[Review] Barclay James Harvest: Baby James Harvest (1972)

The band’s fourth album features the epic “Summer Soldier” and lovely “Moonwater.”

Kronomyth 4.0: Out of the mouths of babes.

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 Barclay James Harvest’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 Moody Blues 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 elpee version

A1. Crazy (Over You) (Les Holroyd) (4:08)
A2. Delph Town Morn (John Lees) (4:41)
A3. Summer Soldier (John Lees) (10:23)
B1. Thank You (Les Holroyd*) (4:25)
B2. One Hundred Thousand Smiles Out (Les Holroyd) (6:00)
B3. Moonwater (Woolly Wolstenholme) (7:03)

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

The Players

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.

The Pictures

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

The Plastic

Released on elpee and 8-track on November 10, 1972 in the UK (Harvest, SHSP-4023) and the US (Harvest, SW/8XT-11145) with innersleeve.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1985 in the UK (Harvest, ATAK-8).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1987 in the UK (Fame, FA-3172).
  3. Re-packaged with Barclay James Harvest and Other Short Stories on 2-for-1 compact disc in November 1992 in the UK (Beat Goes On, BGOCD-160).
  4. Re-issued with Barclay James Harvest and Other Short Stories on 2-for-1 compact disc in October 1995 in the US (One Way, S21-18505).
  5. Re-issued on compact disc in 2002 in Japan (Harvest, TOCP-70349).
  6. Re-packaged with Once Again on expanded 2-for-1 2CD in 2003 in the UK (Harvest, 582345-2) with bonus material.
  7. Re-released on super high material compact disc on October 21, 2015 in Japan (Harvest, WPCR-16333).

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