I should like this band – they’re from Oldham! One of the founding members went to my school. They’re probably Oldham’s most famous musical exports, except for the Inspiral Carpets perhaps. And those N-Trance guys. And Mark Owen from Take That. And Darren Wharton, the keyboard player from Thin Lizzy. Wow, Oldham was really a melting pot of talent!
I’m not au fait with Barclay James Harvest’s music though. I’m very familiar with the Barclays bank in Oldham – just on the corner of High Street. I don’t think that counts though. I might send in a fake CV to the branch, using the name James Harvest, and crowbarring all of their song titles into the cover letter – you know, just for shits and giggles. Given the average intelligence level in Oldham – about as low as the number of teenage pregnancies is high – and the general lack of interest in the town’s history by its inhabitants, it would just get thrown in a bin by the HR manager. Oh well, it’s an idea. Maybe I’ll do it when I’m retired, if Barclay’s still exist by then. The bank can’t be doing well; I’d bet most Oldhamers (Oldhamites?) keep their money under the mattress, next to their stockpile of Woodbines.
Barclay James Harvest write melodic folk rock, not a million miles away from the likes of America. The band America, that is, not the country. Although the country is about a million miles away from the town of Oldham, recently named the most deprived town in England. In fact, that might make it more similar to some places in America – Oldham, twinned with the Bronx!
I guess the fact that I’ve had this album in my collection for about three years, still sealed in its shrinkwrap, speaks for itself. The White Stripes at one point were probably the most cutting-edge band in America – but after Elephant I don’t think anyone really took any notice of them.
I don’t think the quality of their records suffered after Elephant – there’s definitely nothing wrong with either Get Behind Me Satan or Icky Thump – but perhaps everybody just got over the novelty of seeing a two-piece band on stage (something that the Black Keys helped with).
I remember reading an interview with Jack White in the early 2000s and he was saying how important it was to remain an enigma to their fans. ‘As soon as the music press find out everything about me, I’ve had it’ – he said, of words to those effect. Perhaps everybody just got bored of them. There used to be a load of mystery around Jack and Meg White’s relationship – are they brother and sister or husband and wife? – and as soon as it was revealed that they were a divorced couple, suddenly they didn’t seem so special anymore.
This album is the soundtrack of Jack White’s marriage to Karen Elson – the Jean Paul Gaultier supermodel who went to my secondary school (she was in the year below me). Icky Thump is surely a reference to the infamous Yorkshire martial-art Ecky Thump from The Goodies television show. I still find it hilarious that Karen Elson would have taken Jack White home to meet her parents in Oldham. Funnier still is that while he was there, somebody brought up The Goodies in conversation. White and Elson’s marriage didn’t last long unfortunately so now I can’t claim my hometown to be the home of a rock star. Well, unless you count Barclay James Harvest.
No matter how I try, I can’t separate Icky Thump from a certain video I saw online once starring a young ‘actress’ being showered with more than just compliments. Whoever has uploaded this particular compilation had used the White Stripes song to soundtrack every highlight (and unless you’re offended by anything at all, don’t dare try and track this down). Good times!