My First Roy Harper Gig
I was getting prepared for my first Harper gig a year or two before it happened.
British Folk Music had always been a traditional scene. Folk singers largely played traditional music much in the way that it had always been played, adapting it to guitar and usually singing about people from far off times as typified by Ewan McColl. It was supported by an enthusiastic small clique.
Then came Bob Dylan and the Greenwich Village scene. It took Folk into the popular market and highlighted songwriting and topical songs.
In Britain it had a huge impact. As young kids we were all listening to the Beatles and Stones plus all the other Beat groups, but we were also getting into Dylan and soaking up the social comment.
Ready Steady Go was essential viewing on TV. The bands performed live. In 1965 they started featuring a tousle haired singer with an acoustic guitar who they were selling as Britain’s answer to Dylan. Donovan set the trend in the popular stakes as regards Folk. But behind the scene we had people like Martin Carthy doing his great arrangements of Folk songs, Shirley and Dolly Collins with their harmonies and song arrangements, and the amazing Davy Graham bringing in influences from the Middle East and producing complex songs that set the whole tone. The Contemporary Folk Scene was taking off. It was no longer a cultural backwater.
In 1965 I was introduced to the fabulous Jackson C Frank by my friend Bob Ede and then shortly after to the wonders of Bert Jansch and John Renbourn by another friend – Neil Furby.
1965 was the year I obtained my first motorbike. Suddenly London was accessible. I could get to the clubs.
In 1967 a friend called Mike, who sported long curly hair and a white plastic mac, had his finger on the pulse. He told me about this great singer that I would like and how he was saying all the same stuff as me. He went by the name of Roy Harper and Mike assured me that he was just my thing.
I stored it away with all the other recommendations. The whole music scene was burgeoning. There wasn’t enough time to see everything. I forgot about it. I was hitting the Marquee, Middle Earth, UFO as well as Bunjies and Les Cousins.
A couple of months later I found myself in Les Cousins for a Bert Jansch/John Renbourn concert. Les Cousins had become one of my favourite haunts – a dingy cellar on Greek St in Soho that you had to get to via some steep steps – a crowded room with tables and chairs, dimly lit, up close to the performers, intimate with a great atmosphere. Bert and John were brilliant as usual but what really made an impression was Roy.
In between the main sets Roy did a little cameo for half an hour. He only played three songs, one of which was the instrumental Blackpool, but he talked a lot. I was smitten. Not only were the songs brilliant, the guitar playing great but the patter was incredible.
I came out of there singing. Forget Bert and John – Roy Harper was simply in another dimension.