Few survivors from the golden age of British folk-rock have kept their reputations intact. Of the generation of troubadours who came of age in the folk clubs of Londonin the mid-1960s, there is one figure whose body of work, comprising 23 studio LPs and almost as many live and compilation releases, has come to stand for a particularly single-minded form of integrity. That man is Roy Harper.
On September 19th Union Square Music/Salvo Records releases the physical version of the 2CD set ‘Songs of Love and Loss’ Volumes 1 & 2 – 23 songs of raw, uncompromising honesty and emotion spanning Harper’s work from 1966 to 1992. One of the most innovative song writers to come out of the mid 60’s folk boom, ‘Songs of Love and Loss’ displays his remarkable array of styles, from the early folk finger pickings of Black Clouds and mysterious All You Need Is, to the bluesy ‘Little Lady’, the resonating ‘Frozen Moment’ and the lamenting ‘Another Day’.
Now officially ‘retired’, and living in a secluded corner of Ireland, Harper has recently been hailed as a key influence by a much younger generation of devoted starsailors who instinctively recognise his innovations, his refusal to compromise and his visionary world view. The likes of Fleet Foxes, Joanna Newsom and Jim O’Rourke are avowed fans; and in previous decades he has enjoyed public endorsements and tributes from the likes of Led Zeppelin, Kate Bush, Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour and many more.
Born in 1941 near Manchester, he was raised by a father and Jehovah’s Witness stepmother (his mother died when he was a baby) and developed an early aversion to dogma and organized religion. Running away he joined the Royal Air Force as a teenager, but didn’t take too well to their rules and regulations. Leaving wasn’t so easy as running away from home, however, and Harper opted to plead insanity to get his release. Part of the discharge deal meant he had to undergo unpleasant ECT treatment at a mental hospital. Harper later drifted throughout Europe, and by 1965 was a mainstay of London’s Les Cousins folk club, performing alongside the likes of Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, and Nick Drake.
In 1966 the tiny indie label Strike issued Harper’s debut LP, The Sophisticated Beggar; the record brought him to the attention of Columbia, which released his sophomore effort, Come Out Fighting Genghis Smith, the following year. In 1968, Harper mounted a series of free concerts in London’s Hyde Park, which greatly expanded his fan base in preparation for the release of 1969’s Folkjokeopus, which included “McGoohan’s Blues,” the first of his many extended compositions.
After meeting Pink Floyd manager Peter Jenner, Harper was signed to EMI’s Harvest subsidiary, and in 1970 he issued Flat Baroque and Berserk, recorded with contributions from members of the Nice; that same year marked the appearance of Led Zeppelin III and its track “Hats Off to Harper,” a tribute penned by longtime friend Jimmy Page. Upon relocating to the Big Sur area of California, Harper began writing 1971’s Stormcock, regarded by many as his finest record; the following year he starred in the film Made, releasing the music he composed for the picture’s soundtrack in 1973 under the title Lifemask.
Valentine, a collection of love songs, appeared in 1974, and was quickly followed by the live album Flashes from the Archives of Oblivion, featuring appearances by Page, Keith Moon, Ronnie Lane, and Ian Anderson. In 1975, Harper formed Trigger, a backing group including guitarist Chris Spedding and drummer Bill Bruford; however, after releasing just one LP, HQ, the unit disbanded. In 1975 Harper also took lead vocals on “Have a Cigar,” a track on Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here.
Harper rode the unsteady waves of the music industry during the 1980s but kept up a productive output and in 1994, he set up his own record label, Science Friction, to curate and re-release his entire back catalogue, along with a clutch of CDs of live and unreleased material covering his entire career. In his book, The Passions Of Great Fortune (2003), he published his complete lyrics together with photos, annotations and re-evaluations of every one of his songs. In 2005, old pal Jimmy Page presented him with the prestigious Mojo magazine Hero Award.
2011 will see a great deal of Roy Harper activity; Roy celebrates his 70th birthday, ITV Home Studios are to release a live concert DVD newly recorded at Metropolis studios and Roy will also play a sell-out gig at the Royal Festival Hall. Along with the reissue of a number of his original albums in digital form, Roy Harper’s incredible, visionary catalogue of work enters the digital domain in time for his music to take on a new, urgent and timely appeal, in an age in which the hypocrisies and injustices he railed against are more present than ever before. It’s been a damned good innings and he’s still not out.
Track listing sequence:
3. All You Need Is
5. East Of The Sun
6. Little Lady
7. North Country
8. I’ll See You Again
9. Naked Flame
11. Frozen Moment
2. Another Day
3. South Africa
4. Hallucinating Light
5. Sleeping At The Wheel
6. Waiting For Godot
7. The Flycatcher
8. On Summer Day
9. Cherishing The Lonesome
10. My Friend
11. One More Tomorrow
Artist Web Link: http://www.royharper.co.uk/