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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Barclay James Harvest: Live Tapes


1) Child Of The Universe; 2) Rock'n'Roll Star; 3) Poor Man's Moody Blues; 4) Mocking Bird; 5) Hard Hearted Woman; 6) One Night; 7) Taking Me Higher; 8) Suicide; 9) Crazy City; 10) Jonathan; 11) For No One; 12) Polk Street Rag; 13) Hymn.

Only four years separate Barclay James Harvest's second live album from their first — that and the unexpected commercial success of Gone To Earth, which must have been the decisive factor in the appearance of Live Tapes, a record that is just as long as Barclay James Harvest Live and about twice as unnecessary. The actual tracks are a mix of performances recorded on the 1976 and 1977 tours, and the original album title was to be Caught Live until somebody pointed out that, once again, this would only help prolong the «poor man's Moody Blues» curse, as the Moodies already had a Caught Live + Five to their name. The advice was heeded, and the band eventually went along with the genuinely original, groundbreaking, and inspirational name of Live Tapes instead.

This time around, the band has jettisoned its pre-1974 incarnation output almost entirely, retai­ning only a somewhat perfunctory run through ʽMocking Birdʼ as the only link with their «pro­gressive past». The result is that the setlist now consists only of their derivative art-pop songs that leave very little space for improvisation, restructuring, or rearrangement (besides, songs like ʽPoor Man's Moody Bluesʼ were already «restructured» in the first place, so how much further tampering could they stand?). So the only thing that makes the record worth any of our while is that the live setting removes some of the problems with extra-glossy production or too much silky soft­ness in the arrangements on the studio albums.

Concerning the setlist, it is interesting that not a single one of Woolly's tracks is performed — the poor keyboardist is thus completely degraded to the role of session player — and that Lees gets a slight advantage over Holroyd, which is well understandable since it was Lees who was respon­sible for writing most of the band's harder-rocking and anthemic tunes, suitable for an arena-rock setting. As usual, Lees' melodic soloing is practically always the high point of the performances, and he does get at least one of those on each song. But the only track that can be seen as a relative improvement is Holroyd's ʽRock'n'Roll Starʼ: in this setting, it gets a little more meat on its bones and a little less ground to be accused of soft-rock bogginess.

From a certain point of view, Live Tapes may act as a decent shortcut for evaluating the band's entire career in their «silver» period of 1974-77 — most of the highlights are here, and, fortuna­tely, they do not include such thorough lowlights as ʽTitlesʼ, and go easy on Holroyd's exaggera­ted sentimentalism (only ʽTaking Me Higherʼ manages to break through the arena-rock filter). But the live setting may be a turn-off just as well — in particular, the roar of audience approve­ment that Lees gets after announcing ʽPoor Man's Moody Bluesʼ as the next song brings on the usual troubled thought on the elusive nature of good taste... then again, maybe the good gentle­men wre just happy that, with the Moodies no longer around, somebody was able to go on stage and at least offer a credible substitute for all the yearning hearts.

Check "Live Tapes" (CD) on Amazon


  1. you know this is the sort of stuff that got 70s rock such a bad name, not queen, not Pink Floyd, not genesis (well) but lame cheesy bands that promised a lot but never delivered, hell I feel like gobbing in the face of the lead singers face after watching rocknrollstar. I mean you have a double fretboarded guitar...and you do nothing with it.
    Its all too...mellow, too age of aquarius, too too nice milky tea before bed.

    1. And I thought it was stuff like "Brain Salad Surgery" or "A Passion Play".

      Really, these guys were always a second division band, they never got the attention of punks. The only anomaly in BJH career was their first class success in Germany.

    2. to be fair it was probably the cumulative effect of some overlong albums by the first rank bands resting on laurels (with moments of greatness), hordes of second raters who ten years earlier would have all be sporting beatle haircuts and collarless jackets; and all those bands tiring of the music press and their endlessly repeated inane questioning and the press's reaction to said bands refusal, was to push something different...something novel that didn't involve cod dark ages mythology, or faux science fiction or capes or complex time changes.