Chapter 14 – perfection on the steps and under the stars
I often think back over the hundreds of Harper gigs I have gone to over the years and try to identify which one I have enjoyed most. St Pancras Town Hall was probably the most intimate and Les Cousins is high up there simply because of the thrill of the recording. Then there was the zaniness of the Royal Festival Hall Purcell rooms with Ron Geesin and Ralph McTell in which they kept coming on stage with white lab coats. Or the one with Al Stewart (who the Melody Maker were trying to tee off against Roy as the battle of the acoustic guitarists) when Roy turned up tripping out on acid.
There are many that stick in the mind for a variety of reasons but one always keeps resurfacing and never fails to bring a smile to my lips whenever I recall it.
It was some time back in the early seventies when Roy was playing at Ewell Technical College.
The building was a formidable brick affair of no distinction that looked to have come out of the 1930s. The hall was large and barren and not particularly well disposed for the creation of atmosphere. The audience was large and seated in rows on hard wood chairs.
At first glance it seemed an unlikely setting for a memorable night but that’s what it turned out to be.
It was one of those occasions when Roy was in the mood. He was in good form and the audience really got into and was giving it back. The flames were fanned and Roy was enjoying himself immensely.
Eleven o’ clock came all too fast, the two hours having passed like a flash. Roy was never one for going for clocks and proceeded undeterred. By half past eleven a disgruntled caretaker, who had to clear away all the chairs and lock up before he could go home, came on stage to remonstrate with Roy – to no avail.
The next thing we knew was that the lights went off. We sat in the dark as Roy continued to play in the blackness. If anything the crowd were even more with him and Roy was even happier.
In desperation the sound was turned off. Roy continued to play acoustically as loudly as he could and the crowd were right there with him.
By now it was twelve thirty and everyone was having a great time. It was real party time. Number after number with Roy gleefully performing in the gloom.
The lights went on and two burly policemen strode in grabbed Roy under the arms and bodily ejected him, guitar and all. We all followed him out and the furious caretaker locked up.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Roy had the bit between his teeth and continued to sit on the front steps under a bright starry night and play to the faithful who remained clustered around digging it.
It finally broke up at around three a.m. and we all separated zinging. It was one of those magic nights like all music should be. A session where performer and audience transcend all the barriers and experience something greater as the music is shared with mutual passion.
A great night.