This was no ordinary gig. When John Lees' Barclay James Harvest stepped on stage on Saturday night at the Buxton Opera House, they were met with the most astonishing outpouring of warmth and affection from fans who had travelled from all parts to be with them that night.
The gig had initially been billed as a celebration of the 4oth anniversary of the release of Barclay James Harvest's seminal work, "Once Again". Tragically, in December 2010, founder member, composer, arranger, keyboard and guitar player Woolly Wolstenholme took his own life after a long battle with debilitating depression. On Saturday night, the band took to the stage for the first time since the tragedy, to play a gig in his honour.
In the audience were many people who had loved the band's music for many years, many fans who had got to know Woolly through the gigs, and an array of his personal friends too. While the band, now a 4-piece, delivered an excellent set of songs drawn almost exclusively from the 'classic-era' of Barclay James Harvest - it was an evening of high emotion. Wolstenholme's influence was everywhere, songs he had written, arrangements he had penned, strange silences between songs where he should have been wise-cracking.... yet the evening was a great tribute by the four remaining members to their fallen friend and colleague. When Woolly used to sing his song, "The Poet", John Lees could often be seen singing along off-mic. On Saturday John sang the song, poignantly alone, his voice loaded with emotion, his hand quivering by his side - the crowd willing him on. I saw people smiling, with moist eyes. The gig ended with the most enthusiastic singalong of Hymn, I have ever heard - the crowd shouting "YEAH", in between verses like in the old days..
The music Barclay James Harvest made has a meant a huge amount to me for more than half my life. I was deeply saddened by the tragic death of Woolly Wolstenholme (about which I blogged here) and as a result made a special effort to get to this gig. It turned out to be a day that will live long in the memory, firstly meeting up with lots of other fans who I usually only know via their odd pseudonyms on the internet, which was fun. And then a most remarkable gig. I am by nature someone who scoffs at public displays of emotion, and would find such things embarrassing rather than affecting. However, the display of warmth, affection and grief from the crowd on Saturday night, was absolutely absorbing. A quite remarkable night.