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Articles Home » 1981 Articles » Barclay James Harvest - 1981 Turn Of The Tide
Barclay James Harvest - 1981 Turn Of The Tide

ARTIST: Barclay James Harvest
ALBUM: Turn Of The Tide
LABEL: Polydor
YEAR: 1981
CD REISSUE: 2013, Esoteric, ECLEC2371


LINEUP: Les Holroyd - lead vocals, keyboards, bass guitar * John Lees - lead vocals, guitar * Mel Pritchard - drums

TRACK LISTING: 01 Waiting On The Borderline * 02 How Do You Feel Now * 03 Back To The Wall * 04 Highway For Fools * 05 Echoes And Shadows * 06 Death Of A City * 07 I'm Like A Train * 08 Doctor Doctor * 09 Life Is For Living * 10 In Memory Of The Martyrs


As Summer ends on the South African highveld, my attentions turn more to the Prog AOR side of things. Barclay James Harvest are inevitably at the forefront of this annual reawakening. So it was that Chris (Englandashes) and I were recently discussing the merits of BJH, and he sent me the following considered description of their sound: 'like Saga without the pressing of various red buttons, cranking of handles, all the whizzes and noises that come out of the Canadian pressure cooker quintet, to be replaced by smooth brown malt seeping from the cobbled backyards of Saddlesworth terraced houses, that were frequented by BJH in their youth'. Well I'd venture that only Chris could have written that, and secondly it fits the album under review here like hand in glove. The band had seen their fortunes decline alarmingly in England toward the end of the 70's, also losing founding keyboardist Woolly Wolstenholme. 1979's 'Eyes Of The Universe' turned everything around though, scorching the charts all over Europe, Germany especially. BJH held an open air concert in Berlin for around 250 000 people, later released as a live album. Before recording the next full album, BJH recorded a further single so as to strike while the iron was hot, and 'Life Is For Living' did just that, becoming arguably their biggest hit. Would the full album measure up to this quality?

The Songs
Stabbing keys signal the opening cut 'Waiting On The Borderline', totally keyboard dominated like Saga lite at midtempo. Said keys continue the elegant stabbing throughout the song and I'm not complaining. This is exquisite AOR with laid back vocal harmonies in line with Pure Prairie League and Amazing Rhythm Aces. Strong Winter coffee percolating away by this point, not impeded at all by 'How Do You Feel Now', John's delicate ballad to his new born daughter Esther. He reckons it's the best track he ever composed, I have to differ there ('Alone In The Night' and 'Rebel Woman' for starters). Still, it's a piano saturated study in class with a wistful later Beatles quality, very pleasing indeed. 'Back To The Wall' introduces a West Coast midtempo, Holroyd's bass navigating like treacle over a bed of hot molasses. This is as powerful as it is lite, the vocals an absolute treat. Think Dakota meets Toto, yet the BJH identity is not compromised. The keys are not to be missed, at times twinkling like penthouse lights on the skyline. Yes this is very fine AOR, my mug of coffee overflows. 'Highway For Fools' insinuates the first real guitar aggression into proceedings, a surprisingly jarring riff and verses reminding me of John's 1990 track 'Psychedelic Child'. It's the chorus that salvages things though, staccato piano setting Ambrosia against Toto, all tied up in a superb melody. Les raises the stakes even higher with 'Echoes And Shadows'. Has there ever been a voice like this ? A truly delicate, almost fragile framework belies the melodic power housed within. A thousand clocks chiming endless circles of keyboard melody and counter melody, Holroyd's voice hovering overhead like suspended liquid gold. AOR lite can surely not sound any better than this.

'Death Of A City' sees John resurrect a demo from the band's early days, injecting some urgency with a newly written riff and verses. The Pink Floyd chorus betrays the track's late 60's origins though, certainly something from a time capsule. 'I'm Like A Train' begins as if it may still be dreaming but isn't sure, gliding in on lite waves of piano. Then out of nowhere the pomp hooks are invading and we're off to the races. I'm hearing the expected traces of Saga and Eloy but there's a nagging resemblance to Cat Stevens 'Peace Train' in the rhythm. Chalk up another Prog AOR classic then. 'Doctor Doctor' recalls a little new wave with it's jerky rhythm, the synth motif a spider crawling up the keyboard scales. At chorus time BJH cut the outboard motor to go drifting on a lake of restrained melody. AOR with a twist, minimal guitar but still working a treat. Major hit 'Life Is For Living' gets tucked away at track 9, an effervescent study in keyboard driven uptempo AOR. Difficult to tell chorus from bridge or verse, an onslaught of melody prevails and the success this song achieved is well deserved. Album closer 'In Memory Of The Martyrs' is John's tribute to his late cousin. A slowly building orchestral epic, it's not my mug of coffee but very well executed for what it is.

In Summary
'Turn Of The Tide' almost dented the UK Top 70, but across Europe top ten placings were recorded, even going gold (250 000) in Germany before release! The tour took in a few UK dates but understandably criss-crossed Europe where BJH confirmed their superstar status. 'Ring Of Changes' was the next studio album, but not before a certain live release returned BJH to the UK charts in a big way. 'Turn Of The Tide' ushered in the keyboard drenched AOR approach that would continue until 1997, and did so with some considerable style.

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#1 | englandashes on March 17 2013 13:37:38
Feel like me and most of Britain, BJH seemed to be ignored in their homeland, they don't even get a mention in the Definitive Hard Rock and HM Encyclopedia, yes they may be beyond those genre's, but alot in that book can also be classed outside, as it contains heaps of aor and pomp mentions. Well over the last 12 months started to pick up lots of BJH from the 70's to 90's and its great stuff, so well discussed here by Lee. Nice one.
#2 | dangerzone on March 17 2013 14:22:28
What version of the encyclopedia are you referring to Chris? They are in the 1991 edition, which may have been the last one.
#3 | englandashes on March 17 2013 16:00:48
Thanks for that DZ, you are right, I only have the supplements that were giving away with Metal Hammer in a series over a couple of months. So maybe they just cut bits out, or that I am totally blind so if that was the case please delete all in my previous comment...ha ha!

Metal Hammer readership and BJH probably didn't mix that well, or maybe thats what the publishers thought (wrongly!)
#4 | AOR Lee on March 21 2013 05:11:17
The Esoterc remasters are brilliant, should have mentioned in the review. Sound, detailed booklet and photos and bonus tracks, really worthwhile. Victims Of Circumstance is next computer work
#5 | Eric on March 21 2013 09:58:11
Esoteric are now the Gold standard in progressive rock reissues.
#6 | gdazegod on March 21 2013 10:39:05
I think the BJH Esoteric reissues are going to find a home on my credit card! lol!
#7 | AOR Lee on March 21 2013 16:58:42
Well worth the investment George, I just hope they do the rest of the 80's and 90's discs, especially Caught In The Light. Eric is right, gold standard in reissues music
#8 | richardb on February 15 2014 14:34:00
I took the plunge and bought this album on the strength of your review Lee and was very pleasantly surprised. I will definitely be investigating more of their back catalogue in future..

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