A legendary 1970s rock band is playing gigs with Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra …. its first shows with an orchestra in the UK for more than 50 years.

John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest is playing two concerts at Huddersfield Town Hall on Saturday, September 23 at 7.30pm and Sunday, September 24 at 4pm.

In the early 1970s Barclay James Harvest was one of the first bands to record and tour with an orchestra, successfully fusing the worlds of rock and classical music.

This concert will see the band perform orchestrated renditions of the classic Barclay James Harvest repertoire of the early 1970s such as Mocking Bird, The Poet, After the Day and the epic Dark Now My Sky which has not been performed live since 1973.

They will also play recent material newly arranged for an orchestra. Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra’s musical director Benjamin Ellin has adapted the original Barclay James Harvest orchestral arrangements specially for this project.

The 80-strong Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra has a reputation for innovative programming, choosing to showcase modern and more challenging works alongside the standard classical repertoire and they have performed a number of world premieres, toured China and recorded for the BBC.

Barclay James Harvest first got together in a dilapidated former coaching inn at the village of Diggle on Saddleworth Moor. It was the remnants of two blues bands influenced by the likes of the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and progressive rock and they quickly developed the ambition to work with an orchestra.

They brought in classical music student Robert Godfrey as the band’s musical director and he tried to assemble a student orchestra for the recording of the debut Barclay James Harvest album at the famous Abbey Road studio.

The plan proved over-ambitious as the inexperienced students were out of their depth in a professional recording studio. Fortunately, a classical musician of Godfrey’s acquaintance, Martyn Ford, already had his own very capable orchestra made up of the best students from the London music colleges.

They were called The New Sinfonia but renamed The Barclay James Harvest Orchestra for the occasion and stepped into the breach with Martyn as orchestra manager and lead horn.

Within the ranks of The Barclay James Harvest Orchestra were several musicians who would go on to achieve fame in their own right. Martyn Ford, in addition to conducting internationally renowned orchestras, also arranged or orchestrated classics such as Johnny Nash’s I Can See Clearly Now, The Rolling Stones’ Angie and Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir.

Paul Buckmaster, the orchestra leader at the Royal Festival Hall show, worked with Elton John, David Bowie and The Stones. Richard Studt, who led the orchestra for the BBC concert, later became concert master of the London Symphony Orchestra as well as recording many film scores from Star Wars to Harry Potter. Violinist Wilf Gibson became a member of the world-famous, multi-million album selling Electric Light Orchestra.

Barclay James Harvest performed with Martyn and the orchestra at the Weeley Festival in Essex with T Rex, The Faces with Rod Stewart, King Crimson and Mott The Hoople.

Barclay James Harvest played with orchestras into the early 1970s, culminating in a sell-out show at London’s Royal Festival Hall in May 1973 until it simply became too expensive.

A projected tour of five European cities in April 1973 with their 36-piece orchestra was cancelled when the record company refused financial backing for it and when Barclay James Harvest parted ways with the Harvest record label that summer it marked an end to live performances with an orchestra.

Fast forward to now. The group has fragmented into two separate bands, one featuring bassist and singer Les Holroyd and the other, John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest, concentrating on the earlier Barclay James Harvest repertoire.

The two Huddersfield concerts will see Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra also playing Shostakovich’s Festive Overture and the Hornpipe from Handel’s Water Music as they were pieces The Barclay James Harvest Orchestra played.

The concerts are part of John’s farewell to touring series of live shows so it will be a last chance to see this show.

Tickets are now on sale from the Huddersfield Town Hall box office. To find out more go to https://www.kirklees.gov.uk/beta/town-halls/book-tickets.aspx and scroll down September’s shows.

Main image by Catchlife Photography

Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR (https://ah-pr.com/) specialising in press releases, blogging, website content and copywriting.