Barclay James Harvest
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Les Holroyd Interview, July 1998
This interview was conducted by Keith Domone for the official BJH fan club magazine, Nova Lepidoptera, and first appeared in issue #42 of NL in September 1998.
NL: I wanted to ask first of all what your feelings are now about the River Of Dreams album.
Les: In what respect, the music side of it, what happened to it or what didnít happen to it?
NL: The music side first.
Les: Iím never satisfied. I always think I could have done better. I still think it sounds quite fresh compared with the last few albums, but I think we could have taken it a stage further, and personally I think we should have done it in a different studio. I think we should have got away from the area and totally isolated ourselves from all the normal domestic things that go on around you. The best sounding albums, in my opinion, are the ones that we did away from home. Time Honoured Ghosts and a couple of the albums that were recorded in London seem to have something that the albums that were recorded up here donít have and I put that down to having to having to have two hats on. Itís like being on tour - youíre either on tour or youíre not. At the end of the day you donít go home and start mowing the lawn!
NL: In recent years the albums seem to have taken a very long time to make, and thatís probably tied up with the same thing, is it?
Les: Yes, I think it probably is. For example, if you were to book time in a studio that was expensive... I mean we spent an awful lot of money recording in Germany and Holland, but that was just circumstances at the time because we were living over there or whatever, and there was that sort of money to spend on albums. Whether it was sensible that we spent that money, but we got dragged along with it, and the albums came out quite well, I think. But if youíre in Manchester and you live in Manchester then it tends to drag on, because people go oh, you know, ďIíll just take the afternoon off because Iíve got to do this with the kidsĒ. It does happen. If youíre on the road you canít do that, so if you put yourself in that position where youíre in the studio like being on the road and not a nine-to-five job, then youíd probably save some time.
NL: Do you have any favourite songs from the album?
Les: My personal one was ďSo LongĒ. I wanted to spend more time on that - I would have liked to have taken it further. It went down very quickly and it would have been rather nice to experiment a bit longer, on all of the tracks really, to have spent more time on it, particularly on the vocals - I wasnít really too happy with the vocals at the time, I had a cold and one thing and another, but there comes a time when youíve got to go for it and get it out of the way.
NL: Earlier you touched on the reaction to the album - were you very disappointed by that?
Les: Yes, I was - incredibly. I thought, because of the initial reaction from people involved in the record company, that we were onto something. The reaction from the media was quite good, but when we actually got out there there was an incredible absence of the record company from every event we played. These were big gigs, headlining over Art Garfunkel and people like that. There was a complete lack of interest, and I was extremely annoyed. I canít put that down to anything except the record company, which as far as I could see was in turmoil at the time, more than normal! I know that John was disappointed when we went on the road that there werenít that many people around, but there werenít that many people around for anybody unless you happened to be Bryan Adams! But, if you want to be Bryan Adams, or even Chris de Burgh, youíve got to go out and work. You canít go on the road after a two or three year absence and expect it all to be laid there on a carpet for you. This is not 15 or 20 years ago, this is 1998 when the market is completely flooded with all types of music, and weíre in a totally different generation to whatís happening now. No-one owes us anything, that is the bottom line. The promoters donít owe us anything, the record companies donít owe us anything and the fans donít owe us anything.
NL: Iím not sure Iíd agree that the fans donít owe you anything.
Les: Donít take me wrong on this - Iím saying you canít expect them to come along and say, ďYouíve given us this music for so many years, weíre gonna follow you foreverĒ. Circumstances change for everyone. You canít say that weíre gonna sell x amount of records this year and the back catalogueís gonna keep selling and keep selling - itís not. If youíre not on the road, the back catalogue doesnít sell, itís as simple as that. Youíve got to be prepared to work at it, you canít sit back and say, ďOh well, weíre a cult band, and thatís going to pull it through for usĒ, because it isnít. Those days are over, really over. Record companies havenít got the money to spend, theyíre not interested in the future of artists any more. Itís just a product, and if it doesnít sell they just move on to the next.
NL: Bearing in mind what you said about working, is this a good time for the band to take a sabbatical?
Les: It was decided that for whatever reason, it wasnít happening, so it was time to take a break. It wasnít my personal decision, I can tell you that. You canít go on working when thereís so much thatís negative - you can only do it for so long before you think, ďIím banging my head against a wall here, and itís not getting me anywhere. Iím writing good songs, Iím doing them well, Iím performing wellĒ, and I personally thought I was performing very well, better than Iíd done for a long time. Itís just annoying when at the end of the day, people donít think itís happening. The only thing I can say is it was a majority decision, but it wasnít mine. I would work live, it doesnít matter if itís five people or 5000 or 50,000, but weíre not given the opportunity, more than anything from the record company we were with.
NL: Do you personally believe that BJH will record or tour again?
Les: We are actually planning something, which I canít tell you about, unfortunately, because the band havenít talked about it. It was just something that was mentioned, involving recording and maybe some gigs, but at this point in time I donít think Polydor in Germany are interested. I could be wrong, but thereís no use in pushing it.
NL: Did you enjoy last yearís tour?
Les: I did, yeah.
NL: You seemed to be enjoying the solo spots, and they were certainly going down really well with the fans.
Les: Right. Well, that again is something that could be worked on in the future, but weíd have to see what the feedback would be, whether the fans would go for it. It would have to be under the umbrella of BJH.
NL: You wouldnít envisage touring solo, then?
Les: Me personally? The only time I would envisage that would be if I wrote something for example that was absolutely stunning for guitar and vocals, like a one-man thing, and then you could make a record and maybe do some gigs. There is no way Iíd go ďright, thatís it, Iím off on my ownĒ. As far as Iím concerned Barclay James Harvest is the three members and whatever happens next time that is with Barclay James Harvest.
NL: What are your own immediate plans?
Les: Iím actually working on something at the moment, which again I canít tell you about! Itís nothing to do with the band, and at this point in time itís not totally fixed yet whatís going to happen. It is an exciting prospect - quite big, very big! Thatís all I can tell you.
NL: Is it a musical project, does it involve writing songs?
Les: No, itís not. It involves the entertainment business... No one knows about it, but for obvious reasons I canít tell you about it because if people find out about it, itís not going to happen.
NL: Have you been writing at all since the last BJH album?
Les: Yes, I write all the time. Iíve got about twenty ideas in total, and maybe three or four songs with lyrics and arrangements that have reached the point where Iím not going to throw them away. Iím not one for hoarding ideas for songs and bringing them back ten years afterwards. If they donít work, in my opinion, then theyíre not going to work.
NL: What will happen to those songs now?
Les: I will just keep writing at the keyboard, and perhaps if I did come up with something interesting, Iíd have to go to Lindsay or David with what I would like to do. Hopefully itís going to continue. I have been in contact with Mel, we have been talking about what weíre going to do. John obviously is off doing his own thing at the moment, but Iíve no doubt at all in my mind that if someone from England or Germany, France or Switzerland or whatever came up with an offer for Barclay James Harvest to do something, Iíve no doubt at all that weíd get together.
NL: At the moment John is working again with Woolly, and the fans are asking the question ďis there any chance that the original four members of BJH would ever get back together?Ē.
NL: Well, thatís pretty unequivocal. Why do you say that?
Les: Why? Because thatís gone, thatís past. As far as Iím concerned Barclay James Harvest is the band that exists now. The band that existed for the majority of the time was from 1978 onwards. Thatís 20 years, and you canít just say, ďWell itís not working, therefore weíll get the four together.Ē You canít recreate something for the sake of the few people that want it. I canít see any benefits to the four members getting back together again. I certainly canít see it.
NL: Would you like to tour Britain again?
Les: If the time was right, yeah. Iím never going to go out again and bang my head against a brick wall. Weíre not 25 any more! A lot of things have happened lately which have changed my feelings about the future, personal things which you canít account for. From now on I just want to do what I want to do and I will not be pressurised or forced into any situation which I donít think is right, either for me personally or the band.
NL: Looking back over the bandís career, what have been the best moments so far?
Les: I think it was the early days when we were touring and not thinking about it, like that South African tour and the tour of Yugoslavia, but we were a lot younger then. You could do your own thing and not have to worry about the consequences! The Berlin concert - personally I donít think it was one of our better gigs, but it was an event. You couldn't recreate that.
NL: What would you like BJH to be remembered for?
Les: Just the music, I think, more than anything. The live performances; people always told me that the band was best when it was performing live.
NL: Any message for the fans who will be reading this?
Les: Just to reiterate that at this point in time, although there is a break, we are actually talking about various future projects. I personally think we should go out on the road - the band as it is now. I donít envisage any major changes in the band.
NL: Thanks very much for your time, and the best of luck with your projects.
Les: Iíll let you know nearer the time if I can. If it does happen it will open up new avenues which are not that far from where I am now.
NL: Thank you.
Les: Thank you very much.