//They would often visit friends in Europe.
They often visited friends in Europe.//
Compare these two:
They said, "We will often visit friends in Europe."
They said that they would often visit friends in Europe. (This cannot be replaced by 'They often visited friends in Europe.)
They said, "We often visit friends in Europe."
They said that they often ...
One of the main rules of tense usage is that the simple past is used for finished actions and especially also with specific expressions of time/in time that point to a specific occasion.
Five minutes ago
Ten years ago
Last week, month, year, yesterday etc.
Specific dates: October 1st, etc.
For example. There is zero continuity of any kind with the simple ...
If you have been told that recency is incompatible with past simple, you have been told wrong.
I finished it five minutes ago
is perfectly grammatical and normal.
I've finished it five minutes ago
to be less natural, though still possible.
The significance of a perfect construction is present relevance: recency is one manifestation of ...
They are both correct, but in British English the present perfect is used more than in American English. The past simple focuses more on the past action and the present perfect focuses on the present result of the past action, which in this case didn't take place.
Essentially, you are correct about how the tenses are being used.
It's more understandable if you put it in context:
John's about to show up. He wants to tell you something. He discussed it with me a while ago. At first, I didn't understand what he wants to tell you. But now I do. You should hear him out and consider his words.
Barring that kind of ...
Past perfect is mainly used to convey a sequence of events. The past perfect implies that one action was finished/was going on before another action. In all cases, simple past may suffice, except in cases where some emphasis of sequence is important.
In your case, the following composition is just fine:
"he asked me why I didn't call him all day. I said I ...
It's possible they mean the same thing, but it's also possible they don't.
1. By the time we got here, the place was barricaded.
This means that when we got there, there were barricades in place.
2. By the time we got here, the place had been barricaded.
All this means is that when we got there, the place had been barricaded at some point before. It ...