Barclay James Harvest - Octoberon – Deluxe, Expanded Remaster album review

Barclay James Harvest's soft-centred 1976 set gets a new sonic makeover.

Barclay James Harvest - Octoberon album artwork

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BJH always seemed to have one foot in symphonic prog and the other in laid back soft rock, and by the latter half of the 1970s they were leaning ever further towards the latter territory. Yet this seven-track LP still showcases their rare skill with harmony-laden melodies and engagingly eccentric creative touches. This reissued version, complete with a stereo overhaul, sells the CD/DVD package pretty well, although there’s not a huge amount to mark it out from the remastered CD version that came out in 2003, save for gutsier live clips of Rock’n’Roll Star and The World Goes On, recorded for The Old Grey Whistle Test.

The symphonic swell behind the latter track sounds impressively sumptuous on the new stereo and surround sound makeovers, and the alternate intro version of May Day is also worth hearing, building the opening passage slowly via woodwind rather than crashing in from the start, to arguably superior effect.

The hymnal second stanza of that track is still barking, though, encompassing anthems ranging from It’s A Long Way To Tipperary to The Red Flag and There’ll Always Be An England, sung simultaneously to create a melange of choral confusion. As the substantial sleeve notes reveal, the choir arrangement “got totally out of hand” in John Lees’ view, and you’ll be no more able to pick the bones out of it with the benefit of improved sound as you were 41 years ago. And yet there’s still something oddly riveting about the cosmic chatter it creates.

The stand out track, though, is still final cut Suicide?, a somnambulant tale of a man about to jump from a high building, accompanied by an elegantly elegiac melody and the famous line ‘Heard a voice shouting, “Don’t jump, please for God’s sake let me move my car!”’ And now you’re better equipped to revisit the mini radio play that closes the piece, complete (according to the sleevenotes) with Woolly Wolstenholme’s recording of a showroom dummy being thrown from a Manchester hotel rooftop with a microphone round its neck. Now that’s what we call sonic invention.

Johnny Sharp

Johnny is a regular contributor to Prog and Classic Rock magazines, both online and in print. Johnny is a highly experienced and versatile music writer whose tastes range from prog and hard rock to R’n’B, funk, folk and blues. He has written about music professionally for 30 years, surviving the Britpop wars at the NME in the 90s (under the hard-to-shake teenage nickname Johnny Cigarettes) before branching out to newspapers such as The Guardian and The Independent and magazines such as Uncut, Record Collector and, of course, Prog and Classic Rock