Discovering Roy Harper Pt.2

In the midst of this furore, I had a friend, who is lost somewhere in the oceans of time, called Mike. He had long dark tousled hair, much like Syd Barrett, and wore a frightening white plastic jacket. Delicate sensitive Mike told me to check out this fire-brand of a singer he had seen. A guy who was as crazy as me, a mad poet singer with wild eyes and raging mind who was saying the same stuff I was spouting. He thought we’d get along.

I filed it on my list of things to do amid the swirling patterns in my head. There was too much happening. Never enough time.

However, shortly afterwards I was exploring the streets of Soho and had settled on a gig at Les Cousins in Greek Street. 

A friend Neil had introduced me to Bert Jansch and John Renbourn and another friend, Bob, had revealed the wondrous Jackson C Frank. They had opened up a whole fresh delight – contemporary folk music – a new world of music that included Davy Graham, Al Stewart and linked into the Greenwich Village scene of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Paul Simon. 

It was a genre that I was very taken with. It led me to add the folk clubs like the Barge, Bunjies and Les Cousins to my growing list of favourite venues.

Les Cousins was a great place to hang out. It was situated in a cellar on Greek St in the heart of the shady part of Soho, surrounded by strip joints, massage parlours and sex shops. You went down these steep steps into a darkened room. It was quite gloomy really but nobody minded, the atmosphere was great and you were up close to the action. There were wooden chairs and tables that you sat around, the stage was not really a stage, it was hardly raised at all and the performers sat on a chair, with a spotlight on them and a microphone or two. There was none of this fancy sound systems, lighting or soundboards. All very basic.

The crowd were made up of regulars who were into the music. The air was thick with aromatic smoke. You could get stoned without trying. It was very intimate.

Admission was cheap – a couple of shillings. For that you would get a number of singers. All the singer songwriters played there – John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, Donovan, John Martyn, Jackson C Frank, Sandy Denny, The Incredible String Band, Whizz Jones, Al Stewart, Nick Drake.

There were regular all-niters. It had everything you wanted. Good company, warmth, great music and a cheap price.

For a penniless student it was perfect.

I used to go to see John Renbourn and Bert Jansch play there and caught a number of other acts. It was always good. There was a special warmth about the place.

Back then London was ablaze with great venues with amazing bands playing every night.

There was always a difficult choice. 

The top bands and singers seemed to play all the time. 

Whether to see a psychedelic band like Pink Floyd at UFO, Fleetwood Mac at the Toby Jug, the Who at the Marquee, Captain Beefheart at Middle Earth, John Mayall at Eel Pie Island or catch some blues or rock ‘n’ roll legend?

It made your head spin. Not only that, but tickets were cheap even then. 

Two and six (twelve and a half pence) to see top acts.

 I still have regrets for all the greats I might have seen……….

That weekend I opted for Les Cousins. 

Both Bert Jansch and John Renbourn were on the bill. They were two favourites of mine and I liked the atmosphere of the club.

It is wondrous how serendipity works, for there, sandwiched between Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, was the young hothead Mike had told me about. I don’t believe in fate. It was luck that took me there that night. 

If not then it would have happened soon enough. There was an inevitability about it. We swam in the same waters.

It was the briefest of sets – just three numbers and an equal amount of searing gig-talk. The numbers were great but the talk was even better. I remember one of the songs was Blackpool, another was Goldfish but the third is forgotten.

Those early songs were a million miles from his later epics but they were enough, he was more than enough. What he was saying between the songs was more interesting than the music itself. 

He seemed to speak without any filters, whatever came into his head like we were friends sitting around together playing music. 

I glimpsed a mind that was raging with the same lusts and passions as mine and it turned me on. I came out of Les Cousins with my head zinging. 

I was on such a high.

That was my first encounter with the young and fiery Roy Harper, a madman crazed with revolutionary zeal, a poet whose words spelt trouble, a social dissident whose eyes pierced the skin of society and a musician singer-songwriter of unique scope and skill.

When I heard Roy’s words it felt like I was peering into a mirror. 

The world was run by maniacs and only the sane could see that. 

Finding other sane people? Luck? 

I had unearthed a supernova in the depths of Soho and found what I was looking for – he was one sane madman. 

Roy Harper was on the loose and I had discovered him!

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