Roy Harper – McGoohan’s Blues – the start
The song that epitomized those early years for me was McGoohan’s Blues. It wasn’t his first attempt at an epic; he’d tried that on the album Come Out Fighting Ghenghis Smith with the track Circle, but it was the song that distilled all that angst and philosophy into one poetic diatribe.
Weighing in at over twenty minutes it was a tour de force. The strident guitar and biting lyrics drove it into areas nobody, apart maybe for Dylan, had ever ventured. It hit you like an earthquake and beat you round the head like Muhammad Ali. There was so much in it that you couldn’t take it all in.
That young Harper put his whole soul into that song. He felt every word and propelled it up with velocity like uranium tipped cannon shells. The audiences were transfixed. It was an intensity that you could not get anywhere else. There was nothing like that fiery young Harper.
Sadly I don’t think I have ever heard a recorded version that does justice to those early performances. The one on the album Folkjokeopus wasn’t a patch on the intensity of live performance and incredibly sadly there are no recordings or bootlegs of those sixties concerts when the song first came out. It wasn’t until later that there were live recordings. By then the song, while still great, had lost some of that raw, nascent energy. The nearest you get to those early performances is Live At Les Cousins and that still is not quite it for me. Because he was recording it was a bit controlled.
I was fortunate to be there in the audience when Roy first tried it out on an unsuspecting small group of us. By then those small groups of aficionados had grown into larger audiences but that had not affected Roy or the way he performed. It was still as if you were in his front room.
That song took Roy to a new level.