softened here and broadened, and transmuted into something heavier and more serious, even as the Beatlesque harmonies remain intact. The guitars sound real heavy, almost larger than life here, while the swelling Mellotron and synthesizer sounds give the music the feel of an orchestra. By this time, the group had also mastered the Pink Floyd technique of playing pretty tunes really slowly, which made them sound incredibly profound (it's actually a technique that goes back, in different forms, to Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner). John Lees gives superb, virtuoso performances on lead guitar on "Paper Wings" and "For No One." Les Holroyd's gorgeous "Poor Boy Blues" sounded more like Crosby, Stills & Nash than CSN did in those days, and is almost worth the price of the CD. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1981 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

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Pop - Released January 1, 2003 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

Time Honoured Ghosts continued Barclay James Harvest's development away from the orchestral sweep of the earlier albums, although there's a little more filler than usual here. "In My Life" emphasizes BJH's penchant for ghostly descending vocal choruses and features an angular lead guitar part that would be recycled several years later in "Loving Is Easy." "Titles" remains memorably catchy in spite of its faintly irritating musical parlor trick of lyrics created entirely from Beatles song titles. "Moongirl" in particular demonstrates how Stewart Wooly Wolstenholme's approach to keyboards differs from most prog rock bands (with the exception, perhaps, of Pink Floyd); by subtly combining a variety of background textures (Mellotron, harpsichord, organ, piano), he acts as a foil to set off the more obvious roles played by the vocals and lead guitar. © Paul Collins /TiVo
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Rock - Released September 1, 2017 | Cherry Red Records

The band's follow-up still finds it working very much in the vein of orchestral rock, largely driven by Stewart Wooly Wolstenholme's keyboards and the presence of the London Symphony Orchestra. The reach of the music exceeds the grasp of the lyrics, though -- they lack the cold oracularity of Peter Sinfield or the allusive cleverness of Peter Gabriel. Still, there's some fine compositions here. "She Said" turns upon a keening opening Mellotron riff to develop into a slow-four dirge. "Song for Dying" shows off the band's fine ability at vocal harmonies, while the later concert standard, "Mocking Bird," shows a dramatic evolution from pensive acoustic guitar to a full-blown orchestral attack. © Paul Collins /TiVo
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XII

Pop - Released January 1, 2003 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

Based very loosely around the motif of literary genres (science fiction, fantasy, classics, etc.), XII shows Barclay James Harvest following many other progressive bands in the late '70s with slicker production and simplified song structures. This attempt at the mainstream doesn't always succeed; the album begins inauspiciously with "Loving Is Easy," a generic rock track with embarrassing "shoot my love into you" lyrics. But the simple yet effective arrangement of the keyboard ballad, "Berlin," shows that the band is capable of stripping down their compositions without having to sink to the lowest common denominator. Still, most fans won't find much to love here, except perhaps for "In Search of England," which briefly resurrects Wolstenholme's epic keyboard-driven orchestration. © Paul Collins /TiVo
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Rock - Released August 27, 2020 | Esoteric Recordings

Like the work of Buffalo Springfield or the Moody Blues in the first go 'round, you'll need to take it on faith that the Baroque touches on Barclay James Harvest and Other Stories were effective for their time. The fuzzed guitars, Mellotron, bongos, heavy orchestration and dreamy arrangements may sound stilted today, but strip them away (or simply acquiesce to enjoy them) and a very good collection of songs reveals itself. There are obvious nods to the Beatles ("Blue John Blues," "Medicine Man") and the Moodies (the lovely "Ursula"), but that's a fait accompli on any Barclay James Harvest album. Although the album doesn't really tell any stories (an optimistic acceptance of mortality comes into play on a couple of tracks), the band does aspire to bigger things on the aptly titled "The Poet." The only knock on this album (and it pertains to Barclay James Harvest in general) is that you wish they aspired to more. The classical arrangements are stunning, and when the band musters a big orchestral ending for a song like "Little Lapwing," you can't help but wonder how much better it would have been if they'd invoked it sooner. Musically the band is solid; Mel Pritchard's Ringo-isms on the drums are especially neat, while John Lees gets in some nice distorted guitar parts and Stewart Wooly Wolstenholme steals the show when the Mellotron comes into play. The epic "After the Day" closes things on a high note, ending with an explosion that announces all bets are off. Barclay James Harvest and Other Stories is itself a high note in the band's early catalog and worth a flyer for anyone interested in the band's oeuvre. [The 2002 EMI CD reissue included six bonus tracks, five of which were previously unreleased.] © Dave Connolly /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1984 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

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Pop - Released January 1, 2003 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

With Wolstenholme's keyboards pushed back in the mix, and strangely missing the harmonies that enriched their earlier work, Octoberon is something of a departure for the band. While Wolstenholme's stately "Ra" shows a dabbling in mysticism and the soaring sound of their previous work, most of the album is a strangely glum affair. John Lees adopts a pub rock sound in his compositions, although "May Day" manages to veer unexpectedly into a glorious choral and organ arrangement. "Polk Street Rag," despite its name, is a slick rocker about a sordid X-rated movie house in San Francisco. There's a black humor throughout, as in this brutally funny line from "Suicide?": "Heard a voice shouting 'Don't jump, please for God's sake let me move my car.'" Not up to the level of their best work, but worth a listen for fans. © Paul Collins /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1983 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

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Pop - Released January 1, 1990 | Polydor Records

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Pop - Released January 1, 1977 | Polydor Records

Barclay James Harvest had streamlined their sound considerably after leaving the Harvest label, culminating (so many felt) in the mellifluous music of Gone to Earth. Their pretensions to progressive rock all but abandoned, BJH here invites comparison to contemporaries like Supertramp, REO Speedwagon, and Fleetwood Mac (some of whom were similarly tagged with the prog rock label early on). Even at their most ornate, songwriters John Lees and Les Holroyd were simple balladeers at heart, and the decision to unclutter their arrangements allows the material's intrinsic beauty to shine through with clarity. For this reason, Gone to Earth is regarded by many as the band's best album, and judged on a song-by-song basis, it's hard to argue against it. Lees' "Hymn" and "Poor Man's Moody Blues" swell from simple beginnings to majestic heights, while Holroyd provides a cache of catchy rock songs, incorporating Beach Boys' harmonies on "Spirit of the Water" and "Taking Me Higher," soaring with the Eagles on "Friend of Mine," and even dabbling in reggae on the popular "Hard Hearted Woman." Again, the album's lone orchestral moment comes from Woolly Wolstenholme, the transcendent "Sea of Tranquility." (The keyboardist, whose once-omnipresent Mellotron now played a diminished role in the band's sound, left after the subsequent tour, releasing the first of several solo albums in 1980.) Although the songs are almost uniformly light on their feet, the lyrics reveal some heavy thoughts: Lees' "Lepers Song" laments "The end of the line's where I'm at/'Cos there's nothing left to be," and "Spirit of the Water" deals with killing seals for coats. Fortunately, it's not the uneasy alliance you might expect. Rarely has the band sounded so comfortable in the studio, and the result is as lovely a record as they've made. © Dave Connolly /TiVo
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Rock - Released August 3, 2018 | Cherry Red Records

Barclay James Harvest's sensibly titled debut album was one of the unsung classics of the late '60s, a post-psychedelic pop album that posits a peculiar collision between the Bee Gees' vision of classic grandeur and the heftier sounds leaking out of the rock underground. Add Norman Smith's epic production and one cannot help thinking that if the Pretty Things had ever looked elsewhere for their follow-up to S.F. Sorrow, Barclay James Harvest could have handed it to them on a plate. The opening "Taking Some Time On" is absolutely phenomenal, churning and riffing on the one hand, positively hymnal on the other -- and poised, during its chorus, to plunge into a virtual dry run for R.E.M.'s "Talk About the Weather." Elsewhere, "When the World Was Woken" is unmistakably daubed in a whiter shade of Procol Harum, while the 12-minute closer, "Dark Now My Sky," is simply spellbinding. Barclay James Harvest ranks among the finest albums of the entire early prog boom. © Dave Thompson /TiVo
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Rock - Released November 5, 1971 | Cherry Red Records

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Pop - Released January 1, 1978 | Polydor Records

Based very loosely around the motif of literary genres (science fiction, fantasy, classics, etc.), XII shows Barclay James Harvest following many other progressive bands in the late '70s with slicker production and simplified song structures. This attempt at the mainstream doesn't always succeed; the album begins inauspiciously with "Loving Is Easy," a generic rock track with embarrassing "shoot my love into you" lyrics. But the simple yet effective arrangement of the keyboard ballad, "Berlin," shows that the band is capable of stripping down their compositions without having to sink to the lowest common denominator. Still, most fans won't find much to love here, except perhaps for "In Search of England," which briefly resurrects Wolstenholme's epic keyboard-driven orchestration. © Paul Collins /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 1976 | Polydor Records

With Wolstenholme's keyboards pushed back in the mix, and strangely missing the harmonies that enriched their earlier work, Octoberon is something of a departure for the band. While Wolstenholme's stately "Ra" shows a dabbling in mysticism and the soaring sound of their previous work, most of the album is a strangely glum affair. John Lees adopts a pub rock sound in his compositions, although "May Day" manages to veer unexpectedly into a glorious choral and organ arrangement. "Polk Street Rag," despite its name, is a slick rocker about a sordid X-rated movie house in San Francisco. There's a black humor throughout, as in this brutally funny line from "Suicide?": "Heard a voice shouting 'Don't jump, please for God's sake let me move my car.'" Not up to the level of their best work, but worth a listen for fans. © Paul Collins /TiVo