Roy Harper at St Pancras Town Hall 1969
When I first saw Roy Harper he was at the beginning of his career. The first gig was sandwiched between Bert Jansch and John Renbourn at Les Cousins. Roy was one of those regulars there and not yet one of the headliners.
I was smitten. Not only were the songs extraordinary but the banter was revolutionary. I hadn’t heard anyone talk like this. It seemed to me that I was hearing some young Jack Kerouac on speed, in one long stream of consciousness. You not only received a brilliant musical event but you also were regaled with whatever thoughts were going through that remarkable mind…. And there were no end of thoughts. Roy would say whatever came into his head. His mind was like quicksilver. There were asides, commentary and polemic. It was unfiltered. I had not heard anyone like it. Not only that, but his thoughts were echoing my own. It was as if he was articulating all of the concerns that I was experiencing.
You did not get a concert with Roy. It wasn’t so much of a performance. He treated the audience as if they were friends and the club as if it was his front room. This annoyed a lot of people. They wanted a slick presentation. They wanted to sit and appreciate the guitar playing, melody and songs. For me that was not the crucial element. I was enthralled with the ideas, the exchanges of views, and the unadulterated access to the mind of another human being, someone with the same sensibilities as myself. I was as intrigued by the diatribes and asides as I was by the music. I did not mind if he stopped halfway through a song to inform us of a thought, tale or idea that had just strayed into his head. I found that extraordinary and illuminating. He was opening himself up and revealing his inner thoughts. There was no holding back. I’d never encountered anyone like that before.
It must have appealed to a lot of other people too. When I started following Roy he was playing the small club s and venues to small audiences. That rapidly changed. It happened almost overnight. One minute there were thirty or fifty people and the next there were queues around the block.
Roy was extraordinary
I saw the change.
The St Pancras Town Hall gig felt like the end of an era. It was a farewell to the warm intimate meetings of a small group of friends and the ushering in of a larger arena. For me it was the change from Roy the small-time amateur, free-wheeler, to Roy the performer.
That gig was special – a watershed.
It was as if all the faithful gathered together in one place for one last bash. This was Roy with his friends. After this it would never quite be the same. We would have to share him with both the rest of the music punters and show biz in general.
For this evening we had him to ourselves.
I still remember it. There are concerts when everything comes together to create perfection. The audience and Roy were one. Roy was relaxed. The music and banter flowed and gelled and everything was suffused with warmth.
You do not get too many magical evenings like that. This wasn’t a concert so much as a sharing of spirit.
St Pancras Town Hall was the end of the beginning and a more suitable gig could not have been arranged. We were moving into the next and larger phase and it would be one filled with delights as Roy blossomed musically and his recording career took off, but nothing could ever transcend the intimacy of that evening.