Barclay James Harvest: Baby James Harvest (1972)

For years, I was ambivalent about this record, but it seems I may have thrown the moonwater out with the baffling baby theme. Song for song, this is one of BJH’s strongest records. The album was apparently recorded under unusual circumstances, with Woolly largely in absentia while he worked on his classical opus, “Moonwater.” Despite the separation, all of the different pieces from John, Les and Woolly work very well together. Les in particular fires off two great tracks: the opening “Crazy (Over You)” and “One Hundred Thousand Smiles Out.” The first track follows their number-one-song-with-a-bullet ethos of powerful opening statements, and would have been my first choice for the album’s single. (“Thank You,” honestly, would have been my last choice.) The second song from Les combines elements of “Space Oddity” and “Bungalow Bill” for an out-of-this-world tale. It wouldn’t be the last time that BJH was lost in space; they’d revisit the theme again on “Negative Earth.” John Lees writes half of the material (Les is mistakenly credited with “Thank You”), including one of their greatest anti-war songs, “Summer Soldier.” The first half of that track is your standard acoustic folk fare, but the second half transforms into a chrome-plated sci-fi nightmare complete with crimson streaks of mellotron. “Delph Town Morn” is a nice midtempo piece featuring an impressive 13-piece horn section. “Thank You” is something of a novelty track that name-checks family and friends, including three-fourths of 10cc (whose “gizmo” device is feature prominently on the guitar parts). Like the band, I’ve left the best for last: “Moonwater.” In many ways, this is Woolly’s magnum opus (noting that I haven’t heard the deferred “Maestoso” yet): a dreamlike classical/lyrical composition that transcends what the Moodies and other bands had sought to do by fusing orchestral and pop music. Most of the time, an orchestra adds pomp to pop forms; here, Woolly inverts the formula by weaving a pop song into a classical structure. You’d have to go back to their first album to find a BJH record with so much personality, although the band had clearly honed their sound since then. I would still give Once Again the nod as their best effort, but any conversation of “classic BJH” would have to include Baby James Harvest early on—with the caveat that I reserve the right to change my opinion about this album again.

Original LP Version
A1. Crazy (Over You) (Holroyd)
A2. Delph Town Morn (Lees)
A3. Summer Soldier (Lees)
B1. Thank You (Holroyd*) (4:25)
B2. One Hundred Thousand Smiles Out (Holroyd) (6:00)
B3. Moonwater (Wolstenholme) (7:03)

* Mistakenly credited to Holroyd, but actually written by John Lees (source: BJH site).

Releases
1972.11.10 / Harvest / UK / LP / SHSP-4023 / picture inner sleeve
1973 / Harvest / US / LP / SW-11145 / picture inner sleeve
1973 / Harvest / US / 8T / 8XT-11145
1985 / Harvest / UK / LP / ATAK-8
1987 / Fame / UK / LP / FA-3172
2002 / Harvest / Japan / CD / TOCP-70349
2015.10.21 / Harvest / Japan / CD / WPCR-16333 / super high material

Repackages
1992.11 / Beat Goes On / UK / CD / BGOCD-160 / w. Other Short Stories
1995.10 / One Way / US / CD / S21-18505 / w. Other Short Stories
2003 / Harvest / UK / 2CD / 582345-2 / w. Once Again + bonus

Personnel
Les Holroyd, John Lees, Mel Pritchard, Stuart “Woolly” Wolstenholme with the Barclay James Harvest Orchestra (arranged by Martyn Ford and John Bell) (B3) and Brian Day (arranger/conductor on A2). Produced & arranged by Barclay James Harvest; engineered by Peter Tattersall, Mike Sheady, Kete Go. Cover photography by Julian Cottrell

Arcana

  • The title is most likely a reference to James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James, of whom Lees was a fan.
  • The baby featured on the cover is the photographer’s daughter, Boo! (source: BJH site)

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