Pretty sure I first heard Roy Harper 1972/73 ish, probably in a John Peel Sounds of the 70’s session. The first thing of his I bought was the 1973 Lifemask album, his sixth, shortly after his Flashes (from the archives of oblivion) 1974 live-album. The Zeppelin, Jimmy Page & Keith Moon connection was already there in those live shows. [Along with Floyd’s UmmaGumma when it came out in 1969 (another story), the purchase of Lifemask in 1974 invokes memories of the specific visit to the shop in Middlesbrough. I can still see myself flicking to it in the rack.]
Between then and a year after Uni in 1978, we must have seen him live a couple of dozen times; some particularly memorable gigs at Middlesbrough Town Hall, Newcastle City Hall, Colchester Essex Uni, London LSE and (alma mater) Imperial College. Hazy student debates were often Harper vs Dylan (a la Oasis vs Blur in its time) and the fact Dylan had “gone electric” a decade earlier.
In that same time I collected and played to death most of his back catalogue: Sophisticated Beggar (67), Folkjokeopus (69), Flat Baroque and Berserk (70), Stormcock (71). As well as Lifemask (73) that period included HQ (75) – an electric album including Chris Spedding (*). I was obsessed with Me and My Woman from Stormcock and Twelve Hours of Sunset (off the live album (I never did buy Valentine for some reason?)
Most people – apart from the Zeppelin Hats Off to Harper and Pink Floyd Have a Cigar connections – heard Harper as a result of his HQ album, thanks to The Old Cricketer single. The “epic” on that album was The Game Pt’s 1 to 5 which we Harper aficionados knew to be the (then) culmination of a series of epic political humanity works spanning the previous 6 albums.
In fact, mention of cricketer by Jon Butterworth was the reason I’ve tweeted about Harper a couple of times recently, and why my “Harper Epics” playlist has been boosted in my media collection:
Blimey. Don’t meet many Roy Harper fans in my timeline.
â” What, Why & How do we know? (@psybertron) December 13, 2020
Important poetry beautifully arranged.
â” What, Why & How do we know? (@psybertron) December 16, 2020
[Should probably leave that Flashes (live) version of “Highway Blues” off the regular playlist – serves to demonstrate how weirdly “electric” he’d become by 73/74/75 and remind me of the feel of those sections of his mostly solo gigs, as contrasted with the perfection of Flashes (live) version of “Me and My Woman”?]
“Please leave this world as clean as when you came”.
The closing refrain from @royharp “The Game” has stayed with me since 1975.
â” What, Why & How do we know? (@psybertron) December 18, 2020
Harper has of course gigged and recorded since then (I have Bullinamingvase and Man & Myth) but let’s stick to the early body of work here. You’ll find him in De Barras Folk Club, Clonakilty, Ireland these days, if live venues ever re-open.
Apart from my infatuation with Me and My Woman, the resonance of Twelve Hours of Sunset was the same for me as it had been for his originally creating it. I found myself in one period of my life on many west-bound transatlantic flights, and home-bound from Asia, and even a few circumnavigation trips, reading books and listening to music in headphones.
Anyway, in recent years I’ve acquired the remastered electronic copies of the record collection and built the playlist. To my mind, these days, The Lord’s Prayer from Lifemask is the definitive track, but I have that playlist on shuffle / repeat.
Except that in the last few days I re-watched the I’m Your Man documentary about Leonard Cohen and have Anthem, Hallelujah and Tower of SongÂ currently on repeat. That’s a much shorter story since I never really became aware of Cohen until the last 10 years or so, but mentioning that on Twitter was what prompted this post, today.
I suffered for Lenâs art. There was much ridicule of my love for his work among my punkier peers, back in them days. But no matter. He was then, and remains, in the penthouse suite of the Tower of Song.
â” Mark Hammonds (@almalydan) December 23, 2020
As for Cohen, for me it was pure serendipity. McCabe & Mrs. Miller was broadcast late one evening sometime in 1978. All I remember is hearing him on the soundtrack, and I was smitten.
â” Mark Hammonds (@almalydan) December 23, 2020
Harper vs Dylan? Oasis vs Blur? Cohen vs Harper?
It’s a tower of song either way.
(*) Oh, and by the way, Chris Spedding is in the band playing tribute to Leonard Cohen along with the Wainwrights, the MacGarrigles, U2 and others in I’m Your Man. A man of taste, ask Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols. What goes around comes around. Loudon’s Dead Skunk and Hollywood Hopeful were in the mix back in ’75. John Martyn in there too, gig at Imperial in those same days, with Paul Kossoff on guitar, and later Dave Gilmour … on John Wayne. … and Neil Young’s live triple album in late student days amidst all the punk action. The connections are endless, which is the point of the Twelve Hours reference linked above ….