Barclay James Harvest Through The Eyes Of John Lees: Live Reviews
UK Concerts 2001
- BRISTOL Anson Rooms, March 27th
- MANCHESTER University Debating Hall, March 28th
- LONDON Astoria, March 29th
Set List:-She Said; Festival; For No One; The Iron Maiden; Mockingbird; Child Of The Universe; In Search Of England; Harbour; River Of Dreams; Poor Man's Moody Blues; Galadriel; Suicide?; Brave New World; Medicine Man; Loving Is Easy; Cheap the Bullet; Hymn.
Reviews / PhotosA view from across the pond...
Monday evening Lori and I set off to JFK airport for the hop across the pond. With my inability to sleep on airplanes combined with very little sleep the night before, I knew I was in for an exhausting adventure. The adrenaline would keep me going. Great flight on Air India we arrive at Heathrow at 7AM, pick up our rental car and speed off to Bristol. Bristol seemed a charming town, but despite my Mapquest maps and directions it took over an hour to find our hotel. The need for sleep took precedent over anything else so we konked out for about 4 hours. No record shopping on this day. Still quite foggy-headed we set out to the Clifton Wine bar for my first of many fine English Ales. The first persons I spot are good old Keith and Monika with kids in tow. We are soon joined by Stu Berry along with Damian Blakemore and Tim Beckwith. A great aniticipation is in the air as I actually have one up one most of these eager fans as I had seen John and Woolly two years previous in Switzerland. It was obviously a long time for many of these UK fans since they had seen BJH in any form.
Keith and Monika head out early to man the concession stand. The rest of us head over, but no rush is necessary as it would be quite easy to get a good spot to see the band in this less than sold out show. There was absolutely no advertising of any kind, even outside or around the music hall. The Anson Rooms was quite a decent place to see any band. The bar just off the side was also quite convenient! To Hell With Burgundy were quite interesting, not quite what I expected. I got a chance to chat with them and pick up a couple of their CDs after the show.
Time for our heroes! Much has been published about the set list, which didn't vary too much in two years time. Such a powerful opener in "She Said" certainly one of their top 5 songs and perhaps their best live one. Perhaps the highlight of the new additions was "In Search Of England". I just wish they would include MORE Woolly songs! I would gladly have seen them substitute something else for "Harbour". "Suicide?" still gives me the chills - please MORE songs from Octoberon! It wouldn't have done any harm to pick something from Time Honoured Ghosts as well. The big absence was "Starbright" which sent chills up my spine when they played live in '99. It's a real show stopper - pity they didn't play it. The sound at this venue was quite good. I can remember the Swiss shows as being a bit dodgy sound-wise. One show I couldn't even hear John's vocals most of the time. The good news was that John and Woolley seemed quite relaxed and had a lot of fun interplay. Barely saw John smile once 2 years ago. The bad news was that the rest of the band seemed to be either - farther back or in darker light or both. We were so tired (knackerd?) by the end of the show that post show festivities were to be had without us. But I did get to meet Old Tom at last and Andy Long (who I noticed several times earlier in the evening since he's a dead ringer for a player on my squash team).
The next day we slept late (of course), but put us in a position to head straight up to Manchester. We found Manchester far easier to get around than Bristol and found the Grafton Hotel in due course. Fellow travellers Stu Berry and Keith and Monika were at the hotel as well. A quick excursion to the record shops and back to Grafton for pre-show activities (glug, glug.) We were quite happy to meet more famous listers such as Janet and Geoff Iles, Kate Russell and Pete Noons amongst others. The Manchester Hall was yet another decent venue with good sound. After watching THWB again for a bit we retired to the lounge for drinks with Alan Wills and Eddie Bust. It was here that I noticed John's daughter Esther and just pegged her as some fans' daughter, seeing as how there aren't too many BJH teenage fans.
Right on cue we entered for "She Said" and another fabulous show. I must say I enjoyed this show much more than Bristol - perhaps only due to my rested state, but it was fantastic. The cameos by John's son and daughter were a great bonus for us. We even got a mention by Woolly indirectly as he mentioned that people had come from far away, even America. I yelled "yeah!" and the guy behind me yelled - "Hey, I came from Blackpool!" Even thought there was no change in the song line-up the show was different. Perhaps it was the sold out crowd, perhaps it was the energy of the band. We made our way back to the Grafton by way of an Indian take-away and I was in for the hottest curry of my life. It made the beers go down easier as we stayed in the bar drinking for several hours afterwards. What a great time with such pleasant people.
Our travels took us to Scotland, Newcastle and back to London after Machester, but the memories of the shows would linger for the rest of our trip. I wouldn't count it out happening again one day, but if not it will be a memory of a lifetime.
Lyell & Lori
Fresh in from the gig in Bristol.
What can I say....AWESOME !!!
Despite the best efforts of the British weather to dampen the spirits, nothing was going to get in the way of seeing "the boys" back in dear old Blighty for the first time in 9 years, and Woolly's first time in 21 years.
The evening was kicked off with the support band....To Hell With Burgundy. They were a lightweight but enjoyable trio playing and accoustic/electric mix.
At 9.00pm enter the band stage right...The band was made up of the same members as on the "Revival" CD. Craig Fletcher, Kevin Whitehead, Jeff Leach, Woolly and John. Indeed the set for the evening was not surprisingly based around that which is to be found on that CD, with a few notable exceptions.
The band came on and commenced with the Devilish Intro and straight into a powerful version of She Said. Indeed that was one of the most noticeable things about the whole concert was the powerful, hard edge that the band had. The band followed this up with Festival. Next came a real tour de force with "For no one". at the close of this the crowd went wild with long and sustained applause. In fact I'm sure I even saw John smile at this point !!
What was clear from the start is how much Woolly was keyed up for this gig. Full of life from the start, and bringing his brand of humour to the stage. This is a band that is supremely comfortable with each other,and all excellent musicians. The band were tight and together throughout.
Woolly introduced the next track as "Iron Maiden" and told the story of how it was written about the ship (SS Great Britain which is a museum in Bristol). John was having none of that explanation :-))
Hor's d'Oeuvre and Mockingbird came next followed by a stonking version of Child of the Universe....classic BJH at its very best.
Next a surprise....a track not heard since the XII tour back in the 80's....In search of England this was then followed by another XII track...Harbour.
Up to more recent times and a rendition of "River of Dreams".
Poor Man's Moody Blues came next, and despite having been done to death the new rendition does bring back a new vitality,and it sounded perfect tonight.
Back to the very early days with Galadriel....still beautiful after nearly 30 years.
A great version of Suicide continued the show - beautiful yet chilling.
Back up to date and a lovely version of Brave New World.
A long and rocking version of Medicine Man closed the set. The band left to tumultuous applause. The crowd clamoured for more, and who were JL & WW to refuse.
Back they came for the encore.........
The new revamped and hard edged Loving is easy, followed by another surprise in Cheap the Bullet, and to round off the evening Hymn.
That was it......the end of a show to remember...but hopefully this time it will not be another 9 years before we see them again.
My overall memory of the gig was how dynamic the band sounded...far better than on the Revival CD, where my ears find the production a bit flat and lacking sparkle. This gig wasn't sparkling it was on fire!
James "Old Tom" Barry
The first time I've seen the lads for around ten years proved to be no disappointment, despite the 'new boys' in the line-up. For those not in the know the current line-up of BJH features John Lees, original keyboard player Woolly Wolstenholme, dug up from an organic farm in Wales after a twenty-odd year absence and new boys Craig Fletcher and Kevin Whitehead, standing in the long-established (and probably quite smelly by now) shoes of Les Holroyd and Mel Pritchard. The band played a very safe set, taking in a lot of the classic tracks from the early years, loosely sprinkled with one or two newer numbers from the 'Nexus' album and other more recent platters. For anyone who's bought last year's live album 'Revival', the set stuck pretty much to that format opening with a brash version of 'She Said' and taking in old favourites like 'The Iron Maiden', 'Galadriel' and the classic 'Poor Man's Moody Blues'. The arrangements for the songs were familiar but had been given new life by the re-introduction of Woolly and that fantastic Mellotron sound, which was augmented by the additional keyboard player, Jeff Leach. Bass player Craig had a pretty convincing line on Les's bass parts and confidently strutted around thumping a battered-looking MusicMan Stingray. The small but appreciative crowd were lapping it up and there was an intriguing animated display of BJH T-shirts through the ages tottering around enthusiastically. John Lees' trademark peculiarly harsh guitar sound came from what I think was a B.C. Rich, but I wouldn't swear to it. They closed the set with another great old classic, 'Medicine Man' in all its monstrous glory, before re-appearing for an encore of 'Loving Is Easy', 'Cheap The Bullet' (with Craig taking lead vocals) and, of course, closing with the long-established concert favourite 'Hymn', which also had a very different arrangement to the norm - but not as different as the version my band 3rd Day Rising have recorded for the tribute album - so let's just check - I've given the bass player a favourable mention and managed to plug my own band, all in all I think that's a pretty successful review! Boys, you lose a point for the new arrangement of 'Mockingbird' which I still don't like, but apart from that, what a top gig. 9/10
Once there was a four piece band, then they became three, then five and now it's a seven piece. Last night in Manchester was something phenomenal. Playing back on home turf to a packed hall of devoted (if somewhat greying) fans was bound to be special. But with two special guest appearances it took on an entirely new dimension.*
The hall as I said was packed so if the promoters are taking any notice then that should be a good sign. Being a university gig the stage was quite a small one but that only made things better - it lent an intimacy to the event that just left this concert feeling almost like a performance in a folk club. What with Janet and Kate standing right in front of the mellotron it really did almost seem like we were grouped round Uncle Woolly down the Dog and Duck.
John seemed a bit shy when talking to the audience but after the first couple of numbers he was regularly flashing smiles at Woolly, Craig, Kevin and Jeff - and others.
Woolly was apparently terrified before the Bristol Gig, if he was the same before this one then there were no signs by the time he got on stage. He was relaxed and back where he belonged and he knew it. Craig was clearly enjoying himself, though he looked as though he wanted to dance around a bit which the small stage denied him. Then he got a chance to do the lead vocals on one number and a jolly good job he made of it too - I'm not telling which one though, we can't spoil the pearly queens surprise now can we.
Kevin was tight and really useful on the drums, using the kit powerfully and well. What's more it was a real drum kit. The only problem was - his face was hidden behind one of the cymbals so it was a right bugger to get any pics of him.
Jeff was excellent on keyboards - I suppose it is inevitable that with Woolly being on stage Jeff will be seen as the auxiliary. But that he certainly isn't, his contribution was vital to the overall sound and gave the lads the opportunity to really give some of the big numbers a touch of wellie.
I stood there thinking that with the line up as it is there could be a real opportunity for the band to attempt some of Wooly's "impossible numbers" or maybe something from the Maestoso era. Whatever, that's a hint for the possible autumn tour. Deceivers All or Quiet Islands gets my vote. Old Tom's comments about the sound being tight and dynamic was spot on, it was awesome (just a bit awry with the mikes part way through on Brave New World), but I'm sure that the venue was a great help in that.
Yup it was a night to be long remembered, made all the better by being able to meet up with some of the other listers.
*PS for the dreamers amongst you the two guests weren't Les and Mel, but John Joseph Lees playing cornet in "Mockingbird" and Esther Lees singing "Galadriel"!
It is 1am. My throat is hoarse and sore. But, strangely, I am not tired.
In truth, I am elated.
I have just returned home after witnessing one of the best concerts I have ever attended.
To see John and Woolly on stage together in London, for the first time since 1978, was so momentous.
I was thrilled at the set, as it contained six of my Top 10 all-time BJH songs, i.e. For No One, Poor Man's Moody Blues, Galadriel, Suicide?, Child of the Universe and Hymn.
They also played She Said, Mockingbird, The Iron Maiden and Medicine Man, so the early years were well represented. And there were no less than three songs from XII (Loving Is Easy, In Search Of England and Harbour), although strangely nothing from Time Honoured Ghosts.
For me, the highlight of the gig was when they played Poor Man's Moody Blues, followed by Galadriel, followed by Suicide?. At one point in PMMB I had tears in my eyes (and I have never cried at a concert before). The lyrics are so beautiful. Galadriel then made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, before the sublime opening bars of Suicide? had me wiping away more tears. John's recorder solo on She Said was another shiver-inducing moment.
The Astoria was a great venue - very intimate. I was standing right at the front by the stage, so I had a fantastic view. It was great to see the camaraderie and musical chemistry that exists between these two old friends. It was amusing to see Woolly bring out the bouquets of flowers! The reception the band received from their loyal fans was fantastic.
If the band don't get signed up for an Autumn tour I will be amazed! If there's any justice in the world one of the rock magazines should run a feature on BJH. There are so many people who love their music, yet they have never achieved the critical acclaim and recognition that they so richly deserve. I hope some rock journalists were there tonight, and that they give the band some good reviews. After all these years, it would be good for the band's achievements to finally be acknowledged.
P.S. Dear John and Woolly - when you tour in the Autumn, please could you include Early Morning in the set list?
I'm beginning to think I should have gone to the trouble of getting a passport and traipsing around Europe in the last couple of years - if the European Revival gigs were half as good as the Astoria on Thursday, I should've have gone long since.
It was awesome. The set list was perfect. And, guys, please come back soon!!!
Keeping my fingers crossed for a repeat performance soon,
There've been several moments where strange things happened during the London concert and the ones I liked most (apart from the music of course) were: First was when a mobile phone was ringing just when John started with Galadriel - his eyebrows went up in the air and he said something like: "You have to answer it - will you?" He looked like he couldn't believe it. The other thing was when Woolly nearly shouted his "beware" during first lines of Medicine Man and John couldn't sing on properly as he couldn't help laughing ....