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Eyes of the Universe

Barclay James Harvest

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Album Review

Punk's rise in Britain seemed to be leading to the demise of Barclay James Harvest, the fate awaiting so many of the island's veteran rock bands. Although 1976's Octoberon had finally pushed the band into the U.K. Top 20, it was all downhill from there, as the group's follow-ups in 1977 and 1978 landed ever lower in the listings, something that Barclay James Harvest's shift to a brighter, more American sound did nothing to prevent. Keyboardist Wooly Wolstenholme had enough, and announced his decision to depart in early 1979 during the rehearsals for their forthcoming album. Graciously, he agreed to take the stage with the group for its European tour that summer, with his final gig recorded and subsequently released as The Live Tapes. Les Holroyd initially filled in on keyboards in the studio, until Kevin McAlea was brought in, and recording proceeded apace. The eight-song Eyes of the Universe album was released later that year, a strong set that kicked off with the spinoff single "Love on the Line." If that number showcased their more Americanized style, "Sperratus" highlighted their British roots, with its Renaissance-rinsed ersatz harpsichord and soaring guitar parts. "Alright Down Get Boogie (Mu Ala Rusic)" illustrated that Barclay James Harvest were open to new sounds, in this case disco, and "Rock n' Roll Lady" to old, its riff obviously inspired by Blue Öyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper." The epic "Play to the World," meanwhile, slowly builds in scope, growing ever more grandiose across its six-plus minutes, until finally Alan Fawkes' saxophone solo kicks in, adding a sweep of Springsteen to the proceedings. "The Song (They Love to Sing)" is nearly as majestic, while "Capricorn" is just lyrically baffling, although musically upbeat. Considering the events swirling around its making, Eyes was a triumph, although once again it took the band even lower in the British listings. But, oh, its impact in Europe! The set soared up the charts across the continent, turning Barclay James Harvest into instant superstars. Eventually, the band would reach new heights in Britain as well, but from this point forth, it was across the channel that the band's fate truly lay.

Biography

Formed: September, 1966 in Oldham, England

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Barclay James Harvest was, for many years, one of the most hard luck outfits in progressive rock. A quartet of solid rock musicians — John Lees, guitar, vocals; Les Holroyd, bass, vocals; Stuart "Wooly" Wolstenholme, keyboards, vocals; and Mel Pritchard, drums — with a knack for writing hook-laden songs built on pretty melodies, they harmonized like the Beatles and wrote extended songs with more of a beat than the Moody Blues. They were signed to EMI at the same time as Pink Floyd, and...
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Eyes of the Universe, Barclay James Harvest
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