Mirrors and Venom
Now we are in the heady days of 1967 and I am seventeen and eighteen and amid the huge experimentations and excitement of the times the quest gathers force. I am intoxicated by the hunt and buzzing with energy. It is driving me on to search in the clubs and second-hand record stores. I am always searching for something that will provide me with all the answers and sate my appetite.
All thoughts of education and careers are relegated to the box marked ‘incidental’. Life’s too full of life to waste. There is so much to be learnt, investigated, found out, appreciated, loved, experienced and enjoyed and you can’t find it in schools, answer it in exams or read about it in textbooks. There were too many people to meet, sights to see and mad conversations to be had. I was a madman. I scorched through life absorbing and burning up energy. It was like a chocoholic being let loose in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory!
My hair has grown and is bleached with peroxide. It looks like straw and contrasts with my dark beard. I never went in for hippy beads, keeping myself simple with shirt and jeans. I had met Liz and dragged her around with me. We enjoy dancing and one of our gigs is usually soul based, but we bounce around to Mayall, Floyd and Fleetwood Mac just as happily. We are to be found frolicking in the Marquee, Middle Earth, Toby Jug, Klooks Kleek, UFO or Eel Pie Island and are just as happy with the Psychedelic, Blues or Progressive scene.
I have already discovered Dylan and Guthrie and have gorged myself on their inebriating offerings. They will both continue to inform and sustain me. But still I am not content. I want more. The Underground is a glut that provides me with a happy hunting ground. I am a student and free in London and am about to launch myself headfirst into five years of musical gluttony.
But today is special. This is no ordinary faire but I had no inkling of what was in store for me.
I had made a new friend at college by the name of Mike. He was quiet and shy but extremely cool in his white plastic jacket with long corkscrew black hair. He tells me of this guy he has seen who he thinks I would be mad over. He tells how he is insane and full of energy just like me and that I have to go to see him.
I made a mental note. I stash it away. I forget about it.
I am heading for Soho, for Les Cousins on Greek Street. It is a small club in the basement. You go down these steep steps into an underground cellar where you are packed in among the crowds, seated and focussed towards a small stage in the middle. It was dark and intimate.
Les Cousins was no ordinary folk club in the traditional sense. There were no sing-alongs, no traditional songs with hands behind the ear. It was really a place that showcased the work of the new acoustic singer-songwriters of the day who were loosely termed contemporary folk singers. These included the wondrous Jackson C Frank, Paul Simon and even Dylan had made an appearance. I had gone along to catch Bert Jansch and John Renbourn.
They played and I enjoyed it. I can’t remember too much about it because those memories were blown out of my mind.
In the intermission there was a twenty minute slot and they put this new up-and-coming singer-songwriter on. He played three numbers and talked a lot about the songs and what was in his head.
It was the guy that Mike had been telling me about.
What he was saying was intelligent, sharp, funny and illuminating. More importantly was that it was like I was holding up a mirror and seeing my thoughts projected. There was immediate empathy. It felt to me like I was listening to my own self – except, of course, that this one could actually sing and play an instrument.
I was blown away.
I felt like I had found what I didn’t know I had been looking for. I had stumbled across Roy Harper the greatest British song-writer, social commentator, poet and auto-career sabotager of all time.
That was a meeting that altered my life. Opher 1969