Thursday, 15 August 2013

T-Shirt Friday 21 !

...An Astra-nomical t-shirt!
T-Shirt Friday is back!!!! In it's new slot of a fortnightly post, are you all set and excited?! well to get your whistles wet here is the answer to the T-Shirt Friday Quiz Conundrum! It was quite a tricky one as they were more famous for being signed to EMI's progressive label 'Harvest' I was told on good authority that the label took the name 'Harvest' after signing Barclay James 'Harvest' and a famous music label was born! Now firstly I must apologise to my sister... as we only just yesterday, had a discussion about the answer to this and... She was right about what the answer was and I was totally wrong... Sorry Lil Sis, I read some mis-information about who they were signed to... BJH where originally signed to Parlophone for just one single in 1968. So that means that Misaki and Dawn Rey are this weeks winners of the now prestigious T-Shirt Friday Quiz Conundrum badge of honour!!! But as always, the all important question is... how will you celebrate? - Do let me know what your celebration ideas are....

Today's T-Shirt can be found directly here:
or here:

Do you ever find yourself wandering around... say HMV or your favourite record shop, actually not really knowing what your looking for...? It actually happens to me quite a bit. Sometimes I find myself in HMV, hoping that something will leap off of the shelf at me and it will be the 'holy grail' the 'golden fleece', the 8th wonder of the world of an album that I have been searching for all my life... the reality is that sometimes you'll find something really exciting and sometimes you end up buying an album by a band you already know, just to add to the collection, mainly because nothing else did 'pop' out and say "I am 'that' album of legend, that you have been waiting for..." Except that one trip to said HMV in 2009 did actually result in the discovery of a band that truly are on the way to becoming prog rock legendary wonders...!

In the midst of going through all of the Gentle Giant albums in the rack at HMV, something swayed my concentration from re-buying their back catalogue on CD... a sound that my ears had not heard before... a number of fully fledged musical journeys warped and absorbed the very air in the shop.... deep meandering, thundering riffs wrapped themselves around my very structure, cascades of sound spilled out of the speakers as if the amps were at that very moment being turned into liquid form, the sound lashing out like immense tidal waves... but who was this? The sounds and the music were quite retro, but it was almost impossible to pin-point the band... All at once sounding like King Crimson suddenly the music would shape-shift moulding itself into the Floyd, to last but a few seconds before segueing into Yes... the most surprising thing was that although all those influences were in there, this band still managed to keep their own identity too. Was it a long lost prog band from 1971? - maybe they had influenced all of the previously mentioned bands? The music was so awesome that I had to find out, luckily there weren't too many people around and it turned out that the chap that I spoke to was in fact the very person that had shared the album and it's treasures with the world, we spoke for a good while about them and he showed me to their rack. Only one album was left, nestled in the space provided... it felt like destiny calling! As it turned out they had only made the one album, I thought for a moment that this might be a 'Growers Of Mushroom' but it was just the beginning and what I had been hearing was an amazing debut album...

2010, We stood outside the doors to the London Scala, waiting in anticipation... My brother-in-law, Dave and myself that is... It has to be said that we didn't really blend in, there were a great deal of hardcore prog fans (if hardcore is the correct term?) in the queue, Dave commented, all be it very 'quietly' that "You can always tell a prog fan" and it's true... or at least it certainly was that night! Astra, the creators of the album that had cosmically blown a worm hole in my head at HMV, were playing that night and debuting said album (2009's The weirding) to a UK audience, along with Astra, were Diagonal and Litmus, who we had seen before at The Standard (Blackhorse Rd, Walthamstow) we were lucky enough to be a part of the first 100 people into the venue which meant that we were given by Rise Above records an Astra/Diagonal shared vinyl single, Wow! we already felt on top of the world and then the prog began... all three bands were fantastic! it turned out to be an amazing night, and a great showcase for the very best in new prog rock bands, Astra were just off the planet, which they are of course anyway, but they were orbiting a totally different universe that night and then... that same question that always creeps into your brain at some point at any great gig, started to seep in... how do we mark this incredible occasion? Dave wanted to buy the Weirding on CD, which they were selling directly at the venue and my brother-in-law and me spotted Astra T-shirts! Arik Roper designed and created the artwork for The Weirding as he did for Astra's second album 2012's The Black Chord... there in front of us lay an Astra t-shirt illustrated and designed by him too! It really was a no-brainer, until that is, we had been through the whole box full of t-shirts, only to not find any size above a medium....

T-Shirt sales brainwashing is a reality....

"You don't happen to have a large do you?" we asked the t-shirt chap, we got the answer we weren't hoping for "Sorry gov, we've run out of large and extra large mate...." he paused, but we could see that his mind was working overtime, we were waiting to be pulled in by what ever he was going to say next... as if the tee's were somehow the treasure at the end of a rainbow... the answer came in all it's glory... "You could always stretch the material" I wanted to believe in that idea, "great" I thought... "I'll go with that" My Brother-in-law saw straight through the rather weak concept that the t-shirt chap had just made up and decided not to pursue... On the other hand my brain was saying "Astra.... Arik Roper.... T-Shirt... stretch it... it will fit" and it kept repeating it... over and over again...

We left the venue, leaving behind us a night of amazing musical memories, me with my Astra t-shirt swept over my shoulder so that the artwork was on show to the world and the label slightly askew read 'medium'. Every now and again I would give the material a bit of a tug so as to stretch it, in readiness to be able to put it on when I got home, we each said our goodbye's and began to make our journeys into the night, I charged up the stairs of our building to the flat, so excited to show Miss Russell the now ready-stretched tee (or so I thought) Excitedly I told her about the gig, then bare chested and pre-t-shirt ready, I held aloft the t-shirt of Astra-nomical power and began to put it on... until... Oh!... I struggled... it wouldn't even go over my head, it was stuck there over my forehead, I pulled again at the material, maybe it needed some more stretching I thought... After all the t-shirt guy never stipulated how much stretching would be needed... I tried again, but still to no avail, tugging at the material to try to at least get one arm through... after about 30mins of stretching and contorting myself into strange shapes, while Miss Russell creased up with laughter! It suddenly dawned on me... it was as if I could suddenly see what everyone else was privy to... I had indeed seen the light (...and not only because I'd finally removed the tee from over my head and eyes!) this t-shirt was never going to fit me... A very important lesson was learned... stretching t-shirts to make them fit is not really a very viable idea at all!

That very same night Miss Russell became the proud owner of the Astra T-Shirt... and She still has it now... only last night She put it on in remembrance of this very story....

Well here we are again, it's the T-Shirt Friday Quiz Conundrum! This weeks question is indeed Astra based... and it is:  What Californian city do Astra originate from?

More about Astra:
Astra's prog archive page:
More on Arik Roper:
Gentle Giant? :

Miss Russell, channels the power of the
non-stretching Astra-
nomical tee! 

Thursday, 1 August 2013

T-Shirt Friday 20 !

...A BJH on wholemeal to go, please!
Well T-Shirt Friday has been on a two week summer sabbatical, it's now fully refreshed though and full to the brim with stories of 100% cotton and polyester wonder! 
So the last T-Shirt Friday had a rather back-to-basics approach to it, did you get the rather back-to-basics T-Shirt Friday Quiz Conundrum though? There were some very good guesses, ranging from the cotton fields of the US right through to the marvel that is India... the real answer though is rather surprising. did you get it? The answer is... China! and we have a winner too! possibly due to her adventures a little while ago now in said country... Miss Russell wins theT-Shirt Friday Quiz Conundrum badge of honour! Well done Miss Russell! 
In 2007 alone China produced 35.8 billion bales of the stuff! Loads and loads of cotton t-shirts worth! If you did get the question right or even wrong come to that! ... what will you do to celebrate? A suggestion might be to wear as many items of cotton clothing that you have in your drawer or wardrobe all at the same time! Whilst balancing a china plate on your nose!... You could do that... or you could just have a nice cold beer or wine at your local pub!

Today's T-Shirt can be found directly on:

Some time ago now... in fact when I first started working as a young graphic designer in the music industry, we would have a visitor come and join us every now and then, in our little broom cupboard of a studio. The other guys would chat away with him... He had a running joke with Marv about designing sleeves for military band compilation albums (which he did) and Reginald Dixon's, 'Dixon Magic', Wurlitzer albums (which to my knowledge he didn't design, Marv?) This unknown chap, would regale us with stories of the music industry, while taking out his lunch box and eating sandwiches. After a period of him visiting, it became obvious that the sandwiches were in fact prepared in anticipation of him coming to our office. He would sit with us for hours on end, just chatting away. One such story that he told, was to do with him and his band... (which he took quite some care not to ever mention their name for some reason...) falling into financial difficulties and he, reluctantly having to sell stuff off... his house was even put up for sale, passionate about trying to keep the building and hoping for some resolution to his money woes he decided to put perspective buyers off by placing a number of large salmon wrapped in newspaper under the floor boards, the smell after a couple of weeks was so bad... he told us... that the place was left unsold and his hopes were answered with his finances coming back to some normality, thus the house remained in his possession!!!
Every now and again his visits would be cut short by our MD slinging him out on his ear... he would come into our office, see the sandwich munching chap and say... "Right 'Woolly', what are you doing here again?"... It became more and more obvious that they knew each other. It was only later after doing a little bit of design work for 'Woolly' (which I hasten to add never got used) that I figured it out... this Tupperware wielding bloke was Stuart Wolstenholme other wise known as 'Woolly' Wolstenholme, Keyboardist (although actually a multi-instrumentalist) with Barclay James Harvest. 
It also came out much later that he struggled with mental illness and he very sadly passed away in 2010... I'll never forget those moments though, when he came to Eagle and we got to spend time eating sandwiches and just chilling with a truly talented musician and writer...

In 2010 we found ourselves at Victoria Station and approaching the gate for the Gatwick Flyer, Miss Russell was off to Italy, Milan to be precise, to go to visit her publishers and work on a project. We approached the chap to ask for our tickets, straight away his eyes fixed on the t-shirt I was wearing... "Blimey!" he said, slightly startled... "I haven't seen a Barclay James Harvest t-shirt in years" I laughed not really knowing what to say..."Great band, saw them loads of times, a couple of times at the Astoria", he went on to say... "Mind you, don't think anyone would know who they are now..." he almost finished his question with an answer, possibly with the realisation that I might know who they are as I was in the t-shirt... of course though, there is that classic thing of people wearing t-shirts of bands and not knowing anything about them... more often then not though, that falls into the category of someone wearing a 'Rolling Stones' tee they have purchased from Primark, not with a rather obscure band that not many people have ever even heard of... which is perhaps what he was getting at....? I agreed with him to try to add weight to that very fact "Yes... great band"... Miss Russell laughed and as we walked away having purchased our tickets, She said her now infamous line "People always comment on your t-shirts".
We arrived at Gatwick and joined the queue for check-in, as we turned in the line, the lady behind us exclaimed "Oh! Barclay James Harvest! haven't heard of them in years!" "I had my first dance at my wedding to a Barclay James Harvest song!", She paused "'Gone To Earth', was my favourite album of theirs" She said " Don't hear much of them now..." almost echoing what the ticket man had said earlier "Yes" I agreed, we chatted for  a bit longer and Miss Russell returned from having handed in her baggage, She laughed having heard the beginning of the conversation with the lady and myself finishing off her story. Miss Russell shook her head and laughed again, finding it funny that two people in not so much as 45mins had commented on the same t-shirt. Miss Russell flew off to Bologna and I headed back on the Gatwick Express, the ticket man had gone by the time the train got back to London... For sometime after though, I thought about those two people, whose lives had been touched in their own way by Barclay James Harvest and by default Woolly Wolstenholme, even if BJH don't mean as much to anyone as they did back in the 1970's, they have still left a trail of cherished memories and that really is all that anyone can hope to do... nothing that we do is done in vain... to quote Dickens.

Well here we are again! it's that time, it's the T-Shirt Friday Quiz Conundrum! which this week is: what label were Barclay James Harvest originally signed to? Hmmm bit tricky that one....

Would you like to know more about Barclay James Harvest? :
More on Woolly Wolstenholme:
More on Reginald Dixon (check out the Dixon Magic album cover!):

P.S. It should be noted that it's a 'John Lee's Barclay James Harvest' tee that I own. As shown below... original BJH shirts seem hard to come by...