If you invested in Barclay James Harvest's second Harvest album (the magnificent 'Once Again') and enjoyed the glorious, sweeping majesty of the orchestral rock music on offer then you should have no problem appreciating the quality of the band's third album. Admittedly there are plenty of influences from other progressively-minded acts of the early 1970s including the Moody Blues and King Crimson but, even so, the material here is beautifully weaved together. John Lees kicks things off with the superb 'Medicine Man' and the lengthy 'Blue John's Blues demonstrates that BJH can really rock when they feel the need. For the most part, however, there is a lovely pastoral feel to proceedings with songs such as 'Ursula (The Swansea Song)' and a couple of classy Les Holroyd compositions, 'Little Lapwing' and 'Song With No Meaning'. The 2 linked tracks which round off this superb LP, namely 'The Poet' and the powerful 'After The Day', are surely classics. The real mystery is:- 'Why did so few people buy this record when it was first released in 1971?' Anyway, this still comes highly recommended from this reviewer - please buy it.
There's no doubt, for me, that BJH were at their creative best in the seventies and could out-tune and out-lyric any other band on the planet. They were just expertly understated with everything they did. Never showy, never brash but always bold and massively competent.
Most of the original songs on this album are exquisitely beautiful and are a must for anyone who appreciates melody and harmony with an ethereal ambience. There isn't a bad track and each brings something new to the table. The bonus tracks give you a taste of other works you will certainly want to dig out, or invest in, as well as some remixes.
Anyone who has NOT heard "The Poet" followed by "After The Day" should do so before they consider swimming with dolphins. Like Ying and Yang, strawberries and cream, Morecombe and Wise - these two were always meant to be together.
Buy this album, lie back in the sun, close your eyes and let it wash over you and caress you senses. You'll be glad you did!
Although the classic BJH style was still forming at the time that this was originally released and later albums were better overall (eg Octoberon, Time Honoured Ghosts), this has some of my favourite older BJH songs on it - Medicine Man, Ursula, She Said and Galadriel, some of which have been re-mastered. I had these songs on another LP which I had long since donated to the SPCA, so most of the rest of the tracks are new to me. So far, the tracks "Song with no Meaning" and "The Poet", are growing on me.
As my title suggest this was the bands 3rd record. After the glorious ' Once Again' they deilver an album almost as good. Medicine Man, Someone there you know, Ursula, Harry's Song are all wonderful examples of where quality comes together. This was the first BJH album not to be produced by Norman Smith ( of Beatles fame ) and the sleeve with all the guys looking very seventites is very much of it's time but it's the music that this album is remembered for and what joy that is. The album was partly recorded at Abbey Road studios. Do buy it !
The first thing that strikes you about this album is the wonderful production which sounds as good today as it did in the early seventies. To me this album represents the true original BJH sound and all these songs feel like comfortable personal friends that have grown with me over the years. The album kicks off with one of BJH's best songs - Medicine Man - which still sounds fresh. Woolly's Someone There You Know is much more of a straightforward song and simpler than the classical pieces that he is better known for. Harry's Song sees John Lees in an aggressive tone of voice and this is a contrast to the beautiful Ursula (The Swansea Song) one of the most stunning and evocative songs ever written by Woolly.
Little Lapwing is a simple and effective Les song and he follows this with the wistful Song with No Meaning. The only weak link is the rather strident Blue John's Blues where John's vocals are reduced to a shriek. But the best is saved to last with the double header The Poet/After the Day. Two individual songs, they dovetail brilliantly and many fans take them as one. The Poet is Woolly's most stunningly poetic song and After the Day is John's apocalyptic prophecy. The first time I heard these two was at a concert in 1971. They finished the evening to them in a flurry of dry ice and grinding noise. One of the strongest ends to a concert I have ever seen. The overall feel of this album is one of peace and tranquillity, emphasised by the orchestra which almost brought about the band's financial ruin. Virtually the only thing wrong with the album are Roy Hollingworth's dreadful sleeve notes.
My favourite BJH album. It's a tough call since they never really put out a bad one, and there are at least half a dozen that are just as good if not better (e.g. EIEE, Gone To Earth, Ring of Changes). But I've always had a soft spot for the songs on this album: the majestic Medicine Man, the lovely folksy ballads of Ursula and Little Lapwing, and the magnificent 2-part magnum opus, Poet/After TheDay. And they were still touring with the orchestra at the time. The sad part is that they never really made it into the big leagues of the prog supergroups of the 70's. One of rock's great mysteries, but, yet, perversely, this may have been ultimately to the fan's advantage since there was never the drop off in quality from one album to the next that usually accompanies superstardom. We were treated to 3 decades of superlative rock. For that I'm forever grateful to my northern countrymen, John, Les, and the sadly missed Woolly and Mel. Thanks guys.
"Other Short Stories", Barclay James Harvest's third album, has had the misfortune of having to live in the shadow of its predecessor, the brilliant "Once Again". A great pity, because the album is an excellent example of classical and folk influenced English progressive rock and contains what is, for me at least, one of THE great moments of rock ever.
The album contains quite a mix of stylistic approaches and feels less coherent as an album than "Once Again", which is perhaps why it has suffered in relation to its more popular neighbour. However, one of the great attractions of this band has always been the fact that there has been more than one songwriter (at the time this album was made, 1971, three of the four members of the band were writing songs) and that led to the music always being varied, exciting and never dull, certainly during their first ten years when the ideas were literally bursting from them.
So it is then that "Other Short Stories" is an incredibly inventive and exciting album, combining, rock, folk, classical textures and using an innovative approach to instrumentation, featuring the occasional use of an orchestra as well as a mellotron keyboard.
Here are some of the highlights as I see them:-
"Medicine Man" opens the album, this version being the orchestral one. This song, of course, became a firm BJH live favourite played as a blistering 15-minute hard-rock number! On this album, you can appreciate the beautiful melody in the sung verses.
"Ursula (The Swansea Song" is just a gorgeous love song written by Woolly Wolstenholme.
Les Holroyd's "Little Lapwing" is one of those really inventive songs that BJH should have gained huge credit for but didn't: starting as an almost folky acoustic guitar ballad, its second section opens up into a long orchestral coda. It wasn't the first time that such two-part songs had been written of course, the Derek & The Dominoes's "Layla" is probably the earliest and most famous, but texturally and compositionally this song is much closer to the later Electric Light Orchestra's "Mr Blue Sky", which was a big hit.
I also have a soft spot for John Lees's "Blue John's Blues", staring at a very slow tempo but building up to a cracking finale!
The highlight of the album are the final two tracks, intended to be listened to together. Starting almost pastorally with Woolly's "The Poet", its lyrics and orchestral arrangement reminding one of The Beatles's "Fool On The Hill", the music then explodes in a burst of guitars, drums and mellotron at the start of the apocalyptic "After the Day", an absolutely stunning song that has beautifully contrasting passages and another explosive end. The conjunction of these two songs is one of THE moments of 70s English rock, without a doubt, loved by those who know of it. It's a great pity it's not better known.
The sound quality on the remastered disc is first-class. The bonus tracks do little to enhance the quality of the excellent original album and are best not played at the same sitting: pick of the bunch is the single version of "Medicine Man" which begins to give a flavour of what the live version would be like.