[Review] Barclay James Harvest and Other Short Stories (1971)

A new batch of mellow songs from John, Les and Woolly ready to harvest.

Kronomyth 3.0: Wally Walley rockin’ free.

The third time really wasn’t all that much of a charm for Barclay James Harvest. I was prepared for Once Again again, but it never materialized. Short Stories features a by-now-familiar assortment of orchestral rock, tales of lost love, apocalyptic warnings and bird songs. It’s even got a dead parrot sketch. What it doesn’t have is the tasteful production and orchestration of their last album. Norman Smith had abdicated the producer’s seat for Wally (Allen) Walley, the bass player for The Pretty Things (Smith had produced both bands for EMI/Harvest). Martyn Ford had also replaced Robert Godfrey as orchestral conductor/arranger. So you have a new team that just doesn’t gel on this record.

There are still a handful of good songs to be heard on here: “Ursula” (which sounds like a lost Ray Thomas track), “Blue John Blues” (apparently a knock at their previous manager), “Medicine Man” and the closing pair of “The Poet/After The Day.” But it never builds the cumulative goodwill that Once Again did. John, Woolly and Les are different songwriters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Short Stories has harmony (Les), energy (John) and threnody (Woolly); not a recipe for disaster or rock and roll stew.

The odd thing is that I can remember liking this album more in the past. I even wrote an enthusiastic review of it for AMG. All of which goes to show you that I didn’t know anything, and that what I know now should in no way be taken as knowledge. It’s true that this is classic-period BJH, but it’s not a classic BJH record. Fortunately, the band tightened up the loose ends for their next elpee, Baby James Harvest, which I’ve grown fonder of over the years even as my fondness for Short Stories has faded, suggesting some kind of law of conservation of critical energy at work.

Original elpee version

A1. Medicine Man (Lees)
A2. Someone There You Know (Wolstenholme)
A3. Harry’s Song (Lees)
A4. Ursula (The Swansea Song) (Wolstenholme)
A5. Little Lapwing (Holroyd)*
B1. Song With No Meaning (Holroyd)
B2. Blue John Blues (Lees)
B3. The Poet (Wolstenholme)
B4. After The Day (Lees)

* Lyrics written by John Lees (source: http://www.bjharvest.co.uk/otshost.htm).

CD reissue bonus tracks
10. Brave New World
11. She Said
12. Galadriel
13. Ursula (The Swansea Song)
14. Someone There You Know
15. Medicine Man

The Players

Les Holroyd (bass, vocals), John Lees (guitars, vocals), Mel Pritchard (drums), Stuart “Woolly” Wolstenholme (keyboards, vocals).

The Plastic

Released on elpee on November 5, 1971 in the UK (Harvest, SHVL-794), the US (Sire, SI-5904) and in 1972 in Italy (Harvest, 3C 064 04922) with gatefold cover.

  1. Re-packaged with Baby James Harvest on 2-for-1 compact disc in November 1992 in the UK (Beat Goes On, BGOCD-160).
  2. Re-issued with Baby James Harvest on 2-for-1 compact disc in October 1995 in the US (One Way, S21-18505).

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