Roy Harper is a Beatnik.

Roy is a Beatnik.


Roy is a Beatnik. At least I think that is how he would still think of himself.

It is interesting to go back in time to when he was a young man and see the influences that helped form him. They went into his music and made him what he is.

As a teenager, living in Lytham St Annes, Roy discovered the Beat Generation – a group of dissident white youths living on the outreaches of society who rebelled against the basic tenets on which society was based – the joyless conformity, hypocritical lip service to religion, the work ethic, class system and general pointlessness. They were looking for something more exciting, more meaningful and more fun. They looked for that excitement and meaning in Zen, sex, marijuana, alcohol and cars. It was a spiritual quest that exploded in poetry and prose. The movement included such disparate individuals as the writers Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, and poets Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gary Snyder. They identified with black culture and the wild Jazz Be-bop of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Lester Young, the reefer and wild blowing sax. They were centred in New York and San Francisco where they frequented the steamy black clubs and gave their wild anti-establishment poetry readings. They caused a stir with their published work that shocked and horrified polite society – as with Ginsberg’s poem ‘Howl’.

All a bit different to life in quiet small-town St Annes.

A young Roy read ‘On The Road’ and could immediately identify with the sentiment. It set the tone for what was to come.

Roy’s first gig in the late fifties was not as a singer or guitarist but as a ‘Beat Poet’. As the Marathon Beat Poet Roy set out to walk around reciting poetry for twenty four hours culminating in a recitation on the pier. That’s a story in itself!

In the years that followed Roy did his own ‘On The Road’ hitching and busking around Europe. Here, as a busker, he learnt the guitar and a series of old Blues and Folk songs.

When he returned in the mid-sixties, having become proficient on the guitar, he decided to try to make a living singing and, with his acoustic guitar, gravitated towards the Folk Scene and Les Cousins on Greek Street in Soho.

His life-style was that of the bohemian Beat and his music reflected that.

Most of the musicians at that time had come into the music business through Skiffle, Trad Jazz, Blues or Folk. Roy was a bit different. Although he had a brief flirtation with Skiffle, his major thing had always poetry and jazz. Hence his music reflected that. Right from the start he wrote his own poetic lyrics, with their anti-establishment themes, and incorporated Jazz chords into his songs. His hero at the time was Davy Graham, who guitar playing was amazing and set the standard for everyone. Davy was also highly innovative – introducing jazz chords and Moroccan rhythms into his music.

As the sixties progressed and the counterculture developed Roy was associated with that scene – and was highly prominent in it too – but he always maintained that he was no hippie – he was a Beatnik.

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