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Barclay James Harvest Polydor Remasters
Polydor/Universal have announced the release of remastered CDs of the band's first five studio albums for the label. Planned release date is June 2nd, and here is a first review of the discs:-
EVERYONE IS EVERYBODY ELSE
- Child of the Universe
- Negative Earth
- Paper Wings
- The Great 1974 Mining Disaster
- Crazy City
- See Me See You
- Poor Boy Blues
- Mill Boys
- For No One
- Child Of The Universe - U.S. single version
- The Great 1974 Mining Disaster - Original mix
- Maestoso (A Hymn in the Roof of the World) 1974 recording
- Negative Earth - Original mix
- Child of the Universe - Remake for planned U.S. single
All of these remastered CDs are beautifully packaged, with the original front covers, lyrics where they were included in the original album, plus unpublished photos of the band and contemporary memorabilia. Authoritative sleeve notes come from Mark Powell, who was also responsible for last year's EMI remasters, and a blue and white Barclay James Harvest sticker on the outside of the jewel case distinguishes them from the original CDs at a glance. The first thing you notice is that the music has more presence and an enhanced dynamic range. The bottom end, which tended to suffer on early CD releases, is vastly improved - the drumming on "Negative Earth" and "Paper Wings" is particularly powerful, whilst the bass shines through on "The Great 1974 Mining Disaster". Stereo separation is improved for a more 'spacious' sound and stereo effects such as the ending of "Mining Disaster" come through very well. Guitars, too, have more attack, e.g. the opening of "Crazy City", and "See Me You" shines in a new, more forceful light. Overall the sound is warmer than the original CD - dare we say, it sounds like the original vinyl, only cleaner and with a better dynamic range?!
Those who have never heard the U.S. single version of "Child Of The Universe", which has never made it to CD before, are in for a surprise - it's radically different to the album version, much more guitar led and with the keyboards less prominent. The 1974 Barclay James Harvest recording of "Maestoso" previously appeared on the Endless Dream rarities compilation, but is finally restored here to its rightful place alongside the album for which it was recorded. The second "Child Of The Universe" also appeared on that CD, and is a more complete three-minute distillation of the song, complete with Mellotron choirs echoing the ethereal first recording of the song on John's solo album. The original mixes of "The Great 1974 Mining Disaster" and "Negative Earth" are minor variations on a theme, but the altered balance of instruments give a different perspective on the songs, and Les's vocal being put through a flanger to give a phased effect on the latter, or the robotic extra vocal on the former's "took me far away" will make you jump!
TIME HONOURED GHOSTS
- In My Life
- Sweet Jesus
- Beyond The Grave
- Song For You
- Hymn For The Children
- One Night
- Child Of The Universe - Remake for planned U.S. single
Not a lot of people know this, but analogue tapes deteriorate over the years, even if carefully stored, and have to be treated by baking them before transfer to the digital domain. This is particularly true of the Ampex tapes which were used at Strawberry Studios, and an untreated tape will sound very hissy due to oxide dust being shed onto the playback heads. Putting them in an oven at a high temperature for a few hours preserves the original recording and prevents background noise becoming obtrusive - a case of baking the hiss. Judging by the original Time Honoured Ghosts CD this wasn't done, and consequently the transfer was very poor. Now the original master tape has been treated and this CD sounds excellent as a result. The overall sound is warmer and there's much less hiss, especially on "Jonathan", which suffered terribly on the original CD. Woolly's "Beyond The Grave" benefits enormously from the extended dynamic range, and the second half of "Song for You" comes across particularly well, after you've stopped laughing at Woolly's recollection of the recording session in the sleeve notes. The drum rolls in "Moongirl" will vibrate your rib cage at high volumes, although sometimes the clarity of the remasters can expose faults in the original recording - a distinct pre-echo at the start of "Moongirl" had us racing for an old vinyl copy. Sure enough, it's there on the LP, but the noise floor of vinyl made it difficult to hear unless the volume was up to eleven.
The paucity of extra material on this disc is slightly disappointing, but the third take of "Child Of The Universe" from the American single sessions is well worth inclusion for the great guitar solo at the end, which fades all too soon. Overall, the CD is worth getting, though, for the huge improvement in sound over the original CD, which was sonically the worst of the band's original digital transfers.
- The World Goes On
- May Day
- Rock n' Roll Star
- Polk Street Rag
- Believe In Me
- Rock 'N' Roll Star - Early mix
- Polk Street Rag - First mix
- Ra - First Mix
- Rock 'N' Roll Star - Recorded at Marquee Studios
- Suicide? - First mix
"The World Goes On" and "May Day" suffer from some sibilance on the vocals, but a check of earlier CDs and the original vinyl LPs reveals that this has always been present, so is, unfortunately, a feature of the original recording. That said, the remaster brings out a lot of detail which was obscured before. "Polk Street Rag" really punches its weight now, whilst "Ra", already impressive on the original CD, sounds more precisely focussed. The shimmering heat is tangible in the quiet sections before the piece winds up to an almost unbearably loud climax. The vocals and acoustic guitars at the beginning of "Suicide?" have a fantastic clarity, and now you can enjoy the sound effects at the end in all their gory glory!
The bonus material here gives the anoraks a chance to play spot the difference: subtle alterations in the mix, or the odd guitar or keyboard part absent or mixed down give an interesting perspective but don't add much to our perception of the originals. The Top Of The Pops recording of "Rock 'N' Roll Star" is quite different, though. Recorded at Marquee Studios two days before the band's appearance on the show (as artists were not allowed to perform live in the TOTP studio at that time), it's a faster, shortened version based on their live performances, and fades out just as the guitar solo gets going to keep the length down to three and a quarter minutes. This didn't stop the BBC cutting it even shorter on broadcast, possibly because of Woolly's bum note towards the end!
GONE TO EARTH
- Love is Like A Violin
- Friend of Mine
- Poor Man's Moody Blues
- Hard Hearted Woman
- Sea of Tranquility
- Spirit on the Water
- Leper's Song
- Taking Me Higher
- Lied - Previously unreleased
- Our Kid's Kid - B-side of "Hymn" single
- Hymn - Single edit
- Friend of Mine - Single version
- Medicine Man - Live EP version
This is, perhaps, the best of the rematered CDs, offering superb sound and some fascinating bonus material. "Hymn" is so familiar that you don't expect to be surprised, but the opening massed acoustics have a warm mellow feel, and the musical climax at "alone we fly" carries real punch compared with other formats. "Poor Man's Moody Blues" reveals detail that was previously inaudible, and everywhere the music has room to breathe. In the quiet passages, you can hear a pin drop. Back when the album first came out, Jill Wolstenholme described "Sea Of Tranquility" in the fan club newsletter as song which starts quietly then goes "bang" in the middle - now we know exactly what she meant, as this recording is a revelation. "Leper's Song" sounds like a real rocker now, with tremendous power.
The jewel in the crown of all the bonus material on these remasters is "Lied", a previously unknown recording which was completed at the Gone To Earth album sessions, but never released until now. A mid-paced John Lees song about the end of an affair, with its churchy organ and John's unmistakable guitar, it has that instantly recognisable classic BJH sound. The remainder of the bonus material comprises material from singles, including the UK-only Live EP version of "Medicine Man", now presented in its full splendour at almost twelve minutes long. A couple of minor quibbles on the presentation - "Friend Of Mine" is described as a single B-side where it was actually the A-side, and some of the photos in the booklet are from 1979, not 1977. Overall, though, this a superb repackage of the band's best-selling album of all time - a worthy tribute to a classic LP.
- Loving Is Easy
- A Tale of Two Sixties
- Turning in Circles
- The Closed Shop
- In Search of England
- Sip of Wine
- Nova Lepidoptera
- Giving It Up
- The Streets of San Francisco
- Berlin - Single edit
- Loving Is Easy - Single version
- Turning in Circles - First mix
- The Closed Shop - First mix
- Nova Lepidoptera - Ambient instrumental mix
Continuing in the same vein, the remastered XII offers a warmer, extended range recording, bringing out subtle detail that was difficult to hear before, and showing many songs in a new light. Highlights include the "The Closed Shop", sounding more strident and martial than ever, "Sip Of Wine" revealing more layers of the original recording, and the guitar solo on "Giving It Up" sounding particularly wonderful. The opening of "Nova Lepidoptera" deserves a special mention: the "UFO" morse code introduction is crystal clear, then the listener is blown away as the keyboards come crashing in - stunning!
The single edit of "Berlin" and the 'polite' version of "Loving Is Easy" will probably already be familiar, but the first mix of "Turning In Circles" offers a more muscular mix, whilst "The Closed Shop" sounds almost identical to the final version. The so-called ambient instrumental mix of "Nova Lepidoptera" is an unfinished recording giving us a deconstructed take on the song with no vocals, some of the instrumentation missing, and a robotic guide drum. It's over a minute longer than the finished version, and even has a 'proper' ending - wonderfully bizarre! One nitpick is that some of John's songs have lost their "categories" in the track listings, i.e. "Fantasy:" for "Loving Is Easy", "Classics:" for "A Tale Of Two Sixties" and "Science Fiction:" for "Nova Lepidoptera". However, the packaging of this disc is particularly well done, using artwork from the 1978 tour programme to great effect on the back of the CD case, and a version of the XII butterfly on a white background on the CD itself looks very striking.
It's a pleasure to be able to recommend these remasters, which have been put together with great care and attention to detail, and involvement from John and Woolly. BJH collector Peter Kendall and ourselves contributed photos and memorabilia for the 16-page booklets, and Joe Black at Universal did a great job in overseeing the project, but it's Mark Powell who deserves most credit as the man whose enthusiasm and persistence means that Barclay James Harvest's catalogue has finally received the treatment and respect it deserves.
Keith & Monika Domone