Barclay James Harvest – And Other Short Stories: Album Review

Back in 1971, Barclay James Harvest released their …and Other Short Stories album. Hard to believe almost fifty years have passed. The remastered and expanded version goes up to date with 5.1 and stereo remixes and a handful of period recordings.

Release Date: 24th July 2020

Label: Esoteric Recordings

Format: 2CD/1DVD

The continuing story of Barclay James Harvest and the rose-tinted days of the early Seventies that promised so much.

Their 1970 debut album and 1971’s Once Again that had been so well received bled into …And Other Short Stories in a flood of inspiration and outpouring of music. Even though Robert John Godfrey had departed after contributing expansive orchestrations, the sound had been established. The grand orchestral sweeps were set to continue into their third album; this time the Barclay James Harvest symphony orchestra conducted by Martyn Ford and arrangements by Toni Cooke and Martyn Ford

Inevitably, most BJH albums throw up a classic or two that come to define the band and always feature in concert setlists and best of’s. This album is no exception, yielding two that emerged as the classic tracks of 1971 – Medicine Man and After The Day. The strings on the former now seem a tad overpowering and there’s a drama bout the latter from the off. The rolling percussion giving way to a gentle passage and blending of orchestral sweeps and John Lees’ searing lead guitar.

The stand out impression is the acoustic flavour of the record. There’s a country Crosby Stills & Nash hint on both Song With No Meaning and on Little Lapwing. The latter’s “swing low swing high” has a positively C&W/West Coast vibe that evolves into a bigger production yet maintains its swing with a Beatles influenced horn part (that could be a cornet…) playing over the outro.

The orchestration on Ursula comes together and works perfectly sitting behind the acoustic strum – an underrated gem and highlight of the record. Next to that, there’s a Harry’s Song that may owe a debt to the songwriting of Ray Davies and a little letting down of the hair and rocking out Saddleworth style on Someone There You Know and Blue John’s Blues.

A chance to revisit an album that’s sat underused in the collection for a while. That pastoral and friendly BJH sound and a reminder of how large a part the orchestra played in the early days after being used to the four-piece based albums that soon became the norm.

The three-disc set includes the usual staggering array of mixes from the original stereo (which in many people’s eyes should be the key version), new stereo and a 5.1 version. An array of extras includes a couple of demos from the Lees archive although how much interest is held by a mono reduction mix might be debatable to all but the technical audiophiles.

A handful of BBC sessions tracks from 1971 and 1972 show where BJH are charged with doing their stuff live in the studio, hence the more raw versions of tracks from …And Other Stories and before (She Said and Galadriel). The orchestral arrangements replicated by Woolly Wolstenholme’s keyboard are more than adequate, coming to the fore on She Said, with a Meddle era Floyd-y guitar part.

Medicine Man, in particular, is already doubling in time as it becomes extended into a grand piece built around keyboard swirls, tribal rhythms and extended guitar work from John Lees rather than the orchestral sweep of the album version. Our album favourite, Ursula gets a more refined piano-led treatment; speculating about the sort of form it was originally written.

A lovely set that goes hand in hand with a further analysis on the BJH website and reference to Roy Hollingworth’s ‘of the period’ (‘Eeee lad) sleevenotes. By gum.

Listen to Medicine Man here:

Barclay James Harvest online: Website

John Lees’ BJH online: Website / Facebook

BKH featuring Les Holroyd online: Website

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