The Gig Cartel - Artist profiles: John Lees Barclay James Harvest

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John Lees Barclay James Harvest

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In 2015, John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest take to the concert stage once more.
The most recent studio album by the band, “North” was released on October 7th 2013 on the Esoteric Antenna label, (part of the Cherry Red Records Group). “North” is the group’s first all new studio recording since “Nexus” (released in 1999). Featuring John Lees (vocals, guitars), Craig Fletcher (vocals, bass), Jez Smith (keyboards, vocals) and Kevin Whitehead (drums, percussion), the record is very much a group effort, in the tradition of classic BJH, with every track being written specifically for the album by all four members of the band.

The album draws on the fine musical heritage of Barclay James Harvest whilst bringing the BJH legacy up to date with expansive compositions and thoughtful lyrics. Featuring several epic compositions such as the album’s title track and “On Leave”, the album also includes the recent digital single “Unreservedly Yours”.
Barclay James Harvest was formed in Oldham when John Lees and Woolly Wolstenholme teamed up with Les Holroyd and Mel Pritchard. In the summer of 1967 the band turned professional and adopted the name. Under the patronage of a local businessman who became their first manager, they moved into an 18th Century farmhouse in the Saddleworth area in North West England to write and rehearse. A one-off single deal with EMI’s Parlophone label resulted in the release of the single “Early Morning” in April 1968, leading in turn to a full contract and the band becoming one of the first signings to the legendary Harvest label (also home to Pink Floyd & Deep Purple). From the very beginning, BJH had experimented with musical ideas, going beyond the traditional guitar, bass and drums format to utilise a Mellotron to simulate the sound of an orchestra. Albums such as Barclay James Harvest, the seminal albums Once Again and Barclay James Harvest and Other Short Stories and ambitious live performances with their own orchestra gained the group a loyal following in Europe. Signing to Polydor Records in 1974, BJH built on their fan base still further with the albums Everyone Is Everybody Else, Barclay James Harvest Live, a double album which became their first UK chart album, Time Honoured Ghosts in 1975 (recorded in San Francisco by Neil Young producer Elliot Mazer) and Octoberon .

1977’s Gone to Earth heralded the beginning of major success in Germany, where the album eventually reached platinum selling status. In 1978 the second live set, Live Tapes, paved the way for a new studio album, XII, and an extended tour of Britain and Europe. As rehearsals began for a new album, Woolly Wolstenholme announced his departure to pursue a solo career. He subsequently released an album, Mæstoso in 1980, and toured with his Mæstoso band before retiring from the music business to live and work on his own organic farm.

The remaining trio resolved to go it alone, augmenting their sound with session musicians where necessary. Eyes Of The Universe, which appeared in November 1979, presented a less complex, more commercial side of BJH, and resulted in spectacular sales in Europe, particularly in Germany where it rapidly went platinum. The first four months of the year were taken up with an extensive European tour, and on August 30th 1980 the band performed a free concert on the steps of the Reichstag, in the heart of the divided city of Berlin to 175,000 people. 1981’s Turn of the Tide album led to yet more touring and 1982’s Berlin - A Concert For The People (recorded at their historic Reichstag concert) went straight to No. 1 in Germany and reached number 15 in the UK.

For the next decade BJH continued to enjoy huge success in Europe, including an open air concert at East Berlin’s Treptower Park on July 14th, 1987 in front of an estimated 170,000 fans, the first time that a western rock band had performed an open-air concert in what was then East Germany; a live recording was released as the album and video Glasnost in 1988. Welcome to the Show, released in March 1990, was perhaps one of their strongest albums of the post-Woolly Wolstenholme era and was warmly received throughout Europe. 1992 saw the band embark on a 25th Anniversary Tour, which coincided with the UK release of The Best of Barclay James Harvest, a slightly different version of which had already gone gold in Germany. 1993’s Caught In The Light, was the band’s last for Polydor UK. In May 1997 the album River Of Dreams, was released in Germany and Switzerland only, and was followed up by a tour of those countries.
Increasing disharmony in the ranks of the band led to an announcement in March 1998 that the band would be taking a sabbatical, in effect marking the end of the original Barclay James Harvest, and that the members of the band would be pursuing solo projects. John Lees immediately teamed up with Woolly Wolstenholme for the first time in twenty years to record the album Nexus, released by Eagle Records in February 1999 under the name Barclay James Harvest through the Eyes of John Lees. A tour of Germany and Switzerland followed and was recorded for the Revival - Live 1999 album which appeared in March 2000, after which there were more concerts in Germany and Greece, plus the first concerts in England by any of the band members since 1992. In 2006 the “All is Safely Gathered In” tour (with Craig Fletcher on bass and Kevin Whitehead on drums) was a huge success and resulted in the live album and DVD “Legacy”, recorded at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire and released the following year on Esoteric Recordings. The release of both titles gained further attention in Germany where the band was honored in March 2008 by being bestowed the “Lifetime Achievement” award at the annual Radio Regenbogen Awards (the equivalent of the UK BAFTA awards).

In 2009 Jez Smith joined JLBJH as second keyboard player and over the next two years the band was invited to perform in America as headliners at the Rite of Spring Festival in Philadelphia (the first visit to the USA since 1976) and saw major concerts in Germany, Portugal, Holland and Belgium alongside further UK shows. In 2010, songs were being written for a new studio album and the band made a festival appearance in Portugal at the Douro Rock and Blues Festival. It would prove to be Woolly Wolstenholme's final live appearance.

A recurrence of a severe depressive condition meant that he was unable to participate in a series of concerts and on 13th December he tragically passed away.
Woolly’s passing greatly affected everyone who knew him. After some deliberation at a sold out tribute concert to Woolly at Buxton Opera House in February 2011, John Lees announced that he intended to continue with the group.

The remainder of 2011 saw JLBJH triumph with a series of headline festival appearances in Germany, Switzerland, France (with Status Quo) and the UK, including a headline spot at the High Voltage Festival in Victoria Park, London in July on a bill that included fellow rock legends Jethro Tull and Judas Priest. In August 2012 the band made their first ever visit to Japan, playing a sell out show and performing on the bill at the Open Air Progressive Rock Fes in Tokyo. In 2013 the band undertook a successful British tour and in the Summer of 2014 they performed a series of large open air concerts in Germany, Luxembourg and Switzerland sharing bills with Manfred Mann’s Earthband and the Alan Parsons Live Project.
The “North” continue the Barclay James Harvest story and is the strongest work to emerge from the band in many years, a true group effort by John Lees, Craig Fletcher, Jez Smith and Kevin Whitehead.
2015 sees the group beginning work on their next studio album and also undertaking further live work.

The official JLBJH website:

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