Barclay James Harvest Biography

Formed in Oldham, England, Barclay James Harvest originally comprised Stewart ‘Woolly’ Wolstenholme (15 April 1947, Oldham, Lancashire, England; keyboards/vocals), John Lees (b. 13 January 1947, Oldham, Lancashire, England; guitar/vocals), Les Holroyd (b. 12 March 1948, Bolton, Lancashire, England; bass/vocals) and Mel Pritchard (b. Melvyn Paul Pritchard, 20 January 1948, Oldham, Lancashire, England, d. 27 January 2004, Greenfield, Saddleworth, Lancashire, England; drums). This quartet was made up of musicians from two Lancashire bands, Heart And Soul, and the Wickeds/Blues Keepers. As members of the former, Wolstenholme and Lees were invited to join the rival Wickeds, briefly making a sextet. After two original members departed, this left them with the unit that became Barclay James Harvest.

Following their inauspicious debut on EMI Records’ Parlophone Records label, the band became one of the first signings to the aptly named Harvest Records outlet. The band was perfectly suited to the marketing aims of that label: progressive, symphonic and occasionally improvisational. Their blend of melodic ‘underground’ music was initially acclaimed, although commercial success in the charts eluded them for many years. Their early albums heavily featured the mellotron, although they were able to combine earthy guitar with superb harmony vocals. ‘Mockingbird’, from Once Again, became their unwanted ‘sword of Damocles’; the orchestrated classical style left them wide open to sniping critics, and the unfair press they often received was itself perplexing. This musically excellent band was writing perfect material for the time, yet they failed to increase their following.

Fortunes looked set to change when they left Harvest Records and signed with Polydor Records in 1974, releasing Everyone Is Everybody Else. Why it failed to chart is one of rock’s minor mysteries, for it contained many outstanding songs. The beautiful harmonies of ‘Poor Boy Blues’, set against their tour de force, ‘For No One’, featuring a blistering example of wah-wah guitar, were two reasons alone why the album should have been a major success. It was in 1976 that their first chart success came with Octoberon, with ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ and ‘Suicide’ two of the strongest tracks. Although they were unable to make any impression in the USA, their appeal in Europe kept them busy. Gone To Earth, housed in a special cut-out sleeve, was a massive-selling record in Germany. Their own subtle ‘Poor Man’s Moody Blues’ sniped back at critics, while the beautiful Christian anthem ‘Hymn’ became a regular encore number. After XII Wolstenholme left the band, the first to leave in 13 years, and released a solo album, Maestoso. Barclay James Harvest’s live Concert For The People, recorded in Berlin, became their most commercially successful record in the UK. Only Holroyd remains from the original band. In Germany the band are major artists, while in Britain their loyal followers are able to view, with a degree of satisfaction, that Barclay James Harvest rode out the criticism, stayed on their chosen musical path without compromise, and produced some fine ‘art rock’.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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