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BJH at Liverpool Stadium, 28th August, 1974
by Tony Johnson
I can remember exactly where I was on the morning of Friday 1st November, 1974. I was in Beeston, a short walking distance from my university campus in Nottingham, buying a copy of BJH Live for £2.94.
This was an occasion of some moment for me as I had been present on the 28th August at the original concert that had been recorded at the Liverpool Stadium. Not only that, but my friend, Steve, and I had spent the whole day inside the concert hall helping the roadies to unload and then set up the gear. Not only had we done that but we had been privy to the afternoon's sound check which had been like being present at our very own private Barclay James Harvest gig.
My memories of that day remain vivid. We had hung around the stage doors waiting for the truck to arrive with the equipment on a sizzlingly hot day. We thought we might have to bluff our way in but the roadies were only too pleased to have a couple of eager enthusiasts to help cart the heavy cases around. We watched, in awe, as the cases were emptied and the sound system and lighting were erected. We stared at the unpacking of the drum kit. I was especially intrigued by the unloading of the Mellotron, an instrument that had been fascinating me for a few years now. The speaker stacks were organised and then, to my heart stopping wonderment, the four band members strolled in. John was wearing that very red jacket he was sporting on the cover of Everyone Is Everybody Else. As they tuned their instruments we went to sit by the mixing desk where our new friend, Ian Southerington, was monitoring the sound. For the next few minutes I sat entranced as this private concert was under way. I'm fairly sure we heard rehearsals of "Paper Wings", "Crazy City" and "Negative Earth" as the system was tweaked and balanced. At one point Les bawled a question in our direction to the effect of how did it sound. We replied in the affirmative despite the fact that our thumbs would have been raised skywards even if it had sounded distorted and out of tune. During this sound check a photographer was taking pictures of the band members as they rehearsed and some of these are on the album's front and back cover.
Once the practice was complete, the band put down their instruments and climbed down off the stage and began to chat to their roadies about technical details. Here it should have been possible to have spoken to my heroes as they were within touching distance from me but appalling shyness overwhelmed me and eventually they left the stadium. We returned to Ian at the sound desk. He was extremely generous and accommodating with his time and he told us about their record sales, and how successfully they had been received at the previous weekend's Reading Festival and about the plans for a forthcoming film entitled Windsong. By this time we had been joined by two extremely friendly girls whose knowledge and experience of the music scene bewildered Steve and me. However they weren't interested in us…..
Afternoon was speeding by now and the support act, Rare Bird, had arrived for their sound check. We enjoyed listening to them and once they had left the stage the stadium's doors were opened and the punters started to arrive to claim their seats. We had been allowed to sit on the very front row, in between where John and Les stood and the customary pre gig excitement was gathering. Once Rare Bird had kicked off proceedings, a blissful evening ensued. In what seemed no time the lights were going down and BJH were on stage in their stage costumes bursting forth with Mel's drum roll, John's soaring guitar solo and Woolly's mellotronic explosion that signals the start of "Summer Soldier". Absorbing the song's beauty now, it sounds somewhat dated lyrically in its plea for peace and love, yet it is classic BJH and John sounds in exemplary lead guitar form. I think Les provided the most striking presence on stage during this number, playing his double necked guitar and providing a tremendous rhythmical underpinning along with the peerless Mel. As the opening number came to an end, I looked around at the audience whose heads were shaking hairily to the music. The sudden switch at the song's climax to the fiery strumming that signified the onset of "Medicine Man" was and remains breathtaking. Never had the fair's whirligig sounded so wild to me as the band worked out on stage. There is some astonishing drumming and keyboard work during this number on the album. Les's bass playing thuds maniacally and John's guitar playing is part of the song's hallucinogenic fabric.
The set list is, to my ears today, quintessential BJH. Tracks from the recently issued Everyone Is Everybody Else blended seamlessly with songs from the Harvest albums. So we moved from the West Coast melodies of "Crazy City" to the apocalyptical "After The Day" where the Mellotron and guitar work explosively probe this song about existential meaning. Next, we move from the pastoral lilt of "Galadriel" to the Apollo 13 nightmare of "Negative Earth". My personal favourite, "She Said", is followed by a superlative rendering of "Paper Wings". Reading the lyrics in 2010, there's an inevitable focus on 1970s themes: rhapsodies about Tolkienesque characters and laments about dreary, drab politics and miners' strikes. There are pleas for universal peace and harmony- a characteristic rock lyric request of the period (and beyond) as well as songs about the fragility of human life, and love. And so, as the concert drew to its close nearly forty years ago, the band stirred itself for the show's climax: "For No One" and "Mocking Bird". By the time John sang his song about that bird in the trees, the Liverpool Stadium audience was upon its feet and swaying to the song's rhythm. I saw strangers hugging each other, wrapped up in the emotional intensity of the musical moment. With this number, which left the Mellotron shuddering crazily upon the stage, the concert was over and it was time to find the last underground train home to the Wirral.
I must confess, that less than three months later, as I clutched my newly purchased copy of BJH Live and read through the sleeve notes on my return trip to the campus, I had wanted to discover which tracks had been recorded at the Liverpool Stadium. The gatefold sleeve was less than illuminating about this. However, such irrelevancies were forgotten when I played the album for the very first time on a friend's stereo system, its gorgeously mellifluous contents demonstrated a rock band performing at the peak of their creative powers. There was an additional reason for my excitement on that cold November morning and that was the fact that BJH were playing our students' union on Saturday 9th November in support of their new release. Any attempt to see the sound check on that occasion was thwarted by the university's overzealous security team and Ian Southerington was too busy to recall me from that late summer's day in Liverpool. But, yet again, the Barclays were sublime and quickly won over the student audience who were dancing and singing along, as they had been doing in Liverpool, to "Mocking Bird". Very soon, Barclay James Harvest would be in the lower reaches of the album chart … but that's another story.