JOHN LEES’ BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST
The 50th Anniversary Concert ESOTERIC/LEPIDOPTERA A beautiful record of 50 years of glory.
During this extraordinary concert’s encore, the band play an audio from April 14, 1968. It features John Peel introducing Barclay James Harvest’s first single, Early Morning. Peel says, “This is their first record, and it won’t be their last. They’re going on to do great things.”
Well, 50 years on, Peel’s point has been certainly been proven a thousand times over.
Given Barclay James Harvest’s gift for symphonic rock and their Mancunian roots, the Royal Northern College Of Music is the ideal setting for this celebration of 50 years of
THE RAPPORT AND DELIGHT BETWEEN BAND AND CROWD IS A WONDER.
music making. Yet as the ever-witty bassist/vocalist Craig Fletcher points out, “This is not a concert, it’s a celebration: you’re all family.”
It’s this sense of family that raises this recording beyond usual concert footage. Let’s be clear, there is no attempt to use arty shots or cunning cross-cuts to make the film stand out. It relies on the quality of the music and the relationship between the bandmembers and the audience to do its work. It’s all the better for that.
Given that it’s a celebration of 50 years, there is music from every phase and incarnation of Barclay James Harvest. Lees and co’s 2013 tribute to the late Woolly Wolstenholme, On Leave, is a match for any other tune in the set. Rightly, there is their song-for-the-ages, Mockingbird, but this concert also contains stand-out versions of The Poet/After the Day, Summer Soldier and She Said. Rarities abound, including Delph Town Morn, In Memory Of The Martyrs and Paraiso Dos Cavalos.
The rapport and delight between the bandmembers and the audience is a wonder to behold. In the shadow of Wolstenholme’s death, Craig Fletcher, Jez Smith and Kevin Whitehead have brought the very best out of Lees. This incarnation of Barclay James Harvest has wit, northern warmth and deep respect for individual bandmember’s gifts. Lees says at one point that he feels like “A rabbit in the headlights.” In one sense, it’s a remarkable thing for a man who has played in front of millions to say, yet it is also a token of humility. The audience and the band adore him for it.
About halfway through, Jez Smith takes to the grand piano and plays a moving version of River Of Dreams. Lees sings, ‘When I was young man I was someone’s hero…’ It’s an honest song about fame and money. This writer remembers how much in awe of Lees they were when they first saw Barclay James Harvest as a child. He’s still a hero, but in a different way. As Fletcher says, this concert records a family meeting together in celebration. Here’s to many more.