John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest at the Preston Guild Hall Review

14 October 2018


Reviewed by Dianne Hartley

After a sold out 50th anniversary concert at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester in May 2018, John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest are at Preston Guild Hall’s Charter Theatre as part of their autumn tour.

Formed in 1968, hence the 50th Anniversary tour John Lees is the only founder member, the current line-up being Lees, guitarist/vocals, Craig Fletcher bassist/vocalist, Jez Smith, keyboards and drummer Kevin Whitehead

From the start Craig Fletcher was engaging with anecdotes about the band who started the evening off with ’50’s Child’ followed by ‘Child of the Universe’ which I found as enigmatic as always but felt the vocals for John Lees were too quiet, this however was rectified for the rest of the set.

The 1st set included ‘North’ the title track from their 2013 album of new material which was critically acclaimed to be their best work for many years and ended with the haunting ‘ In Memory of the Martyrs’. Lees explained how he had written the song in memory of those who had lost their lives trying to cross the Berlin Wall and played it to over 170,000 people at the open-air concert in Treptower Park, East Berlin in 1987 in the hope that the people living in West Berlin could hear their tribute to them.

The 2nd set opened with an acoustic mash-up of songs followed by classics such as ‘Mocking Bird’, and ‘Taking Some Time On’.

Lees introduced a track he’d written called ‘On Leave’, also from the 2013 album ‘North’ as a tribute to founder member and keyboard player Stuart ‘Woolly’ Wolstenholme, who took his own life in December 2010. A couple of days after his death, Lees received a Christmas card from Woolly with just 2 words written in it which were On Leave!!!

‘Paraiso Dos Cavalos’ and ‘Medicine Man’ lightened the mood followed by ‘The Last Poet/After the Day’

After a short exit and return- the encore was ‘Early Morning’ introduced with a recording of legendary DJ John Peel on his BBC Radio show who declared; “It’s their first single but by no means their last. They’re going to do great things”. Lees then started in the wrong key so had to stop the song and start again (this time without John Peel) which the rest of the band found amusing and Lees put down to old age!

The grand finale was Lees introducing ‘Hymn’ with a footnote saying Sarah Brightman had recorded it for her new album also called Hymn and wondered if she realised it was not the Christian song it is usually mistaken for due to the lyrics but a song about the dangers of drug use in memory of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Paul Kossoff!

For me it was the highlight of the night having always been one of mine and many fans favourite. I loved every minute of this nostalgic trip back in time to the heady days of mystical British prog rock written by a group of lads from Oldham!

The Charter Theatre has two bars accessed by the foyer and is the ideal size for this intimate gig with great acoustics.

Best place to park for any event at Preston Guild Hall is on the recently refurbished Bus Station which recently won an award for being ranked as one of the better car parks in UK. The parking is £3.20 (2-4 hrs) or £4.00 (up to 12 hrs) if you wish to go for a meal at one of Preston’s amazing eateries. Access to the Guild Hall is via the 1st floor and is all undercover.

Rating: 5/5

For more information and tour dates visit

For other shows at the Preston Guild Hall visit

The Guild Hall & Charter Theatre, Lancaster Road, Preston, PR1 1HT | 01772 804444

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