Time again to make the tough choice to pick only one tune by a select artist or band I would take to a desert island. Hopefully, this will never happen, as it’s pretty much mission impossible. We’re up to the letter “b”, so choices include The Beatles, Badfinger, Bad Company, Chuck Berry, James Brown, David Bowie and The Byrds, to name some. I decided to go with Barclay James Harvest.
‘Who the hell is that?’ some of you may wonder, and why didn’t he take his favorite band of all time, The Beatles? Well, let me remind you one criterion for this feature is to pick an artist or band I haven’t covered yet or only a few times – call it a little twist to the exercise! This post is the first about Barclay James Harvest (BJH), a British group I was very much into during my teenage years, growing up in Germany. If I recall it correctly, they were pretty popular there at the time.
BJH were formed in September 1966 by John Lees (guitar, vocals), Stuart “Woolly” Wolstenholme (keyboards, vocals), Les Holroyd (bass, vocals) and Mel Pritchard (drums, percussion). Their eponymous debut album appeared in 1970. Various configurations of the group have since released close to 20 additional studio albums, as well as numerous live and compilation records.
BJH are oftentimes classified as prog-rock and art rock. This sounds pretty accurate to me, especially for their earlier albums. I think one can also add symphonic rock, folk rock and pop rock. Currently, there are two touring versions of the group, John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest and Barclay James Harvest featuring Les Holroyd, which are each led by an original member. In case you’re interested to learn more, you can visit their respective websites here and here.
This finally brings me to the song I decided to pick: Mocking Bird, a tune that appeared on BJH’s sophomore album Once Again from February 1971. Written by John Lees, the symphonic rock tune is very reminiscent of The Moody Blues.
Six years after Once Again had appeared, Lees wrote a song titled Poor Man’s Moody Blues. But what could be viewed as an acknowledgment that the group was influenced by the Moodys apparently was an angry reaction to a journalist who had called BJH “a poor man’s Moody Blues.” The tune deliberately sounded very similar to Nights in White Satin.
Understandably, Justin Hayward, who wrote the renowned Moody Blues song, was less than pleased. Had this happened in the U.S., I think it’s safe to assume there would have been a big lawsuit. Years later, Hayward received an apology from Les Holroyd when they met each other.
Sources: Wikipedia; John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest website; Barclay James Harvest featuring Les Holroyd website; YouTube
I never got much into progressive rock. One of the few exceptions I’ve further explored are Genesis. If I recall it correctly, it all started in my late teens through my best friend who knew a fan of Peter Gabriel and the English band. He borrowed all kinds of CDs from the guy and after he had taped them passed them on to me to do the same. We’re talking music cassettes here – remember MCs? I still have hundreds of them. While I can’t even remember when I last listened to one of them, I never throw them away!
Anyway, this is how I was introduced to most Genesis albums, including The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Released as a double LP in November 1974, their sixth studio album was the last with Peter Gabriel, who left after the supporting tour to launch a solo career. I randomly remembered all of the above earlier today – I suppose this is what happens when you spend a lot of time at home, as we all hopefully do during these unreal times of social distancing!
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is a concept album. According to Songfacts, it tells the story of Rael, a poor Puerto Rican boy from The Bronx. As “The Lamb,” Rael goes on an adventure in New York City. Peter Gabriel explained to The Daily Telegraph September 30, 2014 that the album “was intended to be an intense story of a young rebellious Puerto Rican in New York who would face challenges with family, authority, sex, love and self-sacrifice to learn a little more about himself. I wanted to mix his dreams with his reality, in a kind of urban rebel Pilgrim’s Progress.”
All tracks were credited to the band’s five members at the time: Peter Gabriel (lead vocals, flute, “varied instruments”, “experiments with foreign sounds”), Steve Hackett (acoustic and electric guitars), Mike Rutherford (bass, 12-string guitar), Tony Banks (Hammond T-102 organ, RMI 368x Electra Piano and Harpsichord, Mellotron M-400, ARP Pro Soloist synthesizer, Elka Rhapsody string synthesizer, piano) and Phil Collins (drums, percussion, vibraphone, backing vocals, second lead vocal on The Colony of Slippermen and Counting out Time). Most of the lyrics were written by Gabriel. The full story of Rael is in the liner notes of the album. Wikipedia provides a plot summary, which I’m using as I’m looking at each of the double LP’s four sides.
One morning in New York City, Rael is holding a can of spray paint, hating everyone around him. He witnesses a lamb lying down on Broadway which has a profound effect on him. (“The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”) As he walks along the street, he sees a dark cloud take the shape of a movie screen and slowly move towards him, finally absorbing him (“Fly on a Windshield”), seeing an explosion of images of the current day (“Broadway Melody of 1974”) before he wakes up in a cave and falls asleep once again (“Cuckoo Cocoon”).
Rael wakes up and finds himself trapped in a cage of stalactites and stalagmites which slowly close in towards him. As he tries to escape, he sees his brother John and calls for him, but John walks away and the cage suddenly disappears (“In the Cage”). Rael now finds himself on the floor of a factory and is given a tour of the area by a woman, where he watches people being processed like packages. He spots old members of his New York City gang and John with the number “9” stamped on his forehead. Fearing for his life, Rael escapes into a corridor (“The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging”). Here’s the album’s opener and title track.
Rael has an extended flashback of returning from a gang raid in New York City, (“Back in N.Y.C.”) a dream where his hairy heart is removed and shaved with a razor, (“Hairless Heart”) and his first sexual encounter (“Counting Out Time”). Rael’s flashback ends, and he finds himself in a long, red carpeted corridor of people crawling towards its exit via a spiral staircase (“Carpet Crawlers”). At the top, he enters a chamber with 32 doors, surrounded by people and unable to concentrate (“The Chamber of 32 Doors”).
The Carpet Crawlers was the album’s second single. According to Wikipedia, it charted nowhere, which I find hard to believe. At least in Germany, you could hear it many times on the radio. If I recall it correctly, it was around the same time when I’m Not in Love by 10cc was all the rage. Both of these tunes got plenty of air time. Anyway, here it is.
Rael finds a blind woman who leads him out of the chamber and into another cave (“Lilywhite Lilith”), where he becomes trapped by falling rocks (“The Waiting Room”, “Anyway”). Rael encounters Death (“Here Comes the Supernatural Anaesthetist”) and escapes the cave. Rael ends up in a pool with three Lamia, beautiful snake-like creatures, and has sex with them, but they die after drinking some of his blood (“The Lamia”). He leaves the pool in a boat (“Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats”). Here’s Lilywhite Lilith.
Rael finds himself in a group of Slippermen, distorted, grotesque men who have all had the same experience with the Lamias, and finds that he has become one of them (“The Arrival”). Rael finds John among the Slippermen, who reveals that the only way to become human again is to visit Doktor Dyper and be castrated (“A Visit to the Doktor”). Both are castrated and keep their removed penises in containers around their necks. Rael’s container is taken by a raven and he chases after it, leaving John behind (“The Raven”). The raven drops the container in a ravine and into a rushing underground river (“Ravine”). Jeez, this is some crazy shit!
As Rael walks alongside it, he sees a window in the bank above his head which reveals his home amidst the streets (“The Light Dies Down on Broadway”). Faced with the option of returning home, he sees John in a river below him, struggling to stay afloat. Despite being deserted twice by John, Rael dives in to save him and the gateway to New York vanishes (“Riding the Scree”). Rael rescues John and drags his body to the bank of the river and turns him over to look at his face, only to see his own face instead (“In the Rapids”). His consciousness then drifts between both bodies, and he sees the surrounding scenery melting away into a haze. Both bodies dissolve, and Rael’s spirit becomes one with everything around him (“it.”). Here’s The Light Dies Down on Broadway.
While Genesis weren’t sure how the concept and extended format of the album would be received, it was met with critical acclaim from the time it came out. In 2015, NME included the album in its 23 Maddest and Most Memorable Concept Albums list for “taking in themes of split personalities, heaven and hell and truth and fantasy. The album also ended up at no. 9 in Rolling Stone’s 2015 list of 50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time, calling it “one of rock’ more elaborate, beguiling and strangely rewarding concept albums”. “Strangely rewarding” – that characterization kind of nicely sums up how I feel about this album!
In the U.S., The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway marked the first Genesis album to crack the top 50 on the Billboard 200, peaking at no. 41. On the other hand, in the UK, it climbed to no. 10, falling short of the chart success of the predecessor Selling England by the Pound, which had reached no. 3. In both countries, it ended up being certified gold.
About three weeks ago, Rolling Stone and other media outlets reported that Genesis are reuniting for a tour of England and Ireland in November 2020, their first since 2007. The line-up features Collins, Banks and Rutherford, along with touring guitarist/bassist Daryl Stuermer and Nic Collins, Phil’s 19-year-old son on drums. Nic also handled drums during his dad’s successful 2017-2019 solo tour, since Phil hasn’t been able to play drums due to extensive nerve damage to his hands. He performed the entire shows seated in a chair.
Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Rolling Stone; YouTube