The past is a puzzling acquaintance, sharing as it does all of the most momentous experiences of life’s journey whilst forever travelling in the opposite direction, each day carrying our memories just a little further from our recollective grasp until they fade from view lost in that ever-increasing crowded space in our consciousness we choose to call memory lane. And yet some experiences remain, regardless of time, clear and as fresh as if they happened only yesterday, the sights, sounds and smells so vibrant and tangible that by just closing our eyes we can transport ourselves back through time and relive the adventure all over again. So it is for me and one particular day in late September 1977.
By the middle of 1973, the relatively small city of Lincoln had become the family home and would remain so for the following fifty years. During the previous decade its venues such as the Odeon and the A.B.C. had played host to many of the major acts of the period including The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix but by the mid-seventies it had fallen off the gig tour map with Paul Rodger’s newly formed Bad Company being the last major act to perform in the city the year we made Lincoln our home. All this meant that to see a bonafide concert you had to travel out of Lincoln to either Leicester’s De Montfort Hall or Sheffield’s City Hall. Now you have to remember this was the seventies a decade when your parents were definitely not into the same music as you, and weren’t we all grateful for that, so there was no offer of a lift, it would have to be the train. Leicester was closer but there was no direct service, so Sheffield by default became the venue of choice for this music-mad sixteen-year-old and his best schoolmate Andrew Parker. The choice of who we saw first was as much down to timing as any preordained list, in fact it was meant to be Peter Gabriel the previous month but we were so slow in getting our order in that the show had sold out, leaving us studiously studying the gig guide for the next tempting alternative.
Barclay James Harvest were formed in Oldham over a decade earlier by four local lads, Les Holroyd on bass and vocals, John Lees guitar and vocals, Stuart Wolstenholme keyboards, and Mel Pritchard drums. playing a brand of music that never quite belonged to any particular musical style. At their best they straddled the musical genres of folk and progressive rock but ultimately lacked a strong enough identity to break through and threaten the upper end of the album charts. However, that’s not to say that they didn’t have their moments, and after four overly produced album for EMI’s newly formed Harvest label that failed to register on the charts they moved to Polydor breaking into the Top 40 at the first attempt with the 1974 released, ‘Everyone Is Everybody Else’. This album would be forever seen as the band’s crowning glory being voted 13th by listeners in ‘Radio Caroline’s 1977 Top 100 All Time Album Chart’, while esteemed music journalist, the late Colin Larkin wrote of the album in ‘The Encyclopaedia Of Popular Music’, highlighting its failure to chart higher as “one of rock’s minor mysteries, for it contained many outstanding songs. The beautiful harmonies of ‘Poor Boy Blues’, set against their tour de force, ‘For No One’, two reasons alone why the album should have been a major success”. The BBC Radio 1 DJ, Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman was also a champion of the band regularly playing them on his Saturday afternoon ‘Album Show’, which I would listen to religiously, finger permanently positioned above the Record Button on the radio. By 1977 the band had broke into the Top 20 with the previous years release, ‘Octoberon’, resulting in appearances on both ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ and even ‘Top Of The Pops’, as their single, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’, nudged the lower regions of the Top 40.
The itinerary for the day of the concert had been planned well in advance which as it fell on a school day began with the rather rebellious act of skipping school at lunch time, dashing home and changing out of my school uniform into my beloved flared Levi jeans, Ben Sherman shirt, black velvet jacket and platform sole shoes. Thinking back, what I must have looked like that day all dressed up does conjure a slight tinge of embarrassment, but I clearly remember that at the time I felt about ten feet tall, though that might have been something to do with the footwear. The train journey took 1 hour 35 minutes calling at such exotic-sounding places as, Gainsborough, Retford, and Worksop as a whole new world began to open up for this extremely naive teenager. Oh for the innocence of youth. From Sheffield’s station it was an uphill walk passing the entrance to the home of snooker, The Crucible, before cutting through a narrow alleyway to the shopping precent and on to the City Hall. This Grade II Listed building with its Neo-Classical style, and seating capacity of 2271 first opened its doors in 1932 and through the years had played host to such jazz luminaries as Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong to the less salubrious Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, but more recently had been rocking to the likes of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Elton John. Inside it is just as impressive, In fact I would go as far as to state that in the following forty-five years of going to gigs around the world I have rarely found a venue its equal for either sound quality, all round viewing, comfort or atmosphere.
Taking our seats the excitement was almost palpable, finding myself surrounded by like minded peers, the inaudible chatter like an electrical charge buzzing through the aisles occasionally broken by the desperate cry of “Where’s Wally”. I clearly remember hoping he was found before the concert started while every passing minute felt like an eternity, my senses heightened, my heart racing, proving unequivocally that anticipation is truly the purest form of pleasure. I have no recollection of a support act though I’m sure there was one but at approximately 8.45pm the lights dimmed and a roar broke out from all corners of the hall. This was it. The first time. The only time it would ever feel quite like this and it was everything and more than I could have dared dream. The pre-concert banter of what they would open with was answered as the energy of ‘Crazy City’ engulfed the crowd followed by a string of what were already considered as B.J.H. classics. ‘Medicine Man’, ‘Mocking Bird’, ‘Child Of The Universe’, and ‘For No One’. Someone once said that B.J.H. were just an average band with an above-average guitarist, a rather harsh assessment of three fine musicians, but there is no doubting Lees contribution both in his playing and songwriting gave the band what ever edge they had which became magnified on stage, my eyes drawn to the fretboard of his guitar. It was also suggested within the musical press that B.J.H. were nothing more than “A poor man’s Moody Blues”, another view that left me bemused, so it was fitting that their tongue-in-cheek track with the same title from their most recent album ‘Gone To Earth’ brought the crowd to their feet as the night built to a fitting climax.
Now the problem with relying on public transport is being hostage to timetables and the last train home was scheduled to leave at 10.35pm, so with the band halfway through their encore and with barely five minutes to spare we left our ‘Theatre Of Dreams’ and sprinted through the streets of the city that I had so quickly and heavily fallen in love with to arrive at the station with seconds to spare, and for the first time cursing my choice of running shoes. The journey back was spent in almost total silence but with the widest grins as we tried to process all the evening had bestowed upon us. During the following few years, Sheffield City Hall would become our Mecca with regular pilgrimage’s along the same track to see such bands as Supertramp, The Who, Mike Oldfield, Thin Lizzy, Journey and Dire Straits to name but a few. All great memories, and though some were more memorable than others none could ever create the magic of ‘The First Time’.