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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Barclay James Harvest: A Concert For The People (Berlin)


1) Berlin; 2) Loving Is Easy; 3) Mockingbird; 4) Sip Of Wine; 5) Nova Lepidoptera; 6) In Memory Of The Martyrs; 7) Life Is For Living; 8) Child Of The Universe; 9) Hymn.

We all saw it coming. I'm guessing they just ran out of space on the front sleeve, preventing the album from flashing its true full name: A Concert For The People (Who Continue To Buy Our Records Because We Wrote A Very Sappy Song About Their Hometown And They Fell For It, Well What Do You Expect Of Them Dumb Krauts Anyway). In grateful and sincere recog­nition of that fact, Barclay James Harvest did indeed play a live show on the steps of the Reich­stag, no less, on August 30, 1980 — and recorded this historical event (why historical? no idea) on audio and video for as much posterity as will be ready to stand the band.

Consequently, the biggest problem with this third BJH live album in less than ten years must have been the setlist. It is not very likely that they only played the nine songs on the album (al­though these are also the same nine songs that are available on the official video): most likely, they just selected the stuff that was not yet written in the age of Live and Live Tapes. So the set­list, or at least this particular section of it, mostly focuses on their recent period — the majority of the songs stemming from either XII or the yet-to-be-released Turn Of The Tide (oddly enough, Eyes Of The Universe is completely snubbed — too bad, the 175,000 Berliners assembled for the show might have enjoyed some disco dancing). ʽMockingbirdʼ is also included since, well, it is BJH's equivalent of ʽSatisfactionʼ; and ʽChild Of The Universeʼ and ʽHymnʼ make a re­ap­pe­ar­an­ce because a live album just ain't a live album without its fair share of singalong anthems, and XII was rather lean on singalong anthems.

The album is reported to have been seriously doctored, since there were multiple problems with the recording equipment (the spirit of the Reichstag does not take lightly to overseas intruders, so it seems), and some of the guitar parts had to be recut, which is why the final version came out so relatively late. This explains why Lees' guitar solos sound so much cleaner and sharper than they did on the earlier live releases — and, as usual, plunges us into the philosophical discussion on pre-calculated quality vs. flawed spontaneity. But at least they did go to the trouble of re-recor­ding rather than, say, using the solos from the original studio mix.

Still, it is hard to think of any reasons that would make Berlin an essential listen. There are a few rearrangements — ʽLoving Is Easyʼ, for instance, is sped up (which does not make the opening bassline any less ʽPsycho Killerʼ-ish) and recast in a rockier mode; whereas ʽChild Of The Uni­verseʼ, on the contrary, seems a bit softer and slippier than the original, with more emphasis on the keyboards and less heaviness in the guitar department. But it's almost impossible to under­stand what makes this seven-minute version of ʽIn Memory Of The Martyrsʼ preferable over or in addition to the studio version — naturally, this song, written in homage of the unlucky Berlin Wall crossers, had to be played there, but it would probably make more sense to try and get ins­pired by watching the faces of the people listening to it than by the audio track of the actual per­formance. Same goes for ʽHymnʼ, of course, except that ʽHymnʼ, unlike ʽMartyrsʼ and ʽBerlinʼ itself, is not specifically targeted at German audiences.

At least, with the possible exception of ʽLife Is For Livingʼ, they don't play any of their bad material — and the concert catches them in that short-lived upwards spiral of the post-Woolly era, so it represents another bookmark in the Amazing Technicolor Story of Barclay James Harvest that most people couldn't care less about. Oh, and do buy the DVD rather than the CD if you are really desperate — Lees cuts quite a melodramatic figure, jumping around in his matching red pants and jacket, and, with his beard shaved off, he sort of looks a bit like Roy Orbison now.

Check "A Concert For The People" (CD) on Amazon


  1. "the spirit of the Reichstag does not take lightly to overseas intruders, so it seems"
    LOL! (this is especially for my anonymous friend). Makes me wonder if any Eastern-European band has played there, to commemorate May 2nd 1945 so to say. There was some doctoring back then too, they say.

    1. You aren't the first Dutchman to have negative impulses concerning the Reichstag!