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Opher Goodwin — Roy Harper: On Track… Every Album, Every Song [Book (157 pages)]
Another title in the rapidly growing list of books published by SonicBond, this time featuring original maverick and friend to a guitar rock god or two, Roy Harper.
As a long-standing Harper fan I know that tackling his discography is not a task for the faint-hearted. With albums going in and out of print, reissues, alternative versions and limited editions, there is a lot to get to grips with. Thankfully Goodwin handles everything with aplomb, clarifying where extra tracks on various re-releases originally stemmed from and where they fit into Harper’s recording chronology. It makes it easy to disentangle the frequently messy and confusing slew of releases from a prolific writer.
Of course, it helps that Goodwin has been friends with Harper since 1967, just after the release of Harper’s surprising debut album Sophisticated Beggar; surprising in that it eschewed the folk and blues numbers that Harper had gained a reputation for from his busking and folk club performances and comprised all-original material. Perhaps more startling was that it also featured a full band in places, not what the folk crowd that had primarily been his audience up to that point had been expecting. These were the first signs that Harper would stick to his own plans and not be pushed into doing what others necessarily wanted or expected.
What will be alien to modern bands is the fact that Harper’s first two albums, released on different labels, were both commercial failures. Yet the musical environment of the time meant that it was the music that mattered and the lack of commercial appeal was not considered a black mark against the artist. He found a longer-lasting home on Harvest Records for his third album, Flat Baroque And Berserk, the first of seven essential albums he recorded for the label over the next decade.
Goodwin’s personal memories and analysis of the songs and albums adds a lot to the book and offer insights that keep things interesting, more than some other titles in the series in being a sterile list of songs. Harper was never an artist that was likely to trouble the singles chart but he did consistently release such items. Although a lot of the songs unique to the format, particularly from the earliest years, have been compiled and re-issued, his b-sides remain some of the hardest items to locate for the collector. In that respect this book is a valuable guide to what was released, and in some cases what has not been released, both of which can be quite frustrating for the searching completist!
I would have liked to have seen a bit more on the live Roy Harper as, despite the brilliance of the studio output, it was on stage that Harper excelled. As at least a couple of the official live albums were assembled from a multitude of recorded concerts, there is potentially a lot of recorded material that remains locked in the vaults. However, considering that recording details and locations were omitted from Inbetween Every Line as all the tapes were mixed up and it wasn’t deemed necessary to sort them out, it could be a major task sorting them out if, indeed, they still exist.
Despite his long recording career, there doesn’t appear to be much studio material left languishing in the vaults and it seems increasingly unlikely that Harper will return to the studio to record a new album, despite how well his last album, 2013’s Man And Myth was received. So it is from these putative live archives that any future releases will presumably be drawn.
As such, this volume can be assumed to be as complete a record of the musical legacy of one of Britain’s finest and most idiosyncratic singer-songwriters as you are likely to find. Written in a relaxed and enjoyable style, it is an easy-to-read volume that will introduce, and re-introduce, the reader to the delights of the Harper catalogue. I certainly dug out a few of his lesser-played albums from my collection and listened to them in a new light after reading the book. And if that is not recommendation enough, I don’t know what is.
Now, back to searching for the missing items. Anyone know where I can find Goodbye Ladybird?