Roy Harper is a Beatnik.

Roy is a Beatnik.


Roy is a Beatnik. At least I think that is how he would still think of himself.

It is interesting to go back in time to when he was a young man and see the influences that helped form him. They went into his music and made him what he is.

As a teenager, living in Lytham St Annes, Roy discovered the Beat Generation – a group of dissident white youths living on the outreaches of society who rebelled against the basic tenets on which society was based – the joyless conformity, hypocritical lip service to religion, the work ethic, class system and general pointlessness. They were looking for something more exciting, more meaningful and more fun. They looked for that excitement and meaning in Zen, sex, marijuana, alcohol and cars. It was a spiritual quest that exploded in poetry and prose. The movement included such disparate individuals as the writers Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, and poets Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gary Snyder. They identified with black culture and the wild Jazz Be-bop of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Lester Young, the reefer and wild blowing sax. They were centred in New York and San Francisco where they frequented the steamy black clubs and gave their wild anti-establishment poetry readings. They caused a stir with their published work that shocked and horrified polite society – as with Ginsberg’s poem ‘Howl’.

All a bit different to life in quiet small-town St Annes.

A young Roy read ‘On The Road’ and could immediately identify with the sentiment. It set the tone for what was to come.

Roy’s first gig in the late fifties was not as a singer or guitarist but as a ‘Beat Poet’. As the Marathon Beat Poet Roy set out to walk around reciting poetry for twenty four hours culminating in a recitation on the pier. That’s a story in itself!

In the years that followed Roy did his own ‘On The Road’ hitching and busking around Europe. Here, as a busker, he learnt the guitar and a series of old Blues and Folk songs.

When he returned in the mid-sixties, having become proficient on the guitar, he decided to try to make a living singing and, with his acoustic guitar, gravitated towards the Folk Scene and Les Cousins on Greek Street in Soho.

His life-style was that of the bohemian Beat and his music reflected that.

Most of the musicians at that time had come into the music business through Skiffle, Trad Jazz, Blues or Folk. Roy was a bit different. Although he had a brief flirtation with Skiffle, his major thing had always poetry and jazz. Hence his music reflected that. Right from the start he wrote his own poetic lyrics, with their anti-establishment themes, and incorporated Jazz chords into his songs. His hero at the time was Davy Graham, who guitar playing was amazing and set the standard for everyone. Davy was also highly innovative – introducing jazz chords and Moroccan rhythms into his music.

As the sixties progressed and the counterculture developed Roy was associated with that scene – and was highly prominent in it too – but he always maintained that he was no hippie – he was a Beatnik.

Allen Ginsberg – America – a poem addressing America

This was not so much a poem as a dialogue with a country – a country with a personality. He addresses the injustices, the shallowness and paranoia as well as his own situation and relationship.

This was a poem written in the mid-50s in the anti-Russian paranoia following the 2nd World War. There was a great fear of communism. The world was in a mess and the fear of atomic war was claustrophobic.


Allen Ginsberg

America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.
America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.
I can’t stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb
I don’t feel good don’t bother me.
I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I’m sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
There must be some other way to settle this argument.
Burroughs is in Tangiers I don’t think he’ll come back it’s sinister.
Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?
I’m trying to come to the point.
I refuse to give up my obsession.
America stop pushing I know what I’m doing.
America the plum blossoms are falling.
I haven’t read the newspapers for months, everyday somebody goes on trial for
America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid and I’m not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.
My mind is made up there’s going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I’m perfectly right.
I won’t say the Lord’s Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven’t told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over
from Russia.

I’m addressing you.
Are you going to let our emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I’m obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It’s always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie
producers are serious. Everybody’s serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.

Asia is rising against me.
I haven’t got a china man’s chance.
I’d better consider my national resources.
My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals
an unpublishable private literature that goes 1400 miles and hour and
Twenty five thousand mental institutions.
I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underprivileged who live in
my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns.
I have abolished the whorehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go.
My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I’m a Catholic.

America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?
I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his
automobiles more so they’re all different sexes
America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe
America free Tom Mooney
America save the Spanish Loyalists
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys.
America when I was seven momma took me to Communist Cell meetings they
sold us garbanzos a handful per ticket a ticket costs a nickel and the
speeches were free everybody was angelic and sentimental about the
workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what a good thing the party
was in 1835 Scott Nearing was a grand old man a real mensch Mother
Bloor made me cry I once saw Israel Amter plain. Everybody must have
been a spy.
America you don’t really want to go to war.
America it’s them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia’s power mad. She wants to take
our cars from out our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader’s Digest. her wants our
auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our filling stations.
That no good. Ugh. Him makes Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers.
Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I’d better get right down to the job.
It’s true I don’t want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts
factories, I’m nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.

Howl – Allen Ginsberg and the birth of the Beat Generation!

The poem that opened up worlds for me.

Opher's World

allen_ginsberg_2012_03_20 Allen Ginsberg single-handedly rescued poetry for me.  I had it destroyed for me in Primary School. The teacher’s view of poetry was to get us (nine and ten year olds) to learn a poem by rote each week. We had the delights of Tennyson and Wordsworth to memorise. We would have to stand in turn and recite a verse on request. She would point to you and you would have to comply. If you did not know it then you had to miss PE (Physical Exercise), which we all loved, to stay in and learn it. I spent a number of afternoons peering longingly at the rest of the class outside. It instilled hatred. There was no attempt to look at meaning or appreciation. Poetry was merely a task, a pain, a punishment. In Secondary School all I can remember is the class reciting ‘The Jumblies’. Great though it was…

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Allen Ginsberg day!

Following on from Roy Harper, Nick Harper, Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac I thought it would be a good idea to move on to Allen Ginsberg! He was the first poet who ever turned me on to poetry. Howl blew me away when I was in my teens. For the first time I realised that poetry was the heart of revolution and could really speak to me. That was quite a change from the way poetry had been so badly taught in my school. They had made it into a drudge, a memory test with punishment. There was no attempt to understand or appreciate – merely to learn and recite. It had killed it for me. Allen enabled me to reconnect with the joy of poetry and opened many doors into a myriad of delights.

Howl and America remain two of my favourite poems.

Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg – Beat came like a breath of fresh air from the dungeons of Jazz – a guest piece I wrote for Matt at the Beat Company.

Beat came like a breath of fresh air from the dungeons of Jazz.

There was nothing special where I grew up; a little estate in the satellite towns around London. I ran wild in the fields and ditches, played in the streets and was oblivious to anything more. Life had its course. In the post-war fifties it was like the world was holding its breath and wanting everything humdrum and predictable. Normality was the order of the day. There had been a surfeit of change and excitement, terror and despair; England was recuperating.

They were grey days, though the sun shined. They were drab because the world was set in its ways. It was all mapped out.

I watched my parents. The way they dressed, talked and acted. They were good liberal people. There was the shopping, cooking, laundry and gossip. My Mum was never one for too much housework though she did like to talk. My Dad rose at the crack of dawn, donned his suit and headed for work in London. He came back in the evening, ate his tea and read the papers, watched some telly and off to bed.

The lawn was mown in stripes. The car washed and pipe smoked. On Sundays there was the roast beef to carve and on occasion a pint on the green. Everything had its place; life was routine. You grew up, out of shorts and into long trousers. You got a job, settled down, got married, had kids and carved the roast.

As the sixties erupted Rock music provided colour and excitement but it didn’t alter the pattern of life.

Then in the mid-sixties I discovered Kerouac. Jack Kerouac was like opening a door into a different world. That universe was populated with frenzied mad hipster poets who were driven by desperate need. This was no road movie. These were energised young men crazed on the possibility of life and eager for adventure. They sought out the wildness, fast cars, stolen cars, women, dope, poetry, Zen and a scorching desire to penetrate the mundane and get to the guts of life. Life was for burning. Life was too important to waste. Its essence had to be ripped out. Every second counted. They had to dissect it, experience it, up all night rapping into the dawn about crazy, about life, about meaning. Life was a mad quest for the holy grail of purpose. It wasn’t to be found in suburban lawns or washed cars; it was screeching in a sax solo somewhere in the Negro end of town where the people were alive and burned with vitality, on the long roads where the tyres screeched on the tarmac and the Beat people hobboed and hitched and recounted their crazy stories into the night fuelled on Benzedrine and alcohol; or in the scorching words of a poem ripped straight out of the mind to fly through spittle on tongue and teeth. Real people whose live were chaos; whose highs were extreme and lows unbearable. Yet they were all living. They were all burning with desire. – On the mountain tops were the serenity of Zen seeped into the soul on a wild meditation in search of «instant sartori» they searched the heavens for reason and tried to contain their roaring minds.

These characters were real, out of the underbelly of America, shucked off from the ordinary into a world that seethed with wonder, delight, revelation and elation; the «Subterraneans» from the underground who were roaring obscenities, truths and visions in cold-water tenements while straight America slept. Their music grooved. Their minds soared. Their energy pervaded life. To them life was a turmoil of wonder.

I devoured «On the Road», «Dharma Bums», «The Town and the City» and «Lonesome Traveller» and I wanted it. I wanted up those mountains with the bears, where the air was pure and Zen pierced the fabric of reality, to look down upon the world and live; those Jazz dungeons where only the moment and that endless wailing sax had any significance; those crazy journeys through the night dodging trucks and dicing death; the sex and love, the passion and desire. For life was not for enduring; it had to burn with the intensity of an atom bomb or it wasn’t worth a damn; it had to pierce through to some inner meaning or it wasn’t worth a fuck. It had to burn.

Then I read ‘Howl‘ by Ginsberg and rediscovered poetry. Poetry that had been killed for me in school, that had been moribund and pointless. Now it seared with words that punctured my soul. It spoke to me, awakened things inside me and sent me reeling. The words took on new meaning; weapons of barbed fire, scathing, extolling, describing, in anguish, in ecstasy, in despair and fury. And every one of those words resounded into my skull and seared into my cranium where it sent my blood rushing. This was real poetry that was incandescent, honest and ripped straight from the soul without refinement, metre or craft. It screamed it as it was.

I was becoming crazy too. I wanted that raw chaos and meaning. I wanted to shriek my poems from the inside of my skull too. I had pent-up fury to release. Life would never be the same. There was a cosmos of excitement and meaning that had been opened to me. Who could return to the world of carving and mowing when there was a universe to be grappled with, poems to be extracted and music to shriek to, words to rant, eyes to gleam and energy to burn? What life could be lived in suburbia while there were roads to roar down, people to meet, places to travel and mysteries to unravel?

I wasn’t beat ; I was Beat. My dreams were vivid, my mind soared and I would never mow straight lines again. There wasn’t time! There wasn’t time!

Jack Kerouac day!!

Well I’ve had a number of days dedicated to some of my favourite Rock Stars – Roy Harper, Nick Harper, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. I thought it was time to branch out a little.

I plan on taking a long break from blogging shortly at the end of the month. In the two weeks that follow I will try to do a day recapping over a number of my greatest inspirations.

My life and philosophy has been influenced by a number of people. Some of them are poets, some writers, some politicians or social reformer, some philosophers and some singer/songwriters.

I discovered Jack Kerouac and Beat culture when I was in my teens and it had an enormous impact on me.

I was disillusioned with the life I saw mapped out for me. It seemed a long round of work, commuting, TV and chores that sapped the energy. It looked vacuous. I was young and full of energy. I wanted excitement, sex and fun. I was also searching around for some purpose to life and not seeing it in religion. My parents were pushing me towards qualifications that would lead to a good job, plenty of money and a comfortable life. I wasn’t interested in a comfortable life. It looked like death to me.

Then I discovered Jack Kerouac and it was like opening a door into a different world. Everything came together. Out there in that world the priorities weren’t a good career, polishing the car on Sunday before carving the roast and mowing the grass. There was a world of craziness, excitement and wildness where all that counted was the moment. It was full of crazy, careering journeys, hitching, driving at speed, risking death, with sex, Zen, poetry and loud crazy Jazz. It was al GO GO GO!!! It was about being up all night smoking pot and high on speed talking incessantly about life, god, poetry and any wild thing that came into your head. It was about living.

That was the life I wanted.

Jack Kerouac opened a door into a different way of looking at life. It’s a door that has never closed for me.

My life is not now full of that craziness and lust but it has certainly had its moments!

Roy Harper – the Hirsute Beatnik

A complex, intelligent man and social observer!

Opher's World

Roy was never really a hippie despite all the long hair and sixties scene. Roy was a Beatnik.

His early influences were Jazz and Beat Poetry. He was taken with Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg.

His first foray into performance was as a Jazz poet. He later went into busking of folk-blues on guitar and then had the inspiration to combine the poetry with the guitar. You can hear the Jazz and poetry in all his songs. It gives them a different structure and complexity.

You can see the Beat influence in Roy’s appearance. He loves crafting hair almost as much as music. He has that Beat/Jazz flamboyance!


I was over in Ireland with Roy when William Burroughs died. I mentioned that I had just read a good obituary and he got me to dig it up out of the garbage so he could read it.

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Roy Harper – the Hirsute Beatnik

Roy was never really a hippie despite all the long hair and sixties scene. Roy was a Beatnik.

His early influences were Jazz and Beat Poetry. He was taken with Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg.

His first foray into performance was as a Jazz poet. He later went into busking of folk-blues on guitar and then had the inspiration to combine the poetry with the guitar. You can hear the Jazz and poetry in all his songs. It gives them a different structure and complexity.

You can see the Beat influence in Roy’s appearance. He loves crafting hair almost as much as music. He has that Beat/Jazz flamboyance!


I was over in Ireland with Roy when William Burroughs died. I mentioned that I had just read a good obituary and he got me to dig it up out of the garbage so he could read it.

Quote 9 – Jack Kerouac – A man who created something new!

‘I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.’
‘Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.’
‘My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but in my lack of control of them.’
That sums up for me exactly how I feel.
Jack changed my life.
He is there in everything I write.
I nominate the following to take up the challenge of providing up to three quotes a day for three days:Nadine – who wants to start a revolution

Plato who writes divine poetry, has a beautiful voice, does great jazz and is a genius :

and Rich and Lou who make sublime music both as a duo and in a band (The Electric Company), take brilliant award winning photos and grow auriculars!


These are my six books of poetry. They are available as paperback or on Kindle from Amazon – all for under £5 for a paperback. You could buy the whole lot for just £27.62!!

They are not conventional poetry books. They are like you find on my blog with a page of explanatory prose followed by the poem. The prose is as important as the poem to me.

Codas, Cadence and Clues – £4.97

Stanzas and Stances – £5.59

Poems and Peons – £4.33

Rhymes and Reasons – £3.98

Prose, Cons and Poetry – £4.60

Vice and Verse – £4.15


In Britain :


In America:

In all other countries around the world check out your regional Amazon site and Opher Goodwin books.