Songs of Love & Loss

Great to see Roy Harper on Jools Holland’s Tuesday preview of his Friday “Later” show last night – seems odd to have a 30 minute preview of what is only a one hour show anyway – wonder if this is going to become the norm.

Roy Harper finally returns to the BBC in his 70th anniversary year with a classic song or two from his new archival collection Songs of Love and Loss.

Looking good at 70, slightly nervous wave to the audience in acknowledgement of their applause – last night he played a straight acoustic version of Another Day. Looking forward to another couple on Friday. I updated – repurchased – my CD & MP3 copies of his back-collection just earlier this year – currently re-listening to the live version of Another Day on Flashes from the Archives of Oblivion – and been playing the immense Lord’s Prayer to death and Lifemask generally, in the car over the summer. Apart from the obvious Highway Blues, it’s very un-driving music. Weird to remember all the words and sing out loud to so many long complex wordy songs amongst the more conventional 3/4 minute folk / blues-rock ditties.

There once was a man from the old stone-age,
and he used to follow the weather.
But now he’s got hung-up on fillin’ a page
upon whether to go altogether.

Apart from no doubt a few phonetic fillers for the odd originally mis-heard lyric, something I can now never correct even having checked the actual lyrics, I can recite the whole of that. Also reminds me of one particular evening with Des (Hughes) and Dave (Metcalfe) around 1974ish (maybe slightly later when HQ came out) debating Harper vs Dylan; a la Beatles vs Stones or more recent Blur vs Oasis idea – so this quote tickled me:

“Forget the Dylan at 70 celebrations that will be all over the media this year, there’s another unique septuagenarian voice equally deserving of your attention.”

This only approximately right, from free lyric sites with a few of my own, err, corrections.

There once was a man from the old stone-age
And he used to follow the weather
But now he’s got hung up on fillin’ a page
Upon whether to go altogether

And he’s been around for so damn long
With his whooping and wailing and crushing questions
between right and wrong, and impaling
the best he can hope and the worst he can fear

On the solstices of this whacking illusion
And massive erection
of pushy defence
Of the whole of the prosecution

Ah, great solace the wound, great relish the pain
To be loosing the reins of a poem
To bleed from the tip of my tongue yet again
That part of my heart that is showing
These children conceived in the womb of this crash
To be the sponsors of nothing much other
Than rearguard directions of crossfingered sections
Of purpose. Pot-looking for nothing

But what is this last desperate vestige of heart over head?
But another conjecture
No more the tomb of the martyred dead
Than the ghost of our parting gesture
And a hundred billion crystal balls
Represent a remarkable failure
To swell the song each moment long
At the counterpoint of nature
As four thumbs flick the tarot deck
And two tongues fork eight aces
Maybe sixteen fingers feel
The fool lives in two places
Where rosy lee can read this tea
And leave me living the story

A white dove with a hawks’ head
And an open mind before me
To sail for a land where life is a high
Not a word to be heard or be spoken
But the soul – woven web of the endless touch
Of a child who could never be broke-ken
Who plays a new world on the brink of the ebb
As the fish cats prowl in the harbour

And now soars high on the beckoning tides’ long arm
To weigh his last anchor
And the sou’westers sing as the lifeboat bells ring
In the heads on the faces of changes

The heavens collage on excalibre’s edge
The star in his movie converges
With fate, in his task, and doom on his brow
And a ship in his eye in a bottle

Who speeds, to force, to want, to have,
To find, to further fortune,
Who comes from the north, south, west and east
Of the passions of a spirit
With all the flight of the wildest beast
To ever spurr a stirrup.

Whose pulse is the master of action
Whose heart is an everlasting secret
Whose arms are desire
Whose lips are welcome
Whose eyes tell stories
Whose head is a journey
Whose hands unfold
Whose feet fly
Whose face is the stained glass window
of a continuous orgasm.

Whose being is mine
Whose wounds are precious
Whose poem is a flower
Whose gentleness is the devil
Whose indentity is naked
Whose magic is a gift
Whose power is the transparent
tapestry of history.

Whose stamp is a freak
Whose wits are battles
Whose cousin is dog
Whose times are well fought for
Whose stone-age is clever
Whose poets know
Whose music is barbarian, barbarian
Whose artists are helpless spherical mirrors
spinning on the horns of a tidal wave.
Oh, the tidal wave

Whose information is belief
Whose complexes become religion
Whose foundation’s spread
Whose word is god
Whose books are projectiles
Whose message is must
Whose excuse is holy
Who passed it down to me
Whose enemies are landmarks
Whose fear is himself
Whose hope is lust
Whose wish is fresh
Whose position is wary
Whose mottoes are covers
Whose name is hidden
Whose nose is suspicion
Whose technology is a tangent
Whose strategy is dissent
Whose thoughts are games
Who shares his lot
Whose ace is death

Whose fingers invent
Whose tales weave
Whose knots are tied
Whose mouth is open
Whose ears pierce
Whose direction is out
Who is aware of disease
Who feels the need to cleanse his soul

Whose style is disguise
Whose dream is innate
Whose woman is soothing
Whose little children are the delicate blossom
of an orchard of electricity

Whose spell is for conflict
Whose quest is strength
Whose wars are declared
Whose suicide is noticed
Whose shadow is cast
Whose vibes you feel
Whose pedigrees are haunted
Whose age is unknown
Who takes under his wing
Whose freaks are real
Whose reality is hunger, hunger
Whose reality is hunger

Whose words are jagged
Whose tears are shed
Whose sick hang
Whose weak are kicked
Whose cities are bad shelters
Whose sanctuary is an idea
of sat round a fire
Whose teeth chew
Whose faith is change
Whose old age comes quickly
Whose youth burns
Whose systems are white sticks tapping walls
Whose prize posession is the planet
The poor planet, the big lady I’m playin’ with.

Whose wildest lust is escalation
Whose cul-de-sacs were feelers
Whose main route is acid
Whose run is a dance
Whose vehicle is fantasy
Whose home is high
Whose role continues
Whose bearing is savage
Whose saints are dead
Whose sons bark
Whose daughters play
Whose strength is against

Who grows in the sun and sleeps in the moon
Who roams the deserts, the plateaux,
and the ice-caps and the mountains, and the forests
and the plains with vast armies, with vast armies
Who am I, who am I?

The spirit of those who were not here
And never knew it
Who left this prayer to elope
A lover’s journey through it, through it

So children leave your windows open
Across the sea
Join your hands across the many lands
You and me

Never grown old
Seeing without ever being told
Something to say
Shut away
Blackboard so grey

I’m dreaming
Out along the back row
Out the window
Cast away
Be free with me

Great heart, mean streak
Spare part, speed freak
Great heart, mean streak
Spare part, speed freak

I got myself a problem when I built myself a wheel
I set myself another when I rode a horse to feel
The plains underneath my reins
Just as fast as running water

And the big lady I’m playing with
Has played a game of poker
With me and cat and this and that
Until she scored my joker

Now we ride in chariots
By the side of one another
Her soft side
My rough ride,

Nothing to fear
The unknown soldier’s grave is already here
Is it too late
To create
A world made with care?
Is it there?

Or fleeting
Here today and gone
Tomorrow’s child
Looking so wild and free

Are we a choice
With no voice
Can it be?

Great heart, mean streak
Spare part, speed freak
Brave heart, mean streak
Spare part, speed freak
Nobody helps me, look away
Faint heart, mean streak
Spare part, speed freak

Roy Harper, 1973

That epic is of course not one the songs of love and loss. [And of course those repetitive “Who’s” owe more than a little to Ginsberg’s “Howl” – incidentally the inspiration for the band name HowL – another CD I’m playing to death at the moment. Small world.]

[Post Note Sept 23rd – on the Friday he did a “2 verse” version of I Hate the White Man – probably his most important song – his favourite he said, and invited the audience to guess which song he meant. Good in the interview with Jools beforehand that he didn’t fall for agreeing that love and loss had been his main inspiration – the future of humanity he said – just noticed with hindsight that he did have quite a collection of love songs. Needless to say this track is not one from his latest compilation. I don’t own a copy of Flat Baroque and Berserk, the album it comes from. Yet again, I find myself knowing so many of the lyrics – truly weird – of course there is an impromptu insert of White Man lyrics in the extended live version of … Highway Blues (check ?).

And the bowels of his city
Have been locked into a safe
Where the spew stains on the side-walks
Are defenders of his faith
While back inside his kitchen
The bowler-hatted, long-haired saint
Cleans with soap and water
But it`s really just white paint
And I hate the white man
And his evergreen excuse
Oh I hate the white man
And the man who turned you all loose
... and the man who turned me loose

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