Lifemask – 1973
Harvest label 1973
Recorded at Abbey Road Studio
Pete Jenner: producer
John Leckie: sound technician
Roy Harper: vocals, guitars, synthesiser and bass plus all song writing
Jimmy Page: lead guitar
Brian Davison: drums on ‘The Lord’s Prayer’
Tony Carr: bongos
Steve Broughton: bongos
Ray Warley: flute on ‘The Lord’s Prayer’
Brian Hodges: electric bass on ‘Bank of the Dead’ and ‘The Lord’s Prayer’
Laurie Allan: drums on ‘Highway Blues’
For Roy this was a time of frustration, satisfaction, illness, triumph and confusion.
He had just produced the magnificent Stormcock, an achievement of supreme quality on so many levels and he knew it. However the album did not sell brilliantly. EMI had not given Roy enough publicity and the album was not well received by the music press or general public.
Yet Roy was being recognised as a major artist by the rock intelligentsia. Led Zeppelin, the Who, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd and Paul McCartney were dropping in to recording sessions, showering Roy with plaudits and singing his praises.
EMI were still backing Roy, in a half-hearted way. He was still provided with studio time, a budget and Pete Jenner. Roy needed to create an album to equal the brilliance of Stormcock.
Out of left-field came a film opportunity. Roy auditioned for a lead role in the John Mackenzie film Made co-starring Carol White. Against strong competition from Paul Jones (of Manfred Mann) Roy was given the part. He was to play Mike Preston, a touring rock musician, who formed a transient relationship with Valerie Marshall, played by Carol White. Carol was well known at that time, having starred in two successful films of social realism directed by Ken Loach – Cathy Come Home and Poor Cow. Made was going to be a similar type of film. Initially Roy was energised by the idea of becoming a film star but soon found the process became tedious and constricting.
EMI were probably rubbing their hands with glee. They could see that the prospect of Roy in a major film would lead to a soundtrack and possibly a hit single.
Unfortunately, that was not quite the way Roy saw it. Although he reluctantly worked on writing and adapting a few songs for the film his mind was fixed on a far more adventurous and artistically creative song and album. ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, along with the other songs for Lifemask, was already forming in his head.
An even greater problem then arose. At around this time Roy became ill. He thought it was the effects of some particularly strong grass that he had been smoking which had left him dehydrated. It soon became apparent that this was not the cause. Roy was diagnosed with a condition called polycythemi, which means that he had too many red blood cells. The cause was a blood vessel disorder called haemorrhagic telangiectasia. It was a dangerous condition because blood was being shunted through interconnecting blood vessels instead of flowing through his lungs. It left Roy short of oxygen. His body was trying to compensate by producing more red blood cells than he needed. Roy constantly felt unwell and lacking in energy. He had to have pints of blood removed in order to reduce the red blood corpuscles. Roy eventually had a fairly major operation to close the shunt vessels and redirect the flow of blood through his lungs.
The publicity department at EMI needed to keep Roy in the limelight and dreamt up a cock and bull story about Roy being ill from giving the kiss of life to a sheep on his farm!
In the heads of EMI and film executives Made was giving Roy an opportunity to write a film soundtrack. Punchy two and a half minute songs from the film would be given airplay and propel the film and album to popular acclaim.
In Roy’s head the film score was a burden. The idea of producing pop songs for the film was an anathema. Indeed, he hated the one song he did produce for the film – ‘Social Casualty’, which later, with different lyrics, became ‘Bank Of The Dead’. ‘Social Casualty’ in the film version, with the lyrics about the character Valerie and her baby, was not included on the album and has never been released.
In the midst of trying to deal with his illness and make the film Roy was working on Lifemask in Abbey Road studio with the help of a full supporting cast including Jimmy Page.
Roy’s creativity at the time was focused on the twenty three minute epic that would comprise the whole of side two on the album. His medical condition was giving him premonitions of early death. Roy had been told by the specialist that he was not destined to make old bones and so he was determined to pack everything into one great piece of work.
The gatefold cover (designed by James Edgar), which opens centrally, has a ‘deathmask’ of Roy which is really a lifemask. This is symbolic of Roy cheating death and surviving to make the record – an affirmation of life! Inside the album cover there is a picture of Geronimo that James had coloured red and yellow, and which sparked the idea for the central part of the poem that became ‘The Lord’s Prayer’.
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