I’d go to the ends of the Earth to catch a Harper concert – well at least the ends of the country! That’s pretty much what I’ve just done – from the Royal Festival Hall in the deep south of the Thames Delta in London to the Usher Hall in Edinburgh – the northern granite fortress of Scotland. (OK – not quite Land’s End to John O’Groats). And what a stunning adventure – out of this world!
I’ve seen Roy perform for nigh on fifty years and I can affirm that at the age of seventy five none of his musical skills or voice has diminished an iota. He is as good as ever. Like a good wine he leaves the brain intoxicated with a fine zest tingling the senses.
In the Spring of his career he was forceful, capricious and furiously blowing this way and that with hurricane fury and torrents of words lashing the brains of all who ventured near. Like a tempest – unyielding, creative and wild.
In his Summer years he burned, scorched ears and laid waste to all he despised with vitriol and skill. His epics had scope, genius and barbed insight unparalleled in the world of music.
But, as we all know, it is in the Autumn that the vine bears fruit and the harvest is brought in. Roy is busy gathering in the fruits of the decades and creating a sumptuous smorgasbord to lay before us.
Over the years Harper concerts have been gatherings of the faithful where we were treated to a sharing of the feast in what had become his front room. But this mature Harper has honed each and every song into a gem of a performance. It’s the same feast but the presentation skills are manifest.
Working with a bunch of supremely talented musicians – the strings and brass under the direction of Fiona Brice, Beth Symmons on double bass and Bill Shanley on guitar and banjo – has harnessed Roy to a greater structure and in so doing has enabled his musical genius to shine. In order to synchronise with such accomplished musicians Roy has had to rein in his idiosyncrasies and focus on delivery. But there is no loss of power for all this – the music is all the greater. The backing has superbly augmented Roy’s compositions to unleash their inherent beauty and strengths.
Neither has this detracted from Roy’s rambling intros, beloved by many and a source of immense frustration to others, but usually shedding insight and setting to the compositions.
It was exactly the same set as at the Royal Festival Hall and so I will not dwell too long on the set save to say that Me and My Woman, Hallucinating Light, Don’t You Grieve, Time is Temporary, 12 Hours of Sunset and When An Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease were so well crafted that the quality was up there with a studio produced sound. They were crafted gems.
That is not to detract from the rest of the set either. Hangman and Hors D’ Oeuvres were full of Roy’s anger and passion.
Three years ago we were witnessing a Harper renaissance. He was finally receiving the plaudits that should always have been there, and his live and studio performances were reaching the heights.
I was concerned that a three year lay-off might have brought an end to this late flourish. I am pleased to report that it hasn’t!
Roy is back! This tour was a triumph! This Harper nut has received another fix. Hopefully it will be sufficient to tide him over to the next outing – the withdrawal symptoms are too great to bear.
Make it soon Roy!