Discovering Roy Harper -Pt.1

In the late fifties, Roy had been a Jazz poet in the Blackpool area. He once described Lytham St Annes, where he lived, as a cemetery with bus stops. 

In the early sixties, Roy, after briefly forming a skiffle group with his two brothers, set off to busk his way around Europe with Mocy who later became his first wife in 1965. 

Roy returned to London intending to try his luck in the music business.

The contemporary folk scene was burgeoning and Roy found his way into the folk clubs. He had begun to combine his poetry to the folk and blues standards that he had been busking with. 

Roy was in London at exactly the right time. 

Roy was just starting out. 

So was I.

I was busy discovering.

It was the start of the London ‘underground scene’.

So much excitement to experience.

Music – folk, blues, psychedelia, west coast, progressive.

Art, drama, film, literature, beat poetry.

I was immersed in it. 

Roy was creating it.

Peter Bellamy from the Young Tradition took a liking to him and made a few introductions so that he started out at Les Cousins.

At that early stage, Roy had choices. Peter Bellamy was encouraging him to go along the traditional folk route but Roy had other ideas. 

He was more under the spell of Davy Graham and Jackson C Frank and was finding a new application for his poetry and jazz background. 

Roy was making a unique kind of music.

I too was experiencing revelations. The world seemed to be changing and a wave of liberalism was crashing through and sweeping me along.

I probably had a permanent grin on my face…..

Music was the centre of my life but I was beginning to experience the other arts for the first time – poetry, dance, drama and modern art.

My mind floated in a sea of music and lyrics.

All seemed revealed to me.

I was euphoric.

I felt it was my time.

I had been unhappy with life’s expectations

I did not want to be part of the machine that I perceived careers to be.

I was resisting that type of control.

The rebellion I had been feeling now had a focus.

Freedom was what was important.

My Dad sat on the sofa and declared that ‘The Prisoner’ (Patrick McGoohan’s brilliant satire on society) was a ‘pile of rubbish’

He couldn’t see that it was a metaphor, an expose of the society in which we were all controlled, programmed and numbered.

At that time I felt sorry for my Dad. He didn’t get it.

I was not a number. I was a free man. 

I had a mind and I wanted to use it.

I was opposed to a world full of greed, corruption, war and suffering. 

This was 1967 and a new generation was tearing the walls down. Move out of the way – we were taking over. There was a better world and we were going to build it. 

The optimism was palpable.

Anyone who had ears was deafened by the noise from the underground. 

I was on fire.

I was inspired by the likes of the electric polka-dotted Dylan with his snarling tongue, wicked insight and ferocity, whose words created explosions in my cortex.

The magnificent Captain Beefheart with his acid desert blues, sniping and peppering his songs with streams of conscious. Hip poems and space-age music so original it created a new genre.

Woody Guthrie whose heart was out there in front of him, the first and foremost social commentator, whose words were rabid with righteous anger. 

I threw them all in my melting pot with Kerouac’s road trips through life, Ginsberg’s screams at the insanity of society, and Henry Miller’s ragged explorations of reality in the Paris streets of the 1930s. 

They were my inspiration. I thirsted for their lives, their experience and hungered for their vision.

I was stumbling through a world that was illuminated with new insights. They came so thick and fast. I was energised by them.

It was a mad roller-coaster ride! 

Through long nights of agitated verbal gymnastics, my friends and I tried to harness the sense contained within the squirming words. 

Music expressed everything to us.

Leave a Reply