[Review] Barclay James Harvest: Live (1974)

A bountiful feast of Barclay James Harvest recorded live in London and Liverpool.

Kronomyth 6.0: A bountiful harvest.

BJH Live sums up their most prolific progressive period with a double-album, double exclamation point. If you were ever going to make the case for Barclay James Harvest as a great progressive rock band, these two discs of plastic would be your opening and closing arguments. Drawn from performances in London (6/30/74) and Liverpool (8/31/74), Live collects many of their best songs and gives them an epic sendoff. Some of these songs were already mini-epics (“Summer Soldier,” “She Said”), but everything here is elevated to a grand sonic statement on stage.

There is the real sense that songs like “Medicine Man” and “After The Day” only reach their full potential on this album. The arrangements are not markedly different from the originals; in fact, the guitars often sound like they could have been lifted from the studio recordings note for note. The difference here is that the songs are given room to breathe. “Crazy City” and “Paper Wings,” for example, always felt a little too tightly contained in their studio versions; I prefer the live versions (even with their blurry sonic detail) in both cases, and I’m rarely an aficionado of live albums.

You won’t find extended drum solos or radical re-treatments on this album. You also won’t find a lot of musical fireworks. There are extra solos from John and Woolly, but not anything that will drop your jaw. This isn’t about effulgence, but indulgence; never have BJH fans been served so rich a feast of progressive rock in one seating. Imagine if Uriah Heep had released a live abum that focused on The Magician’s Birthday and Demons & Wizards with a few of their proggier cuts from recent albums to flesh things out. That’s what BJH Live feels like.

I wouldn’t say it’s the first BJH album you need to own because live albums are better after a song has been living in your head for a while. It is a must-own record for BJH fans, however, and would probably make my list of the top 20 prog rock live albums of all time.

Original 2LP version

A1. Summer Soldier (Lees)
A2. Medicine Man (Lees)
B1. Crazy City (Holroyd)
B2. After The Day (Lees)
B3. The Great 1974 Mining Disaster (Lees)
C1. Galadriel (Lees)
C2. Negative Earth (Holroyd)
C3. She Said (Holroyd)
D1. Paper Wings (Holroyd)
D2. For No One (Lees)
D3. Mockingbird (Lees)

The Players

Les Holroyd (vocals, bass, rhythm guitar), John Lees (vocals, lead guitar, recorder), Mel Pritchard (drums), Wooly Wolstenholme (vocals, electric piano, Moog, Mellotron). Produced by Rodger Bain. Engineered by Brian Humphries.

The Pictures

Design by Keith Davis and Vincent McEvoy. Photography by Alex Agor and Tim Brown.

The Plastic

Released on 2LP and cassette in October 1974 in the UK (Polydor, 2683 052/3523 106), Germany (Polydor, 2679 034)  and Japan (Polydor, MP-9484/5) with gatefold cover. Reached #40 on the UK charts.

  1. Re-issued on compact disc on April 27, 2009 in the UK (Esoteric, ECLED 2122).

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