Concert Review Archive


John Lees' Barclay James Harvest

Wednesday, 10th April 2013
De Boerderij, Zoetermeer, the Netherlands

Article and photos By Theo Verstrael

While busy recording their first new album in more than 13 years John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest embarked on a short tour, starting off in De Boerderij in Zoetermeer, Holland and taking them to Germany and Austria. Why this splendid venue was not fully packed will always remain a mystery to me but that was the case, in spite of the correct labelling by the organizers of the gig that this is really a legendary band. And so they proved.

Shortly after half past eight the four members took the stage, rather anonymously actually. No introducing music, no sound effects, just a bunch of guys coming on stage, grabbing their instruments and starting to play. The onset of their long set was immediately surprising. Since the late nineties John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest have been focusing mainly on the ‘classic’ era of the band, which lasted from 1967 till about 1978. But now they opened with Fifties child, a track from the 1983 Ring of changes album, a song they hadn’t played for decades. Maybe it was to pay tribute to the marvellous book that Alex Torres recently published on BJH-lyrics in relation to societal changes under the same title? That would have been well deserved!

John Lees'Barclay James Harves More surprises would follow, the first being the fact that the band played a really long set, divided in two parts and lasting for more than two hours. In the first part they treated us on Hymn for the children and Titles, songs I have only heard live since the Time honoured ghost-tour back in 1976 and never since (I didn’t miss a Dutch concert). The latter was a special treat for Holland as it has been a modest hit in the Dutch charts back then. It was apparently such a surprise that Lees’ guitar ran out of tune and had to be tuned again before they could carry on. These were the moments when you could see that this incarnation of the band is a group of extremely nice people, having great fun playing live together, teasing each other when possible but playing very tight when necessary. Jez Smith was in the background three years ago when they also played De Boerderij with co-foundr Woolly Wolstenholme still among them. He sadly passed away a year later. Jez has become an invaluable part of the sound of BJH, playing all the intricate vital parts on keyboards and mellotron. Kevin Whitehead is simply doing a great job on the drum stool, just delivering the right sound and rhythm. The most remarkable development was Craig Fletcher who has become very important as lead singer in the songs that Woolly used to sing, but also as the one who is announcing songs, making jokes and having fun. And there was always the obvious appreciation for Lees who still has a great voice and plays fluently, being in the music business for more than 40 years but still going strong.

The potential of the band was proven by the new song that was premiered live this evening: Unreservedly yours, a mellow ballad, more or less in the vein of their music during THG or Octoberon and shortly after its release the #1 in the Classic Rock downloads. The audience was enthusiastic, much to the relief of the band (it seemed). A historic event!

The second part of the set started off with another surprise, Crazy city. This is a classic BJH tune that was features on a couple of live albums. But as it was penned by Les Holroyd and this John Lees’ incarnation of BJH never played his songs at all until this autumn it was surprising. Knowing that Holroyd also has some of Lees’ songs in his set makes you wonder if the relationship between the two has hopefully become more or less normal again. Crazy city was followed by another THG song, One night that ended in a completely different, new coda compared to the version that was recorded for Live tapes. Really nice! Further on another rather ‘new’ song was included, Sideshow from the Victims of circumstance album. It appears that Lees is recently expanding his choice of songs for live sets considerably. With a new album imminent that is a real promise for the years to come!

After almost two hours the set was closed with She said (this time Lees had the recorder on hand and delivered the solo flawlessly; in 2009 the recorder was on the wrong side of the stage…) and the magnificent The poet/After the day combination, already leaving us with a feeling that we had witnessed another great gig. As an encore Loving is easy should have been nice but for some technical reason Lees’ guitar was not audible at all; too bad! Fortunately Hymn got the treat this great song deserves, albeit that for my taste the band may also choose another song as a closer, having played Hymn for so many, many years. But as we had so many interesting songs this evening and some completely new songs are coming, who knows what Lees will bring to Holland next time. Hopefully that will be very soon.

Fifties child
Poor wages
Child of the universe
Hymn for the children
Ball & chain
Cheap the bullet
For no one
Crazy city
One night
Mocking bird
Unreservedly yours
Takin’ some time on
Poor mans moody blues
She said
The poet/After the day

Loving is easy

John Lees' Barclay James Harvest Official Website

De Boerderij


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