I’m not quite old enough to be called a proper hippie, but as a young teenager I got well into tye-dying, and making my own ridiculous flares from cordurouy jeans. I had 2 pairs, one a fairly bright ginger-orange and the other a rather fetching shade of mauve. Fortunately, there remains no photographic evidence of my lurid sense of fashion, as far as I’m aware. If I do find something in my late father’s photographic archive, I’ll make sure not to post it here :).
My musical tastes were also defined by the era. I was a big fan of The Beatles from their earliest days, and my first record bought with my own cash from a paper-round, was their EP ‘From me to you’ which contained their 4 early hits. My best friend at the time was a lad a couple of years older than me, who was part of our fairly close knit social group of kids that grew up together on one of the earliest estates that were built in Stevenage New Town, which we moved to in 1958 when I was 4.
My mate Steve was responsible for introducing me to LP’s from the Rolling Stones, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, the early Pink Floyd, Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, The Beach Boys, John Mayall and a whole host of other good music. In those days we were all listening to late-night Radio Luxembourg whenever we could, and then the pirate radio stations took to the airwaves and Radio Caroline became our prefered listening, along with John Peel‘s ‘Perfumed Garden’ show broadcast by Radio London.
I must have first become aware of Roy Harper via Peely around 1968, but at my school’s annual Christmas play in 1969, several of the older boys bought in a load of records for us to listen to during rehearsals and backstage when the play was performed for 3 nights. Amongst which, Jethro Tull‘s 1st LP ‘This Was’, Rory Gallagher‘s ‘Taste’ album, Family‘s ‘Music from a Dolls House’, Jeff Beck‘s ‘Truth’, Van Morrison‘s ‘Astral Weeks’, the Incredible String Band‘s ‘5000 Spirits’ and the early LPs of Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel. All brilliant stuff and the music and artists have stayed with me for a lifetime.
But the most popular records to be played were sampler albums from 2 different record labels – ‘The Rock Machine Turns You On‘ and ‘Gutbucket‘. Both albums contained a mixture of British and American artists and they were all very good. Roy Harper’s track on the The Rock Machine ‘Nobody’s Got any Money in the Summer‘ was a clear favourite and led to his album ‘Folkjokeopus’ being brought in for our listening pleasure. I thought it was an astonishing album and still do. It contained a couple of very strong short songs, ‘She’s the One‘ and ‘Sergeant Sunshine‘, an amazing instrumental ‘One for All‘ but to cap it all was the closing song, a 18-minute epic called ‘McGoohan’s Blues‘ whose inspiration came from the cult TV series ‘The Prisoner’ starring Patrick McGoohan. I was hooked.
I first got to see Roy live in the summer of 1970 when he supported Free who were riding high in the charts with ‘Alright Now‘. A very savvy Student Union social secretary at our local college had booked them well before they had become well known, and we got to see them for a ridiculously low price – I think it was no more than 2 quid old money or 1 pound in today’s money.
Free were a magnificent live band, full of energy and instrumental prowess and the late Paul Kossoff’s guitar playing was sublime. He was a musical genius IMO and is sadly missed by all that got to see him. But, for me, Roy blew them off the stage, with his hilariously stoned interactions with the audience, the power of his lyrics and songs, and his beautiful acoustic guitar playing. He played tracks from Folkjokeopus, and the recently released ‘Flat, Baroque and Berserk’, along with the 4 songs that would comprise ‘Stormcock’ which was released in 1971 and is considered by many to be his great masterpiece.
In his first set, he floored me and most of the audience with ‘I hate the White Man‘ which was to become his signature song for many years. Its a classic Roy rant, railing against rampant consumerism, the destruction of the environment, the mind control of the State and the genocidal warmongering of ‘The White Man’. And then he finished his first set with ‘McGoohan’s Blues’ and everyone gasped in awe.
He played another strong set of songs for his second set half and then with a crowded room full of bikers who had come to see Free, he closed the set with ‘Hell’s Angel’s’ a raging piss-take of biker culture inspired by the violence and shooting incident during the Rolling Stones headline act at the Altamont Festival.
The man has balls of steel. I thought he would cause a riot, but thankfully the bikers in the audience ‘got it’ and instead he got a thunderous ovation. And so, we all head-banged happily into the night while Free played their second set.
I still think its the best gig I ever went to. I bought ‘Flat Baroque and Berserk’ as soon as possible, and ‘Stormcock’ as soon as it came out and played them so often at high volume that things became very strained between me and my parents, with my father at one point pulling out the upper mains fuse and in the ensuing silence bellowing up the stairs ‘Now turn that fucking noise down’!!! I think it was the only time that I ever heard him raise his voice to me :). I went to see Roy as often as possible in those early days particularly all the early free day festivals in Hyde Park, London, and the early Knebworth festivals, which were right on our doorstep (and could be heard from our house in Stevenage) 🙂
Roy has since gone on to record a string of beautiful lyric love songs, more bile-filled rants and all sorts of other good stuff in between, and IMHO has not made a bad record in a musical career spanning some 50 odd years now. But of course his trenchant anti-establishment views and steadfast refusal to compromise his art has led to him pissing off a lot of people in high places, especially the establishment press and within the record making industry. And so, he’s had very little commercial success, despite gathering a rabid army of fans worlwide. Which is a shame, in my opinion. The world could have been a much happier place if more people in the establishment had listened to him and taken his world vision onboard.
In July 1995, I went to see Roy at the Half Moon in Putney, and it was the first time I got to see his son Nick Harper play. He opened with a short solo set, then accompanied his dad for 2 more sets of sublime music. Even back then, it was apparent that Nick was a demon acoustic guitarist who had a similar yet distinctly different voice and set of songs to his Dad. I’m guessing that Roy’s good friends Jimmy Page and David Gilmour had a hand in developing his guitar playing 🙂
I was hooked again, and have got to as many of his gigs as I could over the years since. He has his Dad’s worldview, but has become much more of an accomplished showman than his Dad, IMO. And he’s funnier too, with a very quick wry wit and seems much more at ease with performing than his Dad. Every gig I’ve seen of his, he gives about 2000% effort and unbelievably he seems to just get better and better with every gig.
Plus he’s a lovely, friendly approachable guy with his feet firmly on the ground.
Where his Dad earned the sobriquet ‘Dr Doom’, Nick just radiates positivity.
Go check him out if you’ve never seen him before, he tours regularly and extensively and he’s fucking brilliant!!!
Roy Harper – Commune (Live)
Roy Harper – Me and My Woman (from Stormcock)
Roy Harper and Jimmy Page – Same Old Rock (70th birthday celebration)
Roy and Nick – Hallucinating Light (70th birthday celebration)
Pink Floyd with Roy on vocals – Have a Cigar
Roy and a fairly young Nick – ‘When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease’
Nick Harper having fun with some fans before a gig
Nick Harper – Evo
Nick Harper – The Kilty Stone