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Great Record Labels: Harvest

in Blog, Vinyl by Mike Warth

In the second half of 1969 with the boom in progressive rock and all things ‘underground’, the major record labels were keen to sign up any decent (or half decent or less) bands and promote them on newly created labels. Phillips had Vertigo, Pye started Dawn, and from Decca/Deram burst the Nova series whilst a number of independent labels like Charisma and the smaller Head and Middle Earth for example sprang up from nowhere. EMI gave us the brilliant Harvest and how we reaped the rewards.

harvest2With its elegant and stylish yellow and green logo (created by artist Roger Dean) and stunning album artwork (often from Hipgnosis), Harvest found a home for some of the very best in the field, combining (geddit?) prog, folk, rock and the weird and wonderful under its banner.

So here were top names like Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Barclay James Harvest and The Pretty Things, alongside the less well known but undoubtedly interesting Quatermass, Greatest Show On Earth and Panama Limited to offer just a few examples. Many of these artists could be heard on the John Peel Show but UK radio at the time did not offer many other opportunities to hear this type of music.

To showcase their diverse range of talent and following the huge success of the CBS ‘sampler’ albums The Rock Machine Turns You On and The Love Machine Turns You On, Harvest (as did its rivals) created one of its own, ‘Picnic – a breath of fresh air’ (SHSS 2), which was released in January 1970. The sampler would nowadays be known as a Various Artists compilation and Picnic was one of the best. Opening with Deep Purple’s ‘Into The Fire’ and ‘Mother Dear’ from Barclay James Harvest, the label’s bosses landed a coup by including a previously unreleased Pink Floyd track ‘Embryo’ which surely would ensure a  mass of interest. True to their convictions of releasing a variety of styles the double album includes such artists as Shirley & Dolly Collins, Pete Brown’s Battered Ornaments, The Edgar Broughton Band, Tea & Symphony and The Third Ear Band to name just a few.

On release it just had to be bought and I was soon off to my favourite record shop in town, the Co-op record department in West Street, with my 29 shillings and eleven pence and  I still have it to this day with the price label intact.

The first Harvest album release was Deep Purple’s ‘The Book Of Taliesyn’ (SHVL 751) quickly followed by Pete Brown & His Battered Ornaments ‘A Meal You Can Shake Hands With In The Dark’ (SHVL 752) and there followed a slew of terrific albums over the next three years or more.

R-2200085-1284165126.pngAs musical preferences began to change and broaden so Harvest diversified to keep pace, even releasing more mainstream material (see Marshall Hain). Its early days were just outstanding however with album buyers eagerly anticipating each new release and this is reflected in the high values of the early albums in collector’s circles today.

The same can be said for 7″ singles, a number of which contained tracks not included on albums. The Co-op was again the best place to acquire these but they normally held only one copy of each on release, so come Saturday morning I just asked them for anything on Harvest. Such gems as ‘Boredom’ by Tea & Symphony and ‘Searching For Shadows’ by Forest spring to mind, both non-album, whilst Michael Chapman’s ‘It Didn’t Work Out’ is a different version to that on his ‘Fully Qualified Survivor’ LP. Again these command high prices today.

About the Author

Mike

Mike Warth – Retired teacher and Education Officer, old rocker. Lover of prog, psych and folk – the latter for which I sometimes take some stick (Why?). Currently having a ball working at The Sound Machine, Reading – independent Record Store par excellence and writing a book on Live Music in Reading 1966-1976 with co-author Adrian Moulton also from The Sound Machine.

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17 Responses to “Great Record Labels: Harvest”

  1. Geoff Nash says:

    Remembering the inner-sleeves illustrating the sleeves of other albums from Harvest. You really wanted to hear these albums despite the fact that you probably knew nothing about the bands or artists.

  2. Mike says:

    Hi Geoff
    Excellent point you make here. I guess it was imperative for record companies to publicise their releases wherever possible and this was a decent way of doing just that. And as record buyers we were more than happy in case there was anything new we could look forward to or we might have missed!
    Thanks for getting in touch – more on labels to follow.
    Mike

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