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Articles Home » 1984 Articles » Barclay James Harvest - 1984 Victims Of Circumstance
Barclay James Harvest - 1984 Victims Of Circumstance

ARTIST: Barclay James Harvest
ALBUM: Victims Of Circumstance
LABEL: Polydor
SERIAL: 817 950 1, POLD 5135
YEAR: 1984
CD REISSUE: 2012, Esoteric, ECLEC22330


LINEUP: Les Holroyd - lead vocals, keyboards, bass guitar * John Lees - lead vocals, guitar * Mel Pritchard - drums

TRACK LISTING: 01 Sideshow * 02 Hold On * 03 Rebel Woman * 04 Say You'll Stay * 05 For Your Love * 06 Victims Of Circumstance * 07 Inside A Nightmare * 08 Watching You * 09 I've Got A Feeling


Barclay James Harvest were in an interesting position by 1984. Megastars in Europe, back in the charts in the UK and starting to gain some respect. However, due to a litany of reasons, they didn't tour behind 1983's superb 'Ring Of Changes' album. It still sold by the truckload in Europe, made the charts in the UK and yielded some powerful hit singles. BJH went back to the studio immediately to record a follow up album, again with Pip Williams in the cockpit. Once again the recording was digital, but there was a distinct difference this time. Female backing singers were brought in to augment one of the tracks (not sure which), and ended up on the majority of the album. This would add a new dynamic to the tried and trusted BJH sound, and possibly risk alienating some of the long time fans. Then again, a new generation of 80's fans had discovered the band through their second wave of success. So how did all of this play out in the songs?

The Songs
'Sideshow' is a pretty lightweight opener, acoustic plucking the order of the day as John laments the media's sensasionalist obsession with bad news. The chorus does provide some welcome electric rhythm guitar and the vocal attack is convincing, qualifying as AOR but lighter than what Eloy or Saga were doing at the time. That said, the orchestral flourishes do add that extra embellishment to good effect. 'Hold On' sports a memorable hook from the outset, an almost lilting vocal from Les in the verses, the chorus again more impactful with the backing singers making their presence felt, definitely a trend developing. AOR lite then, but of a very high standard. 'Rebel Woman' promises some power and menace right at the start, but keeps us waiting as the verses revert to very gentle midtempo fare. The power hinted at does come through in the chorus though, John and the wall of backing penetrating the soundscape in a lower register than usual in an almost war-like chant. A very satisfying crunch to this AOR gem, something quite rare with BJH and placing them in period Kansas territory, if only briefly. Les now goes off on an electropop tangent, but what a result! 'Say You'll Stay' is extremely hi tech and based purely on synth but the melody is staggering, layers of synth and vocal harmony interweaving everywhere. An argument could be mounted for very lite hi tech AOR but it's a close call. A great song regardless, and would have made a good choice of single.

'For Your Love' sees John offering up a tribute to the interaction between audience and band, starting out with gentle intentions but graduating to Magnum induced pomp drama. No wonder this one was a live showstopper, the final 'let it shine' refrain just built to get the audience worked up, an AOR ballad worth it's weight in coffee. Title track 'Victims Of Circumstance' is next, pop through and through with a rhythm device I can only describe as slightly sideways. Echoing keyboard motifs and occasional flamenco guitar fills occupy the melodic space as Les gives us a lecture on politicians and policies, very lite Saga could be a reference point. It was an enormous hit throughout Europe, significantly going to number 1 in France, matching their popularity in Germany. This would prove to be temporary though. 'Inside My Nightmare' overcomes its wooden rhythm with a strong AOR hook and one of those bridges that elevates a track from ok to very good, reminding me here and there of South African new wavers eVoid. 'Watching You' is a little tepid to be honest, a sluggish reggae tempo not helping things but the melody is well crafted and an unusual amount of welcome guitar soloing tends to add some redemption. Not for everyone, but give it a try anyway. Closing track 'I've Got A Feeling' is a ballad in every sense. There's a very strong melody at work here, and Les is in fine voice as usual. Some well placed sax adds that west coast touch, my only misgiving is once again the tempo which is beyond slow, almost sedentary. This was chosen as the second single, faring very moderately at best, where 'Say You'll Stay' could have been a smash. Not a bad ballad, just could have offered a little more.

In Summary
Overall a very strong AOR statement from BJH and a twin album with 'Ring Of Changes', this could arguably be called their commercial zenith. As mentioned before, Victims Of Circumstance ruled the charts in Europe and even made the UK top 40. The tour was also very successful, including the female backing vocalists so as to accurately represent the tracks from 'Victims...' Right at tour's end, they even headlined Wembley Arena, which was seen as a milestone for the band. BJH were rightfully chuffed, sitting on top of the world (East of the Atlantic at least). 'Victims Of Circumstance' turns out to be a very commercial prog AOR workout, rich in melody. On a final note, the Esoteric reissue is a thing of beauty, featuring superb sound, booklet and photos, but also a second disc containing much of that Wembley Arena concert. Recommended.

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#1 | aoraor on May 07 2013 16:55:41
Dear Lee, after your reviews I bought immediately Turn, Ring and Victims, of course the remastered editions, very well done and packaged. Specifically this album can be labelled as AOR only in a large sense of the term, not certainly the Toto, Survivor, Journey sound as we know. Anyway several listenings are still giving to me a very good feeling, either the Chicago's style ballad "I've got a feeeling" or the straight Russ Ballard AOR of "Hold On", a greater verse more than the chorus imho. The title track seems very wimpy or soft rock at 1st listen, but it is quite infectious indeed, honestly I dont' hear any traces of Kansas and very few from Saga (maybe the mid eighties tracks). In conclusion it resembles more to Alan Parson, lite Aor period, a bit of Camel post 80 and also Cars mixed with a very euro pop rock feeling of the 80's.
#2 | AOR Lee on May 08 2013 06:00:31
Firstly, great that you bought the discs and that you are enjoying them. AOR is certainly a broad genre, and BJH are certainly not players in the 'straight ahead' Survivor / Journey style of AOR for the most, they belong to a crossover prog / AOR sub genre with 80's Yes, Rush, Saga, Eloy, Omega, FSB etc. Certain tracks will inevitably bring certain bands to mind for me, and different bands to some readers. I don't think either of us is wrong, simply our individual perception of the tracks, which is part of what makes all this AOR discussion enjoyable anyway ? Check out several of Eric's reviews for more prog AOR crossover examples, he has gone pretty deep into that scene and covered it really well
#3 | Eric on May 09 2013 17:33:55
Agree, AOR is a very broad genre, at least it was initially when the term was first coined in the 70's as a radio format that included everything from Southern and Pub rock to metal and pop- there were no boundries. Early on BJH were part of that pastoral 'proto-prog' scene that tettered betwen folk, classical and blues. They didn't live in a vacuum and like every other band with open ears, picked up other influences as years went on. W. Germany was a big hot spot for BJH were they were truely superstars and I'm sure Saga's sound and success in Europe was noticed.
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