Tag Archives: Barclay James Harvest

Jeremy Corbyn and the two UB40s

Yes, I know this is fake. Owen Jones didnt actually say that.

You just can’t make stories like this up.

On Tuesday, Corbyn appeared in London with the UB40 led by Robin Campbell, the guitarist and singer from the original Birmingham band which enjoyed dozens of chart hits during the 1980s and 90s, including three UK No 1 singles.

At a press conference at the Royal Society of Arts in London, Campbell said: “We support Jeremy Corbyn because he is the only one willing to speak up for working people, who have been badly treated by successive governments, including New Labour, in recent decades.

Unfortunately for Jeremy Corbyn, there are now two rival UB40s following an acrimonious split a few yeara ago

However, in a microcosm of Corbyn not reflecting all views within Labour, it transpired that this statement did not speak for every version of UB40.

The other band is fronted by Ali Campbell, Robin’s younger brother and the original group’s lead singer, and features other original members Mickey Virtue and Terence “Astro” Wilson. Asked whether they shared the other UB40’s views on Corbyn, the group declined to endorse him.

“Ali, Astro and Mickey have always been great supporters of the Labour party, and they look forward to the new leader taking the Labour party back into government at the earliest opportunity,” the band said in a statement released through their PR company, which said it was the only comment the band wanted to make at this time.

Have UB40 turned into a metaphor for the Labour Party? Where do the two rival Wishbone Ashes and Barclay James Harvests stand on the issue?  Has anyone asked Andy Powell, Martin Turner, John Lees or Les Holroyd? Are the Oliver Dawson Saxon or any past or present members of Yes available for comment?

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Labour is going to split now, whatever happens. Any leadership election will be about which faction gets to call itself the Labour Party. Classic rock fans will recognise the situation; Angela Eagle’s Labour Party vs. The Labour Party featuring Jeremy Corbyn. Like Barclay James Harvest only without the tunes.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Comments Off

High Voltage 2011

The High Voltage festival, held in Victoria Park in east London, is now in it’s second year. It’s focus is very much on classic rock, progressive rock and metal. Last years festival, headlined by ZZ Top and ELP was a fantastic weekend. This year’s bill has attracted some criticism for being weaker than last year, but still contained enough great bands to well worth attending.

For some of us at least, the weekend began on Friday with The Reasoning playing a packed Borderline in central London. The slimmed-down five piece incarnation of the band has gelled well now, even though the mix was little vocal-heavy with not quite enough guitar. Their set was an well-chosen selection of songs from their three albums with most of the classics accounted for, plus a couple of excellent sounding brand new numbers from their forthcoming new album, “The Omega Point”, and “No Friend of Mine”, which is apparently all about the pitfalls of social media. I just hope the lyrics are not about me! A great show, which turned out to be the first ever gig by a band I’ve known personally that completely sold out.

High Voltage itself opened on Saturday lunchtime with Von Hertzen Brothers on the Classic Rock Presents Prog stage. Not a band I knew much about. They started off playing melodic hard rock; good, but I wondered what they were doing on the prog stage. But as the set progressed they began playing some more complex material with intricate harmonies that more than justified their inclusion. Tight, energetic and melodic, a good start to the day.

Next up, the much-acclaimed Amplifier, from the more avant-garde end of the genre. The opening moments sounded like The Fall, all atonal noise, but after a few seconds, actual tunes started to appear. Their set was dense and riffy with a lot of atmosphere. By no means bad, but I’m not sure I’ve completely got my head round their music. This lot may take more listening before I really appreciate what they’re doing.

Canterbury scene veterans Caravan represented the opposite end of the spectrum of progressive rock. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from them, but they far exceeded whatever expectations I had. They played a great jazz-influenced set, keyboard-led with plenty of flute and violin, including the bouncy pop-rock of “Golf Girl”, and ending with the lengthy workout of “Nine Feet Underground” from their seminal album “The Land of the Grey and Pink”. Excellent stuff, and I can’t wait to see them again at the Cambridge Rock Festival.

Liverpool’s Anathema are very much the prog band of the moment. They started off life as a death-metal band, but there’s little or no trace of that now in their atmospheric indie-flavoured prog sound. This is a band who have toiled away for years before getting the recognition they deserved. Their triumphal set, drawn largely from the latest and best album “We’re Here Because We’re Here”, was simply stunning.

Neal Morse turned out to be the revelation of the day. I’ve admired his work with Spock’s Beard, but haven’t investigated his more recent solo work. With an eight-piece band including electric violin and electric cello(!), he played with an incredible level of energy and enthusiasm. The music was a lot like earlier Spock’s Beard, quirky but hugely melodic, with a clear nod to Gentle Giant. The very religious lyrics were a bit hard to take, even for me, but if you focus on the music, it’s amazing and heady stuff, and it was impossible not to be moved by the sheer exuberance of his performance.

I was wondering just how John Lees Barclay James Harvest could follow that. But I needn’t have worried. I’m a late convert to BJH, loving their huge soaring Mellotron-drenched sound. Even without the late Woolly Wolstenholme, and now playing as a four-piece, they’re a great live band. Their distinctive stately symphonic rock culminated in the magnificent epic “The Poet/After the Day”, surely their equivalent of Mostly Autumn’s “Mother Nature”. They closed, as they always do with “Hymn”, which turned into a singalong.

After than it was a quick sprint over to the main stage to catch the hellfire and brimstone of headliners Judas Priest. Amazingly, despite owning a great many of their albums, I’ve never seen this genre-defining band live. Despite their age, the Black Country metal veterans rocked, and even at 60 years old Rob Halford has still got it vocally with those piercing screams. Their greatest hits set drew from right across their 40-year back catalogue, from their very early years to the title track of the most recent opus “Nostradamus”, which Halford sung dressed in a cape and hood. This is a band who really understand the art of showmanship, with Halford whipping the Harley-Davison during “Hell Bent For Leather”. Camper than Millets, but great fun. And what a setlist! Early epics like “Victim of Changes” and “Beyond the Realms of Death”, 80s hit singles like “Breaking the Law”, the controversial “Turbo” and more recent songs like “Judas Rising” from “Angel of Retribution”.

Sunday started with some old-school neo-prog from 80s veterans Pallas, who played an energetic and enthusiastic set, a great warm-up for the day. While much of the set came from their more recent albums I’m not familiar with, they ended with a rousing rendition of “Arrive Alive”.

There is no-one else quite like The Enid, led by keyboard wizard Robert John Godfrey. Not everyone gets what they do, essentially classical music played on rock instrumentation. Supplemented this time by a small choir and a four-piece trumpet section, their set was over far too quickly, ending with the medley of “Land of Hope and Glory” and The Dambusters March, which RJG took pains to suggest was being performed at the request of the promoters. All stirring stuff, and I’m looking forward to seeing them headline the Cambridge Rock Festival.

Curved Air are another band I was looking forward to seeing. Like Caravan, they’re a classic 70s band reformed in recent years, and like them, they’ve still got it decades later. Sonja Kristina was on excellent form vocally, still looking glamorous despite being a grandmother. Apart from their hit “Back Street Luv” and “Vivaldi”, both of which they played, I knew nothing of their back catalogue. They’re very much at the jazzy end of prog with electric violin central to their sound – this is certainly a band I want to see again.

Then it was fingers crossed for Mostly Autumn, for what was a very high profile gig for them. I know I’m a huge fan, and likely to be biased, but it was clear this was something out of the ordinary, even by the high standards of their shows this year. It was one of the performances of their lives. They completely owned the stage, with a mix of energy and emotional intensity that few bands can match. They deserve to pick up a lot of new fans on the strength of performances like that.

Spocks Beard were, for me at least, the sole disappointment of the festival. Maybe it was because I was watching them from further back, maybe it was because they had to follow Mostly Autumn’s stunning performance, maybe having Ted Leonard standing in for the unavailable Nick D’Virgilio on lead vocals sapped their energy. Despite playing a set drawing heavily from their earliest and best albums, they just failed to engage me at all. It all seemed flat – there was none of the jubilant enthusiasm of Neal Morse’s set the day before. I left before the end to catch Black Country Communion on the main stage, so missed Neal’s appearance at the end of the set – maybe that finally brought things to life.

Black Country Communion, on the other hand, absolutely rocked with the sort of performance that’s in danger of giving supergroups a good name. I’d seen Glenn Hughes fronting his own band last year, which was good, and proved his vocal chords are still in good working order. But when he’s sharing the stage with genuine rock stars rather than journeyman musos, BCC are in a completely different league. Joe Bonamassa is the axe hero of his generation, and is the perfect foil for Hughes’ still-superb voice. Jason Bonham is a chip off the old block on drums, and Derek Sherinian added huge depth to the sound on Hammond organ. They ended with an absolutely barnstorming cover of Deep Purple’s “Burn”.

I only caught the last few songs of Jethro Tull, so I can’t really give a thorough appraisal of their set. But I did see rousing renditions of “Aqualung” and “Locomotive Breath” with Joe Bonamassa guesting.

Finally, festival headliners Dream Theater. Even if their brand of intensely muso prog-metal isn’t your cup of tea, every band on the prog stage owes a debt to them. More than any other band, Dream Theater are responsible for putting progressive rock back on the map, and without them many other bands wouldn’t be there. This was a high-stakes gig for them, marking the debut of new drummer Mike Mangini, replacing the much-loved Mike Portnoy.

This is a band who have always been far more about the musicians than the singer. In theatre-sized venues where you can actually see the band members hands, they’re actually quite exciting to watch, fingers flying up and down fretboards. But in a large arena where you can only really see the band on the big screens at the sides of the stage, that effect gets lost. Vocalist James LaBrie was actually on quite good form for once – while he’s never going to be one of my favourite singers, this time his vocals weren’t nearly as bad as I feared they’d be.

While there’s no doubting the band’s amazing technical skills, there was little of the showmanship we’d seen with Judas Priest the night before. The music was great, with a dense complex tapestry of sound. But it clearly didn’t appeal to everyone, and I noticed people were leaving in significant numbers before the end. Still a good performance, but in a weekend that had seen several outstanding ones, by no means the highlight of the weekend.

And so ended the festival. A weekend of amazing music, and a great gathering of the rock tribes. Loved the way I kept bumping into friends all weekend, not just fellow fans but people like Kim Seviour from Touchstone and Ian Jones from Karntaka. Having spent most of the weekend in front of the Classic Rock Presents Prog stage, the sheer quality and variety of the music says it all about why I love progressive rock as a genre. Amplifier are nothing like Mostly Autumn who are nothing like Anathema who are nothing like Neal Morse. Need I go on? Got to an indie festival and all you’ll get a slew of bands drawing from the same limited musical palette, all playing the same predictable chord progressions.

I’m now counting down days until the Cambridge Rock Festival in less than two weeks’ time.

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The Five Songs Meme, 2011 edition

I think the Five Songs Meme started out on Livejournal and spilled over to the blogosphere.

It’s quite simple – just list five songs you really into at the moment; not your five greatest songs of all time, but five songs you’ve been listening to a lot recently, for any given value of “Recently”. And give a few words explaining why.

Not sure in these social networking days whether blog memes still have any traction, but it gives me an excuse to talk about music, so here it goes.

Barclay James Harvest – The Poet/After the Day

I’m a late convert to Barclay James Harvest. While they’ve been on my radar screen for decades, it was only seeing the John Lees Barclay James Harvest at the 2009 Cambridge Rock Festival that prompted me to start exploring their very extensive back catalogue. The version of this song I’ve been listening to comes from a 2006 live album by the John Lees BJH. It’s the sort of music for which the term “Epic Symphonic Prog” was invented; hugely melodic. massive walls of Mellotron from the late Woolly Woolstenholme, and some fantastic lead guitar. We’re in serious goosebumps territory with this one.

Heather Findlay – Phoenix

The title track from Heather’s debut solo EP. While the stripped-down production is a significant move away from the big wall of sound which characterised her previous band, her distinctive melodic songwriting is still recognisable. This is perhaps the strongest song on the EP, a powerful vocal performance, with some intriguing and very dark lyrics.

Judas Priest – Persecution

The double concept album “Nostradamus” is Judas Priest’s equivalent of Kiss’ “The Elder”. It’s a strange mixture of metal, prog and more than a trace of west-end musical theatre. While parts of the album venture into those most un-Priest regions, it does contain a few old-school metal belters, and this is the best of them.

Liam Davison – Heading Home

Liam’s solo album has been one of the unexpected surprises of the year so far, revealing Liam not only to be a great songwriter but a far better singer than many of us imagined. The production and arrangements recall the cinematic sweep of early Mostly Autumn. This is perhaps my favourite song, ending with a glorious solo backed by washes of keys from Iain Jennings, and a great groove from Stolen Earth/Breathing Space bassist Paul Teasdale.

Phideaux – Have You Hugged Your Robot

I don’t really know that much about this band; “313″ is the only album of their I own, but this song is one of the standouts. Despite a piano figure lifted from Greig’s “Hall of the Mountain King”, this particular song more quirky pop than prog, but there something about the exuberant energy of this song that gets me.

And that’s it.

I’m not going to tag anyone in particular, but anyone who wants to pick this up and run with it is welcome to. Post on your own blog if you’ve got one, in the comments here if you haven’t, or somewhere within Facebook’s walled garden if you really don’t want your words visible to the whole wide Interweb.

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The Five Songs Meme arises from the grave again

Haven’t seen ye olde Five Songs Meme on the blogoljfacebooksphere for ages, so it’s time to set it shambling forth again.

It’s quite simple – just list five songs you’ve been listening to a lot lately. Give the reasons why if you want; that bit is entirely optional.

  • Breathing Space – Questioning Eyes
    Some people have claimed that a song is diminished if you know who a song is about. I think that’s total cobblers. This is a real lump-in-the throat song precisely because I know what it’s about.
  • Barclay James Harvest – Poor Man’s Moody Blues
    I never saw BJH in their prime, but I bought their 1987 live album “Live Dates”after seeing the John Lees Barclay James Harvest at the Cambridge Rock Festival last month. It’s got a lot of the standards like ‘Child of the Universe’, ‘Mockingbird’ and ‘Hymn’, but it’s this one that particularly stood out for me.
  • Blackfield – Hello
    Closing song from their self-titled first album. Blackfield are very good at melancholy.
  • Parade – The Diamond
    I need to do a full review of “The Fabric”. This is one of my favourite songs, some heart-melting vocals from Anne-Marie Helder, and great guitar playing from a certain Mr Josh.
  • Arena – Purgatory Road
    “When the Martians land on London town”.  Arena are the Saxon of prog; It’s corny as hell, but knows it’s corny, and doesn’t care. This one stands out from the album “Pepper’s Ghost”.

I’m not tagging anyone – If you want to pick up the meme, post to your own blog, livejournal, facebook wall or whatever and link to it in the comments.

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Cambridge Rock Festival 2009

I’m back from four days of superb music, amidst a bit of mud, at the Cambridge Rock Festival.

This is one of the many smaller festivals up and down the country, which contrasts with the big corporate festivals like Glastonbury and Reading. It started out as a beer festival with a few bands, but gradually the music side of things grew more important, eventually resulting in a name change from the old name of “Rockinbeerfest”.

The music is very much aimed at an older classic rock audience, with a bill made up of a mix of 70s veterans and younger progressive rock or blues artists. It’s like travelling to an alternative universe where punk never happened, and musical ability never went out of fashion.  This year they’ve moved to a new location. Rather than having the main stage in the converted cowshed in Godmanchester, we’d moved to the Haggis Farm Polo club just outside Cambridge.

Last year I just went on the Sunday, but this year I decided to make a full weekend of it. This was the first time I’ve camped at a festival (or indeed camped anywhere) since the Reading Festival back in 1983.  I camped with group of fellow Mostly Autumn and Breathing Space fans that included Colin and Helen, Chriz (the cider monster), Andy Goodall, Roger Ashworth and Doogie Walsh.

Let’s get the one negative out of the way first. There was nothing anyone could have done about the torrential downpours on the Thursday night, which caused one of the stages to be shut down because the backstage area was flooded, and as the contractor supplying the power have stated, water and electricity don’t mix.  But I have to say the bands, audiences and festival as a whole were badly let down by the contractor providing the PA. We had long delays over the weekend, band after band complaining about lack of monitors, and things finally came to a head on Sunday.

The good points apart from the music were excellent food, some great real ales, and a fantastic vibe. With just a couple of thousand in attendance it felt more like a weekend-long private party than a festival.  It was lovely to see Mostly Autumn stick around for the whole weekend; plenty of opportunities to chat with them, and even watch some of the other acts with members of the band.

Johannes James of Kyrbgrinder

I missed the first act on Friday, so my day kicked off with a great set from Northsydes.  They sounded a bit like Led Zeppelin fronted by Janis Joplin, and what impressed me was the way all four members made an equal contribution; powerful vocals, tight drumming, some great guitar work and wonderful bass grooves.  I was also very impressed with Kyrbgrinder playing on the smaller Radio Caroline stage.  They’re fronted by Threshold’s drummer Johannes James. There are not many people who can sing while playing prog-metal lead drums at the same time. And he’s such a charismatic frontman you barely notice the other two guys on stage.  They were possibly the find of the festival for me.

Heather Findlay of Mostly Autumn

I know I’m biased, but Mostly Autumn were the band of the day for me.  After a considerable delay due to technical problems they delivered a very powerful 90-minute set in adverse circumstances, despite being forced to stop playing in the middle of “Simple Ways” when something broke.  The setlist was pretty close to the one they would have played last year had they had they been able to play a full set, with a very powerful “Unoriginal Sin” and a magnificent “Carpe Diem”, and a lump-in-the throat “Heroes” to finish. With regular drummer Gavin Griffiths have another commitment this weekend, it was hats off to Robbie Baxter, normally part of the road crew, for filling in on drums for such a high-profile gig, and doing an admirable job.

The following headline set from the John Lees Barclay James Harvest was good too – vastly superior to the disappointing Les Holroyd version of the band I saw a couple of years ago.  It may have meandered at the beginning, but as it went on, and the sound mix improved, it built in intensity, and I left the main arena with “Hymn” still playing in my head. While I don’t know that much of their back catalogue, they played a lot of the standards I recognised, like “Poor Man’s Moody Blues” and “Child of the Universe”, and it was great to hear plenty of real live Mellotron.  And who was that girl dancing next to me, and singing along to “Mockingbird”?  Sure I’ve seen her before somewhere…

I spent much of Saturday moving from stage to stage. Since most of the bands were unknown to me, I probably managed to miss some great bands while watching someone else on another stage.  I spent quite a bit of time in the smaller CRS tent, rocking out to the very metal Crimes of Passion, and also saw most of Manning’s set, very very prog, with no fewer than three keyboard players.  On the main stage there were some great sets by Deborah Bonham and Never the Bride. The latter gave us one of the quotes of the weekend, when Nikki Lamborn told the sound crew “Stop playing with their knobs”.  70s Veterans Stray also delivered an entertaining set, featuring some serious Stratocaster abuse. That’s no way to treat an expensive musical instrument!

The delays and technical problems which had affected Mostly Autumn the previous night were worse, when we waited, and waited for the mighty Uriah Heep. Finally they rolled the intro tape, the band came out, and… nothing happened. They stood around looking embarrassed, before shuffling off stage again.  It would be another half an hour before their set finally started, and like Mostly Autumn the night before rewarded the crowd’s patience with a blistering set, mixing 70s classics with selections from their recent album “Wake the Sleeper”.  Their classic Hammond-drenched hard rock sound and remarkable energy levels for a band of their age made them the band of the day without question.  Saying that, the following set by headliners The Quireboys went down well, a great party band to finish off the night. Or rather, morning, because it was gone 3am by the time the music finished.

Bryan, Paul and Olivia of Breathing Space

After some excellent glam-metal from Morph to rock away the hangovers, the first ‘big’ band on Sunday’s bill was Breathing Space. They’d gone down well last year with a ballad-heavy set, but this year’s CRF witnessed a transformed band.  They played a far rockier set, drawing heavily from the new album “Below the Radar”,  Now with Bryan Josh standing in on guitar  they delivered the best live performance I’ve seen them do all year, tight, energetic and highly emotional.  Set closer “Questioning Eyes” really brought a lump to the throat.  The huge crowd round the merch stand as soon as they’d finished said it all.

Touchstone too have come on in leaps and bounds since their appearance a year ago, playing another a really tight and high energy set drawn largely from their recent album “Wintercoast”.  The transformation of this band since I first saw them support The Reasoning in Crewe a couple of years ago is nothing short of phenomenal, especially singer Kim Servoir’s growing confidence as a frontwoman.  This band are going places.

I’d been very much looking forward to seeing Karnataka.  But as soon as I saw Ian Jones near the bar, the expression on his face told me something was wrong. He told me that the band would not be playing due to problems with the PA. It eventually transpired that Asia and Focus had demanded that they use their own PA and crew (and given the problems Mostly Autumn and Uriah Heep had suffered, I can hardly blame them). The changeover meant that the main stage needed to be shut down for two hours, and two bands had to be dropped, one of them being Karnataka. Bluesman Simon McBride moved to the blues tent, but unfortunately Karnataka’s stage gear was more than the smaller stage PA and mixing desk could have coped with.  So I got to meet the band, who were all very disappointed not to be playing, but didn’t get to see them perform.

Asia’s Geoff Downes

The weekend ended with Focus and Asia.  Focus took a long time to get going, with a couple of false starts while Thijs van Leer vainly tried to get his monitor to work, but ended with rousing versions of their hits, “Sylvia” and a manic “Hocus Pocus”, with Thijs conducting the audience for the falsetto parts.  The prog behemoth of Asia closed proceedings, with OTT amounts of drums and keyboards, and a rocking set drawn from “Asia” and “Alpha” plus a version of ELP’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”. Steve Howe doesn’t half look old now, but he can still cut in on the guitar.

A great festival which survived the best attempts of the weather and the PA company to ruin things. There were many great bands, some very familiar to me, others completely new. But ultimately any festival is about more than just the bands; those people who came just to see one band are really missing the point of what festivals are about.  Assuming they fix the problems with the PA, I’ll be back next year for more.

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