Roy Harper – The Beginnings of a Performer.
Roy’s life as a performer did not start in the realm of music but first manifested itself as a Beat Poet.
As a troubled teenager he cut ties with his family and following brushes with the law, authority in the army and a resultant spell in a mental institution, inspired by the writings of Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation, he put his lot in with the Bohemian culture of Blackpool. In 1959 Roy became an aspiring Beat Poet.
Heaven knows where he found to perform in Blackpool but he did. It was hardly the smoky marijuana soaked dens of San Francisco or New York but it was enough of a scene for Roy to at least start honing his art.
The culmination of his brief career as a Beat Poet was a publicity stunt thought up by his promoter. Roy was to be the Marathon Poet. He would walk for twenty four hours in and around Blackpool reciting his poetry as he went. It was to finish with a performance on the pier.
Fuelled up on amphetamine Roy paced around all day (apart from a few hours illicit kip in the back of his promoters car in the dead of night) reciting his words into the wind, to the stars and at any hapless passer-by who strayed within range.
At the end of his twenty four hour stint he did his performance on the pier. Roy’s never talked to me about the crowd or their response. In my imagination it was probably to a small bemused bunch of day-trippers who were probably horrified by the demented, dishevelled young man, strung out and crazy, on a prolonged amphetamine high, spitting words out at them at machine-gun speed.
I have never met anyone who has even claimed to have heard Roy Harper the Beat Poet – though it must have been quite a sight and sound.
There are very few relics of the poetry he was producing at that time. One out-take from the Sophisticated Beggar album has a reworking of aspects of a poetic piece called ‘Puppet Master’. I suppose the nearest we get to those early Beat poems was to be found on his second album – ‘Come Out Fighting Ghenghis Smith’. The poems Come Out Fighting Ghenghis Smith, Circle and Highgate Cemetery are probably vestiges of those early days. He even dedicates Come Out Fighting Ghenghis Smith to Jack Kerouac.
Roy has always stayed true to those poetic roots both in his song lyrics and the stand alone poems some of which are scattered and incorporated through his albums.
When Roy performed on that pier I’m not sure if the sea roared in laughter with the howling wind at the sound of his poetry burbling, but I do know that his feet will have been standing defiantly there in front of it, taking on the universe in some knowing futile gesture. That’s always Roy’s manner.
Shortly after that Roy set off with Mocy to busk his way around Europe playing folk-blues – his days as a Beat Poet behind him and a new phase as a street performer opening up ahead.