Roy Harper – Ewell Technical College – circa1971
Seeing Roy back in the late sixties and early seventies was exhilarating. His creative juices were in full flood, gushing forth and endless stream of great epic songs. He was a young man brimming with angst, full of passion, fury and consumed by a great joy of life. It was in him and it simply had to come out! The songs flew out of him.
Up until then I didn’t think anything could match McGoohan’s Blues, but there was I Hate The Whiteman, How Does It Feel, Me and My Woman, Highway Blues, Hors d’oeuvres, Same Old Rock, One Man Rock ‘n’ Roll Band, Another Day, and many more. They was an endless torrent. Each performance seemed to launch another gem that sent your mind reeling. He was hitting out at that establishment in a way that no one else did. He was on fire.
But it wasn’t just the songs; it was the power. There was such a force to his performance that you were swept up in it. The intensity was extraordinary. He was a snarling bullet-blue-jeaned James Dean, Jack Kerouac and Che Guevara all rolled into one.
Ewell Tech was a typical college gig but also exceptional. It exemplified Roy’s state of mind at the time.
It was the early seventies, around 1971 I believe, but I could be wrong. Sadly I never kept a diary. At that time I was doing at least one or two Roy gigs a week. I was enthused, obsessed and enthralled by both the man and his music. For me it felt as if I was in the company of Jack Kerouac. A whirlwind of people and energy surrounded him. Roy and I had become friends. I’d visited Fordwych Road, met Moccy and Nick (a toddler) and been invited along to the Abbey Road studio for the recording of Flat, Baroque.
The Ewell Tech gig demonstrated a number of things about Roy. Firstly – he loved performing. Secondly – he wasn’t doing it for the money. Thirdly – he was a law unto himself. When he got into it there was no stopping him – literally, there was no stopping him.
Ewell Technical College was one of those places on the college circuit that many underground bands visited. The Students Unions were active in the 60s scene and good at getting the best bands. Unlike today all the top bands were performing every day of the week. The whole scene was thriving with a mass of clubs, venues and free concerts. The colleges were a big part of that. Roy, like most, was probably performing at least four or five times a week.
Architecturally Ewell Tech was rather typical. It had never been designed for concerts but was more of a school assembly hall. There were hundreds of us seated in that big hall on uncomfortable wooden chairs in lines with a dour voluminous space all around us, facing a large stage on which the diminutive figure of Roy Harper would eventually appear and perform. But the setting was immaterial, the place was packed and there was a great buzz of expectation. Roy was at the peak of his power and was pulling in a good audience. The crowd were receptive and into it. I was in my usual place at the front and everyone was turning round, talking, meeting new people, sharing spliffs, and generally mingling.
Roy went on at around nine o clock and was due to finish at eleven. It was one of those gigs that ignited. The reception was rapturous. Despite the dinginess of the hall with its poor acoustics and the discomfort of the chairs, the gig was on fire. Somehow Roy managed to create an atmosphere that pulled the hundreds of us in that voluminous hall into an intimate audience. The size of the stage seemed to shrink so that the distance between us was breached.
Eleven came and went. At eleven thirty the caretaker, an elderly gentleman in overalls (probably in his fifties), who had the task of tidying up and locking the place after all the pesky students had gone, came on to the stage to have a quiet word with Roy about the lateness of the hour – but to no avail.
At midnight, the caretaker had had enough. He wanted to get home. He was probably back first thing in the morning. First he came on stage, shouted a bit and waved his arms about, much to the amusement of Roy and the crowd, and then the lights went off. Most performers would have taken the hint, but not Roy. He was really into it, riding the tide of enthusiasm from the crowd, and so continued to play in the dark.
The audience thought this was great and the enthusiasm of the crowd actually went up a notch or two. There was a great cheer.
Ten minutes later the electrics went off and the PA died. This was a game now. Roy did not want to stop. He was having a great time. He continued to play acoustically and the audience simply pressed closer to hear it. There was a real party atmosphere in the hall that I’m sure was not pleasing the poor caretaker any too much.
It was beginning to look like we might be here for the night and despite the last busses, trains and whatever, nearly everyone stayed, and the boisterous mood transcended the gloom. Roy fed off it and played his heart out.
At one thirty the police arrived, the lights went on and they remonstrated with him. But Roy was resolute and took no notice. Eventually they bodily picked him up under the armpits, with him still clutching his guitar, and carried him outside where they unceremoniously deposited him on the steps while a disgruntled caretaker locked up, glared at everyone and stalked off into the night.
It didn’t stop there.
Roy had not had his fill yet. He set up on the steps with everyone gathered round and proceeded to do another hour and a half. At three it was time to call it a night, Roy had finally satiated his urge and we were all tired and replete. All of us set off into the dark, heading off in our different directions, happy bunnies. There was much chortling and laughter as people wandered off into the distance. It had been one of those nights.
What a night!