When prog met glam: the story of Barclay James Harvest, Bombadil and ‘Breathless’

One of the things that makes the early 1970s my absolute favourite era for music is not only were there so many classic releases coming out of the album-oriented rock acts at the time, like Deep Purple and Pink Floyd, but the singles charts, and what was considered mere pop, were packed with brilliant releases from acts like Slade and the Glitter Band and Suzi Quatro, too.

It wasn’t a completely straightforward division, of course. Bands like Deep Purple would get into the singles charts now and again (‘Black Night’ and ‘Strange Kind of Woman’ both made the Top Ten, for example) and Slade enjoyed three No. 1 albums on top of all of their singles sales. And in reality, the distance between bands like Purple and bands like Slade was not as great as we might imagine – with both bands delivering their own particular brand of loud, guitar-based hard rock.

Where we might perceive the gap to be much more unbridgeable, of course, is when we start considering prog and glam. The classical influences, musical complexity and long solos associated with the world of prog seem a long way away from the handclaps, glitterbeats and chanted choruses from the world of glam.

There were crossovers, however. Only few years after releasing ‘Blockbuster’ and ‘Teenage Rampage’, the Sweet moved into progressive territory with their 1978 Level Headed album. But an early crossover contender must surely be Barclay James Harvest’s 1972 dalliance with glam.

Admittedly, it was released under a pseudonym but the 1972 single ‘Breathless’ (credited to Bombadil and supposedly written by ‘Terry Bull’) was none other than Barclay James Harvest, which saw the Oldham-based prog foursome attempting to make a bid for chart success by playing the likes of Gary Glitter and Chicory Tip at their own game.

Where on earth did the pseudonym Bombadil come from though? According to the Barclay James Harvest website it was inspired by Tom Bombadil, a character in Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings. Hmmm that is all starting to sound a bit prog and not very glam at all. Perhaps it was the name that let them down in the end then. Sadly, the single failed to make any impact on the charts but since the early 2000s the track (and its B-side ‘When The City Sleeps’) has been made available as bonus tracks on the Baby James Harvest album, leaving us with a wonderful slice of prog/glam crossover.

Further reading:

Before glam: the debut 60s singles of Bowie, Bolan, Slade, Mud and Sweet

The Sweet versus Bowie: the riff in Blockbuster and Jean Genie – origins and influences

Slade, strikes and the three-day week: the story of the greatest Christmas record ever made


4 thoughts on “When prog met glam: the story of Barclay James Harvest, Bombadil and ‘Breathless’

  1. Interesting tune, especially coming from Barclay James Harvest! I listened to BJH quite a bit between the late ’70s and early ’80s. It was mostly the studio albums “Gone to Earth” and “Eyes of the Universe” and the live albums “Lives Tapes” and “Berlin – A Concert for the People”. I guess this period marked the height of their popularity, at least in Germany.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I bought their Baby James Harvest CD second-hand for £4 on Saturday. This was on it as a bonus track and I heard it and thought that sounds like a glam thing not BJH! So I did a little background reading and found out more.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. From BJH’s early music I think I only know Mocking Bird, which is from their second album “Once Again” (Feb ‘71). In any case, I never would have associated them with glam rock, so your find was definitely interesting!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. For years I only knew Mockingbird but then I picked up a second-hand Best Of CD a couple of years ago and was completely hooked. Since then I’ve been buying up their entire back catalogue whenever I see something on ebay. I can’t believe I missed them all these years.


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