BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST: LIVE TAPES (1978)
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.