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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Barclay James Harvest: Glasnost


1) Nova Lepidoptera; 2) Hold On; 3) African; 4) Love On The Line; 5) Alone In The Night; 6) On The Wings Of Love; 7) Mockingbird; 8) Rock'n'Roll Lady; 9) He Said Love; 10) Turn The Key; 11) Medicine Man; 12) Kiev; 13) Child Of The Universe; 14) Life Is For Living; 15) Poor Man's Moody Blues; 16) Berlin; 17) Loving Is Easy; 18) Hymn.

If, having lived way past the Gorbachev era, you happened to forget the exact meaning of the Rus­sian word glasnost', or if, on the contrary, you are too young to have lived through that era and are in need of a good translation, look no further than the fourth live album by Barclay James Harvest! Of course, they forgot to put it on the album cover, but I will gladly fill it in for you: «Glasnost' is when they finally let us sing our crappy songs in East Berlin as well!»

Recorded July 14, 1987 at the Treptower Park (the actual date would rather suggest a different location, like the Place de la Bastille, but the BJH codex of honor explicitly states that all memo­rable dates in BJH history must take place on German soil, or else John Lees' right to a life-long supply of free Sauerkraut will be forfeit), this is a full CD — these days, actually a nearly full double CD, containing the entire concert — of songs played live before an appreciative audience of East Germans, about a year prior to the demolition of The Wall, but with change already high in the air. The band was invited to play as part of a larger celebration of Berlin's 750th anniver­sary, and the attendance was measured at way over 100,000, particularly since many were able to get in for free. (In retrospect, I wouldn't probably go to a BJH concert around 1987 if you paid me, but those times were sure different).

However, even if there actually was a feeling of liberty and excitement at the venue (and there obviously must have been), it is not well translated onto the recording. Chief reason for this is that, even at that juncture, Barclay James Harvest still refused to come to terms with themselves as an oldies act, focusing chiefly on new material. Consequently, we get an eye-(and ear-)popping set of six songs from Face To Face — songs that deserve to be forgotten upon first listen, much less revived in a live environment — and, on the whole, more than half of the set is culled exclu­sively from the post-Woolly era. With minor exceptions, all of these loyally reproduce the studio recordings, bringing the sonic wonders of such late-period masterpieces as ʽHe Said Loveʼ, ʽAfri­canʼ, and ʽOn The Wings Of Loveʼ back to your tired ears just as you thought you would never have to encounter them again.

Real golden oldies, in addition to the ever-present ʽMockingbirdʼ, are also represented by the welcome return of the hard-rocking arrangement of ʽMedicine Manʼ, done in good style and with the expected frantic solo by Lees. Mid-1970s oldies, though more abundant in scope, are also to­tally predictable — ʽPoor Man's Moody Bluesʼ to drown the crowd in third-rate sentimentalism, ʽBerlinʼ to justify the paying crowd's expenses, and ʽHymnʼ to merge with the crowd in throbbing religious ecstasy at the end of the show. Only the album opener ʽNova Lepidopteraʼ is a relative surprise. but, again, the live version is almost completely identical with the studio album's. (At least the new CD edition makes it into a slightly unexpected opening — the original would open with ʽPoor Man's Moody Bluesʼ!).

Clearly, there are only two groups of people who should care in the least about this album — (a) the really hardcore BJH fans, those who simply need to have an official live record from Ger­many recorded on proper equipment (something that Berlin did not really offer), and (b) East Germans, particularly those who were there on that memorable day and, naturally, attach special nostalgic value to the show; for them this event may have had a very special meaning — anything, after all, that makes one's life happier and nobody else's life unhappier, should be worth owning and cherishing. That said, I'm fairly sure that many other good things — better things — than this show could have taken place in Berlin on that day, so, for justice' sake, let us not forget how almost utterly awful this particular setlist is, and settle with a thumbs down after all. One thing must be said for Lees, though — he learned to speak a fairly good German in all those years that the funny old Krauts were sponsoring his personal and artistic existence.

Check "Glasnost" (CD) on Amazon


  1. With a title like "Glasnost" you'd expect the concert to have been in Moscow or Leningrad rather than in Erich Honecker's East Berlin.

    1. Yeah, this should be called "Wallbreaker", similar to AC/DC "Ballbreaker". ;-) But, unlike AC/DC, BJH don't have balls.

      Besides, uncle Erich let them in to play, though he surely was informed by Stasi about the meaning of the "Martyrs" lyrics. So they don't play it here.

  2. "all memo­rable dates in BJH history must take place on German soil, or else John Lees' right to a life-long supply of free Sauerkraut will be forfeit"

    Classic!! As good as explanation as any.