Roy Harper – When an old cricketer leaves the crease – a delicate poem for those who are gone.

Roy Harper – When an old cricketer leaves the crease – a delicate poem for those who are gone.

 

A good friend of mine died yesterday. I’m putting this up here for Margaret!

Life is a game. We live like a brief flames and then we are gone. It is how you play the game that is important.

Roy is Britain’s foremost songwriter and poet. This is one of his most beautiful efforts. It is an evocative elegy to a life well spent, a game well played and the importance of playing it seriously, with all your heart, all your spirit and with great enjoyment and pleasure.

Roy has always put in one hundred per cent. You cannot deny his passion or his skill. This delicately crafted song will live forever.

It is a love song about death and the memories that linger, the ripples that go on to turn the tides.

It is one of the great songs of the English culture. What could be more fitting than to use the metaphor of cricket – the epitome of culture, the master of games.

When an old cricketer leaves the crease

When the day is done and the ball has spun in the umpires pocket away
And all remains in the groundsman’s pains for the rest of time and a day
There’ll be one mad dog and his master, pushing for four with the spin
On a dusty pitch with two pounds six of willow wood in the sun.

When an old cricketer leaves the crease, you never know whether he’s gone
If sometimes you’re catching a fleeting glimpse of a twelfth man at silly Mid-on
And it could be Geoff and it could be John with a new ball sting in his tail
And it could be me and it could be thee and it could be the sting in the ale, sting in the ale.

When an old cricketer leaves the crease, well you never know whether he’s gone
If sometimes you’re catching a fleeting glimpse of a twelfth man at silly Mid-on
And it could be Geoff and it could be John with a new ball sting in his tail
And it could be me and it could be thee and it could be the sting in the ale, sting in the ale.

When the moment comes and the gathering stands and the clock turns back to reflect
On the years of grace as those footsteps trace for the last time out of the act
Well this way of life’s recollection, the hallowed strip in the haze
The fabled men and the noonday sun are much more than just yarns of their days.

When an old cricketer leaves the crease, well you never know whether he’s gone
If sometimes you’re catching a fleeting glimpse of a twelfth man at silly Mid-on
And it could be Geoff and it could be John with a new ball sting in his tail
And it could be me and it could be thee and it could be the sting in the ale, the sting in the ale.

When an old cricketer leaves the crease, well you never know whether he’s gone
If sometimes you’re catching a fleeting glimpse of a twelfth man at silly Mid-on
And it could be Geoff and it could be John with a new ball sting in his tail
And it could be me and it could be thee.

 

 

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Jackson C Frank – An unsung genius.

Jackson C Frank – An unsung genius.

 

I note that Jackson has a new box set of everything that he had recorded. There is also a book about him. Though I can only see that as a Kindle version so far. I am waiting until it comes out as a book.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Complete-Recordings-Jackson-C-Frank/dp/B00ZIAOP8K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1438084065&sr=8-1&keywords=jackson+c+frank

I was lucky enough to be introduced to Jackson in 1965. A friend of mine by the name of Robert Ede played his album to me. I was smitten from the very first song.

Jackson played his ten songs with simple guitar backing in the contemporary Folk manner. The album was produced by Paul Simon before he hit the big time and featured Al Stewart on a few of the tracks as second guitar. What made it for me was the memorable melodies, the sad, thought provoking and interesting lyrics and Jackson’s voice.

I hadn’t heard anything like it before or since. Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and Roy Harper were just getting their acts together and the contemporary Folk scene, following Dylan’s success and Donovan’s British contribution, was about to inflate.

Jackson was a huge influence.

He only really ever had one album. During those years in the later sixties it was always rumoured that there was a second, but there wasn’t. It seemed that the songs had dried up.

I caught him at a pub in Ilford High Street in 1970. He was outstanding. He sang all the songs. Afterwards we stayed behind for a chat and he was warm and friendly. That was the last anyone heard of him. He was meant to go for a guest appearance at a Roy Harper concert at St Pancras but never turned up.

He was a tragic figure who hated the limelight following considerable scarring due to a fire at his high-school in Canada in which he was badly burnt.

He came across to England on the QE2 and wrote the songs for that notorious album. He performed at Les Cousins and Bunjies as a regular and set up with Sandy Denny. Roy Harper was a big friend and wrote the song ‘My Friend’ for Jackson.

In 1970 his life went to pieces. He got married, divorced, lived on the streets, had his eye shot out and died as a down and out. There were more recordings done in the early seventies and some early demos have been uncovered. But for me that early album is the nub of all that was good in that contemporary folk scene. He was seminal.

So long Jackson!

Roy Harper – One of Those Days in England pt. 2-10 – lyrics of an epic song with a wide spectrum of thought, controversy, history and sentiment.

Roy Harper – One of Those Days in England pt. 2-10 – lyrics of an epic song with a wide spectrum of thought, controversy, history and sentiment.

One of my all-time favourite songs.

roy harper Roy Harperhyde-74-harper-crowd Roy Harpermaxresdefault

Roy has never been one for producing a short snappy Pop song. Most of his early albums feature an epic song that is far-reaching and has a scope sufficient to cover the gamut of society, the universe and history.

We have been regaled with the poetic visions of McGoohan’s Blues, I Hate the Whiteman, The Lord’s Prayer, The Game, Me and My Woman, Work of Heart and Burn The World.

Each one of those songs is packed with more controversy, venom, social commentary and poetic vision that most of the world’s top singer-songwriters have managed in an entire career.

These are epic songs with a scope that is encompassing, intelligent, perceptive and thought provoking. There is nothing easy-listening about anything Roy does. He doesn’t duck issues or court popularity.

If he feels it then he writes it. You need to have your brain engaged to tackle a song like the twenty odd minutes of concentrated polemic that is One of Those Days in England. It is a song about life, history, the future and the world we are building. Not many people would ever dare attempt such a challenging scope. It’s complexity is daunting. Yet it is not opaque because of that. The variation, melody and drive make it accessible and enjoyable.

Roy is an artist in both music and words and the result is extraordinary.

Not many people come close.

One of Those Days in England pt. 2-10

Every Wednesday morning, at about the hour of ten
I give the queen my autograph, she gives me the yen
The man behind the counter smiles, the door man bows again
Just another day down on the dole queue

But the government must love me ’cause they keep me out of work
They must be saving me for something special
Maybe it’s the job of rolling spliffs for Captain Kirk
Or giving Miss Lovelace a pubic hairdo.

One of those days in England with a sword in every pond
And birds in every garden in the land
One of those days in England when the passion never ends
A slowly moving season by the fire of my friends.

And though the time fast slips away, it’s long enough to laugh and play
Around the fireside making hay, dreaming of tomorrow, you know there’s no today.

One of those days in England with the willow hanging on
I dreamt I met an old man down the road
Whispering the mysteries of patterns up ahead
And stirring past reflections with the sword of lightning said,

Alfred had me made from Albion’s everglade
And I made him to lie with me whence all my troubles fade
You may have read the signs, beware of strange designs
For though the victors write the books, the loser speaks the lines
So let’s now both be gone, ’tis far to Avalon
And though we go our different ways, I’ll see you there anon.

And so I got on board the bird of aeons and I rode
But everytime I met a prince, a fork came down the road
I kept on thinking that I’d stop once everybody showed
Gathered in the myths of our reflection.

But stopping ain’t that possible this far into control
This far beyond the non imagination
No more than I can shed the moving forces of my soul
The time lords of the slowly revolution.

You and me, mother, we’re gonna raise a ship full of kids and slowly lose them
Why does it matter where they’ve all gone, we don’t even have the power to choose them
You and me, father, we’re gonna colonise all of the stars with lots of our madness
Shooting through space with sons on our hips and guns on our lips to play snakes and ladders.

Oh heavens above, I’m coming with love all over, over you.

You and me, sister, we’re gonna plant a bomb in a street to change law and order
And when we’ve killed all who resisted the call, we’ll discover a brand new wall at the border
You and me, brother, wrapped up in silence, brooding for better breathing spaces
Seeing ideals, we were one time a part of rip us apart in our holiest places.

Oh heavens above, I’m coming with love all over, all over you.

Sitting out there with this silvery hair and your thundery look when you really don’t care, but I love you
Dolly blue rivers, foreverness givers, I’ll go without knowing and know without going above you
Stood on the ship in a dream at third slip with Britannica’s tallons on Albion’s grip, do you need me ?
Looking for you when it’s catch 22 and you’ve never been here but it’s always been blue up above me, up above me.

Oh Mrs. Space took her man to the human race
And together they humped over the edge
Nine months later, they were sharing a brand new face
The latest thin end of the wedge.

And baby grew, grew into a space cadet
Legend lives, he screamed under his breath
I’m in the queue, in the queue for the hell of it
Some place inbetween life and death.

Oh Mrs. Space, I love you, with your come home early eye
Don’t ever come between us ’cause times don’t change, they fly.

And it don’t seem long since my life was an endless stream
The future fled into time without trace
I see the end now but I’ve fallen in love again
With a girl who can travel in space.

Oh Mrs. Space, you lead me a wild goose chase
Inbetween, inbetween every line
Well hell, girl, I don’t even know your face
‘Cause you see you’ve been sitting on mine.

Oh Mrs. Space, I love you, with your come home early eye
Don’t ever come between us ’cause times don’t change they fly.

Slowly slipping into history feel us go
With these times another age could never know
See the photos black and white and quaintly dressed
Stood in queues of people smiling, sorely pressed.

Your silent room is the collection of your ways
Every shelf is built of all those different days
And those much younger cannot understand by half
The wireless living room, the faces ’round the hearth.

The ration books of Matthews out there on the wing
The corner shop that sold us almost everything
The farthing in the change, the sirens and the planes
Puffing billies, shunting eras down the lane, down the lane.

You know we’ll soon be gone from here, year upon light year
We’ll take the stories with us there, the memories are dear.

One of those days in England, mum was rustling up the grub
And dad was off out propping up the pub
One of those days in England that you just could not forget
From the mists of secret morning to the golden red sunset.

And though the time fast slips away, it’s long enough to laugh and play
Around the fireside making hay, dreaming of tomorrow, oh you know there’s no today.

Oh you know there’s no today
No, you know, today.

Roy Harper – Desert Island – lyrics about appreciating the wonder of the planet and not abusing her.

Roy Harper – Desert Island – lyrics about appreciating the wonder of the planet and not abusing her.

This is a beautiful song – part of a much longer one – crafted into a pearl of delight. It is catchy enough to have been a hit without losing any of its substance.  That’s a rarity. Roy does not preach. He paints pictures with words and adorns them with melody. I senses pathos behind the almost jaunty presentation. It’s a lyric with deep meaning.

This is a song in which Roy apologises on behalf of the entire human race for the abuse of the planet. The ‘I’ and ‘me’ are generic.

Throughout time we have treated the planet and the life that lives on its thin crust with disdain. We have polluted and butchered as if it is a limitless, infinite source of everything. When there were few of us it was sustainable. Now there are so many it is not. We are destroying the thing that gives us life.

As Roy puts it – ‘Turning the oxygen off in the intensive care unit’.

The world’s forests and oceans are becoming deserts.

Somehow we have to reach a point where we can sit and wonder at the beauty, watch a sunset, delight at a creature’s antics, and witness with wonder.

Given a paradise to play in we create a concrete hell of toil and misery. That’s intelligence for you.

Surely we can find a sustainable way and not destroy everything that’s good? Surely we can have a meaningful life that isn’t a drudgery?

Roy Harper – Desert Island

Gonna paint my room like a desert island
With yellow sand and blue lagoon
Invite you all to come and live there
One afternoon
It’ll be when no-one’s looking
More likely that not
We’ll close the door and turn the sky up
Find a good spot
Air fire water earth you were paradise
I’m sorry about me
I was under impression
That you were free and easy
Gonna paint my room like a desert island
With clear skies and rising swell
Leave the clowns on the jaded horizon
In Wall Streets of Hell
I must say goodbye to the blindfold
And pursue the ideal
The planet becoming the hostess
Instead of the meal
Air fire water earth you were paradise
I’m sorry about me
I was under impression
That you were free and easy
(To plunder)

Democracy – The importance of dissidence.

Democracy – The importance of dissidence.

If something is worthy it will stand up to close scrutiny.

No institution should be above criticism, whether that be a government, religion or political party.

Someone who is prepared to look closely at what is going on around them, see what is wrong and speak out is someone who should be valued and lauded above all else.

Without criticism we do not get improvement. Without people being prepared to put their head above the parapet and speak out we do not get justice. If our dissidents and critics are gagged we have tyranny. If a government, leader, religion or political party places itself above the judgement of its peers we are in danger of despotic fascism.

This is why Islam threatens its critics with cruel death to shut them up.

This is why tyrannical governments, of all hues, round up their critics and execute them.

The free air of liberty comes from the throats of brave dissidents.

In Britain we have a strong tradition of dissidence, protest and struggle. It has won us our rights and freedoms.

In the modern age I cannot think of any greater dissident than the poet, musician and songwriter Roy Harper. I have not always agreed with him but his intelligent observations and fearless outspokenness are an inspiration. It is lamentable to see him brought down so low by allegations of this nature concerning events forty years ago.

Let us hope justice is done and Roy receives the credit he deserves.

Roy Harper’s First Album

Roy’s First Album

I’ve just spent the afternoon reacquainting myself with Roy’s first album ‘Sophisticated Beggar’ which was released in 1966 (although I did not get my hands on it until 1967).

It is quite a remarkable album in many ways and brought back many memories.

In some ways Roy was part of the Les Cousins Folk Scene. He was a resident at the club and part of the contemporary British Folk Scene that had blossomed in the wake the huge success of Dylan and Donovan; though this scene was quite different to either that of the Greenwich Village movement or the more commercial area that Donovan moved in. The heart of Contemporary British Folk was to be found in the likes of Davy Graham, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. These were consummate acoustic guitarist virtuosos who took the art to new heights.

I was lucky because in 1965 I had a couple of friends who were greatly into this new burgeoning folk genre. Neil introduced me to Davy, Bert and John – all of whom had produced ground breaking albums in that year, while Robert introduced me to the wonderful Jackson C Frank. Back then I was sixteen and open to anything. I was soaking up the Beat music in the charts along with authentic Blues, Woody Guthrie, Dylan as well as good old Rock ‘n’ Roll. Music was central to my life in a way that my parents and teachers would have liked my studies to have been. I was reading Jack Kerouac and liked the more authentic uncommercial nature of both the folk and blues. So, by the time I stumbled across Roy in 1967 I was already well immersed.

That first album of Roy’s was a genuine Garage album. The talk was that the Strike label was little more than a money laundering enterprise. I don’t know if that was true but it is amusing to think that Roy’s career might have been ignited by the mafia. The story was that these shady characters were looking for a suitable candidate from the Folk Scene to unload some money on and Jo Lustig, Roy’s manager, secured him the gig. The studio was a very make-shift affair with Pierre Tubbs as the recording engineer. This was hardly the state of the art recording studio – but they did have a revox tape machine and the results sounded great to me.

There was no publicity or marketing and Roy did a ‘do-it-yourself’ job on it, straight out of his street hustling days, busking round Europe; he produced flyers and touted it round at gigs. Not too many albums were produced and sold but it got his foot in the door.

By the time I’d arrived in 1967 Roy had just sold the last one but he lent me his own remaining copy! I bet there are not too many people that would have done that are there? I remember he’d augmented the cover with a bit of black felt-tip.

The first time I’d seen Roy was at Les Cousins sandwiched in between Bert and John and he’d played three songs off that first album – one was definitely Blackpool and I’m pretty sure one of the others was Goldfish. So I was eager to hear it. I could not wait to get that album on my turntable and hear what he was about.

Most people put Roy in the Folk section – man with an acoustic guitar who played the Folk circuit – but even a cursory listen to that first album shows that he was much more than that. Roy has never been limited to any one type of style. There was the customary guitar virtuoso track with ‘Blackpool’. Roy was an excellent guitarist and at that time everybody was trying to catch up with Davy Graham who had brought that array of Eastern chords and eclectic jazz to contemporary folk. What struck me though was the scope of the album. Roy was putting his poetry to music and experimenting with all manner of styles. This was the sixties. Anything went. Roy was at the cutting edge of all that.

When I put it on I played it through a few times to get the feel of it. Roy had foolishly given me his telephone number and was very long-suffering as this over-enthusiastic youth, with a head full of questions, persisted in ringing him up. He indulged me. So I rang him up and had a long conversation about the songs (as we had no phone I had to go to the phone box and feed it with threepenny bits). I was pleased to hear that ‘My Friend’ was about Jackson C Frank. Roy and he had been good friends and I really rated Jackson. His album was one of the best. I can’t remember what else he told me apart from the fact that he’d written ‘Goldfish’ for Nick, who was a baby back then. So I went back and played it some more.

‘China Girl’ was amazing. Psychedelia was taking off in 1967 but here was Harper in 1966 with phasing and a psychedelic willow pattern harking back to a beautiful Chinese girl Roy had seen around Soho. Syd Barrett would have been proud.

‘Committed’ went back to his electroshock treatment in the mental institute but it was a real rock out of madness and hysteria with Roy forgetting the words and ad-libbing. Ritchie Blackmore was in there! This wasn’t Folk. You wouldn’t catch Bert or John doing something like that would you?

‘Sophisticated Beggar’ was autobiographical and more poetic, with its inspiration back to his busking days. The view of society was already coming through strongly on tracks like this and ‘Big Fat Silver Aeroplane’ (with all its drug references of joints, spliffs, medal sucker (purple hearts)).

I felt that ‘Legend’ was one of the strongest songs, the poetry most developed and the song very different to anything I’d heard before. There were a few themes in here that Roy would come back to – ‘of landmarks in the desert wastes of multi-coloured crime’ – a bit of philosophy, dissolving snowflakes and everything’s just everything because everything just is.’ I could hear this song in future songs like ‘McGoohan’s Blues and ‘Same Old Rock’.

I thought ‘Black Clouds’ sounded very Janschish and ‘October the Twelfth’ started that antitheist theme that keeps cropping up in Roy’s catalogue. Roy told me he wrote the song on a bad day. You can feel the anger as he hit out at the mindlessness that surrounded him – but in the end he turned it on himself.

Then ‘Mr Station Master’, another autobiographical song with social overtones, complete with organ and rocky backing, was different again.

‘Forever’ was the most beautiful love song I’d ever heard. I told Roy that, and he sang it to me and my woman in Kingston in 1970. I still remember. It was special.

It was obvious that this album, with its different chords, guitar sound and varied styles, its poetry and rebellious vibes, was something out of the ordinary. I loved the sound of it and thought Pierre Tubbs had done a good job. He’d captured Roy – though by 1967 Roy had already moved on.

It wasn’t until Roy finally got the tapes from Pierre Tubbs (or was it Jo Lustig?) in the late nineties that I was able to hear a bit more of those sessions. There were a few interesting songs in those outtakes. Roy eventually brought them out on ‘Today is Yesterday’.

That first album was a great start. Roy was to take those themes and develop them further throughout his extensive career, but that first foray onto vinyl was something special to me.

Having said that, no sooner had I discovered it, than Roy had moved on to be snapped up by CBS as a star of the future, been given Shel Talmy to give him that star quality, and had moved on to record ‘Come Out Fighting Ghenghis Smith’.

I bought that the day it came out. But that’s another story.

Tales from Abbey Road – The American girl

Tales from Abbey Road – The American girl

 

The sixties was a great time. There was revolution in the air – not that I ever saw or heard anybody talking guns or armed insurrection. People seemed to feel we were building a new and better society, dumping all the baggage like wars, racism, sexism, hypocrisy, greed and consumerism and creating something less conformist, simpler and more real. People were more open. They were investigating religions, cults, politics and talking about dropping out, giving up being the master’s right-hand nose and getting back to the land. It’s hard to explain. They, for a short period of time, were idealistic times of great friendship and camaraderie. When you saw someone with the hair you knew you had something in common. We shared what we had. There were usually sacraments involved! A joint would be passed around. We’d sit up talking, playing music and laughing through the night.

 

I do find myself nostalgic for the feel of those days.

 

We used to hitch-hike a lot. I would sometimes hitch to Roy’s out of town gigs and Roy was known to hitch to his own gigs. Hitching was interesting. You met all manner of people.

 

Anyway, enough of this preamble.

 

It was not unusual to put strangers up for a while. Our little two-room bedsit in Manor House often had an array of sleeping bags and new friends. You’d go to a gig and someone would want a floor for the night. One time we accrued an American girl – the reason for this strange acquisition is lost in the depths of time. She was not your typical 60s freak – far from it. I can’t imagine her going to the type of clubs I frequented, but, none-the-less we ended up with her. Unlike most of our guests she definitely overstayed her welcome. She was from a rich privileged background, contributed to nothing, and had a grating, shrill whiney, voice that never seemed to stop. Consequently she tended to dominate everything and was exceedingly annoying.

 

After a week or two Liz had definitely had enough of her. Goodwill had gone out the window. I was heading off to Abbey Road and Liz suggested I should take her with me to give her a bit of peace. I weighed it up and figured she’d most probably be quiet and a bit overawed. Foolishly I agreed, suggested it to our American ‘friend’ and she jumped at the chance. She liked the Beatles.

 

I whisked her off on my trusty orange steed, giving her a thrill or two round a few tight bends.

 

At the studio I explained to Roy what the situation was. He’d already sussed out the general lay of the land. It did not take too long to see what she was really about. She was not one to take a back seat or keep quiet. Being overawed was not in her vocabulary and she proceeded to wander around and get in the way. At one time she went off down the corridor and actually walked in the studio where Paul was working, with the red light on, and interrupted a recording. They were far from amused. Somewhere in the archives she’s probably on tape!

 

Roy was recording East of the Sun which used this quite complex and evocative high-pitched harmonica. He was having difficulty because the harmonica kept playing up and giving false notes or breaking up. They’d searched round but couldn’t find a replacement in the right key, and being the middle of the night they could not purchase one. They tried soaking the thing in water but it still would not perform and everyone was getting a bit uptight and frustrated.

 

The American girl was not helping matters. At one point they were telling her to shut up or they’d take her into the studio and sort her out. I think she was quite up for that. I was a bit concerned that it might actually happen.

 

Eventually Roy got the harmonica to last through the take and they got the track completed. In a mixture of relief and frustration Roy smashed the offending harmonica with the heavy studio door. The American girl eagerly picked up the mangled instrument as a memento.

 

Well, she eventually got Mummy and Daddy to send her air-fare through and disappeared leaving all her rucksack of possessions behind. That mangled harmonica sat on our shelf for quite a while but eventually disappeared too!

How Does It Feel? – Roy Harper

How Does It Feel? – Roy Harper

 

It’s great to see a lot of people finally catching on to this brilliant song – even if it is fifty years after the event. It is one of my favourites and also one of Roy’s, I’m sure. He always talks of it fondly and it’s regularly featured in his repertoire.

 

Thank you Margaret Atwood and the producers of The Handmaid’s Tale.

 

I first heard the track fifty years ago when he began introducing it into his live set. It resonated with me because of my looming crisis and the daily battles that it created. I was a student at the time studying Zoology in London – apart from the odd lecture or two – as free as a bird. There were no restraints (apart from having no money). I had plenty of free time. I had hair down to my waist and dressed how I liked (very colourful) I was in the midst of the sixties underground. My week was full of gigs, friends, my girlfriend and the general craziness of the times. Somehow I found time to read a lot of Sci-fi! The real world wasn’t intruding too much. The game was kept at bay. But I knew that in the near future it was destined to intrude a lot more. At some time in the near future I was going to have to find something to do; I was going to have to learn to be the master’s right-hand nose. So How Does It Feel signalled the future for me. I’d sit and listen intently as Roy sang and could imagine that god strapped to my wrist.

 

Roy always did put it so clearly in his songs of social comment. They are even more pertinent now.

 

The song speaks to me of the hypocrisy, control and mindlessness of society – just a game in which the rich exploit everyone so that they can own the world. They use religion, war, poverty and politics to control and we are slotted in to the slots of career, mortgages and debt. Some strive to become wealthy and use all those status symbols – houses, cars, trophy wives, rings, gold chains, watches – all equally mindless and pointless. Some just give up or turn to drink.

 

There has to be a better way to live!

 

Fortunately I found teaching – a great compromise – a career with a great deal of fun, great latitude and something really worthwhile!

You might want to link up to Roy’s youtube channel –

 

How Does It Feel

How does it feel to be completely unreal
How does it feel to be a voter
How does it feel to be a voluntary heel
I wonder who’s it is
I see you queuing up outside Saint Peter’s gate,
You can feel bona fide if you ride with the tide
But it’s not real

How does it feel to be out on your own
How does it feel to be thinking
How does it feel to be out on the run
With the mindless world at your heels
I wish I had no answers to put to you
Cos they got me so high tied I feel
like most of me has died
And it’s real

And outside on the dragon
And inside in the cold
Mammy’s on the bandwagon, daddy’s just getting old
And through the blood spew heavens
The roar of lust complains:
Please let me in I have no sin, but you know I’m not real

And how does it feel to be the master’s right hand nose
How does it feel to be lieutenant
How does it feel to be stood on someone’s toes
With a leech bleeding you for rent,
When you say you want a bit more rank
You wanna be a big wheel
You can feel magnified if you hide in
your pride… It’s not real

And how does it feel with a white flag in your fist
How does it feel to have two faces
How does it feel with your god strapped to your wrist
And him leading you such a chase
You got one set of words for him,
and you got another for me
You’re gonna feel mystified when you’re identified
Don’t worry kid it’s not real

And outside on the dragon
And inside in the cold
Mammy’s on the bandwagon, daddy’s just getting old
And through the blood spew heavens
The roar of lust complains:
Please let me in I have no sin, but you know I’m not real

And through the blood spew heavens
The roar of lust complains:
Please let me in I have no sin, but you know I’m not real

 

Roy Harper – Folkjokeopus the album

Folkjokeopus

Folkjokeopus was a poorly recorded album made up of largely first-takes with an unsympathetic producer who Roy did not get on with. The quality of the songs wasn’t the issue; it was the production. But I still love it!

 

When Liberty signed up Roy they thought they could turn him into a Pop Star. They brought in Shel Talmy, the American producer who had made bands like the Kinks and the Who into international stars. It was a mistake right from the start. There was no understanding or communication between Roy and Liberty. I remember Roy telling me that there was no human touch. He went into a room and talked to a machine equipped with deaf ears. Nobody was interested in what Roy wanted. They had a vision of making him into a Pop Star. But Roy was young, idealistic and had rejected all that. He saw himself as a poet/musician of the Underground. He was totally opposed to the whole money-grabbing business that showbiz was (and still is). It smacked of everything he stood against. The idea of ‘selling out’ for money or fame was contrary to everything Roy stood for. That isn’t to say he didn’t want to make it and get the recognition; it meant that he wanted to do it on his terms; he wanted to be successful because of his songs and musicianship not as some watered down smiley-faced Pop Star. You could say that he was a tad uncompromising.

 

I wasn’t there for that first meeting with Shel Talmy but I bet it was a bit frosty and antagonistic. Roy could clearly see what Shel was about. He was in the business of producing nice catchy two and a half minute hit singles. Roy was into producing twenty two minute epics packed with vitriol and angst. I think I know what Shel would have thought about that. He must have been apoplectic when confronted with the array of songs that Roy had written for the album. How was he expected to turn any of them into Pop singles? There was the twenty two minute McGoohan’s Blues, an eight minute instrumental, a seven minute song about a relationship break-up, a couple of experimental pieces and a couple of Roy’s humorous crowd pleasers. The only really commercial possibility was a song about smoking dope on the steps of City Hall and that was never going to get played on radio. On top of that he was confronted with a hostile Harper who was suspicious of everything Shel wanted to do with his precious songs and only wanted to be in control of his own material.

 

A great recipe for a total disaster – and thus it turned out. The studio was a battlefield and even with great musicians such as Nicky Hopkins and Ron Geesin it was going nowhere. Roy and Shel were never going to get along.

 

Folkjokeopus was hurriedly churned out with a series of first-takes, little rehearsal and the mistakes and glitches left in. Even the cover was a battle. Roy had this idea of making it into a diamond instead of the normal square but Liberty chose to reorientate the cover photo into a standard format. An incandescent Roy went in to Liberty offices to object to what they had done and get it put back to how he wanted it. He told me he was shown into a room and spoke to a monolith. Eventually he had to pay out of his own pocket to get the photo turned how he wanted it and even then they did not do it right and it isn’t quite a diamond as he’d envisaged. I think that summed up the relationship. I think all three parties – Liberty, Shel and Roy – were glad to see the back of each other.

 

I had been going along to as many Roy gigs as was humanly possible to fit in and by this time had become a personal friend. So I had been transfixed by the likes of McGoohan’s Blues, One for All and She’s the One. I knew what powerful songs they were. I couldn’t wait for the album to finally get released following a number of delays, such as the travesty over the cover. When I finally got my hands on it I was so disappointed. I’d probably been expecting too much. This wasn’t as good as what I had been hearing live. Roy was left angry and frustrated and I was left wondering about what might have been. I kept wishing that Roy had brought the whole thing out as a live album. I think that would really have suited all the songs.

Abbey Road Studios – Flat, Baroque and Beyond.

Abbey Road Studios – Flat, Baroque and Beyond.

 

Roy gave me the invite to go along to Abbey Road Studios for the recording of what became Flat Baroque and Berserk and I eagerly accepted. I think he did that for a number of friends. He probably liked having a few friendly faces around. It may have helped create a relaxed ambience. At least I like to think so. Dick and Rene were regulars. Dick was Kid Strange (now Richard Strange) from The Doctors of Madness and Rene was his partner and a designer. Apart from that the studio control room was usually full of various musos who seemed to waft in and out, hang around for a bit and wander out again. It was all very free and easy.

 

At the time I lived in a tiny flat in Manor House. I used to bomb across to St John’s Wood, (usually alone but sometimes with my good lady Liz) – situated in the posh part of town – on my trusty motorbike – a dull orange 350 AJS. I’d park it out front and stroll in. Sometimes there was a guy sitting at the desk inside the door but often there wasn’t anybody there at all. Security was not an issue. If the guy was there I’d just nod and he’d nod back. I was never asked what I was doing there. I guess, because of my long hair, it was assumed I was one of the musicians. I’d wander down the corridor to the studio and go in.

 

Back then there was a different attitude to musicians. They were accessible. Security was minimal. A lot of times after a gig you could simply walk backstage and have a chat with them. So I don’t remember visiting Abbey Road Studios as being a huge deal. Yes, I loved the Beatles and Floyd and this was the hallowed ground where they’d recorded those great albums but I suppose I was a bit blasé about all that side of things. I never went off to investigate the other studios down the corridor even though various Beatles – Lennon, McCartney and Harrison were there and Floyd as well. This was still the 60s underground. We were too cool for that. Besides, I was much more excited about seeing Roy record.

 

Roy was excited about recording in a proper studio having signed for the Harvest label. I remember him telling me that it would be the first time that he was getting to record his material properly. He was also really excited about working with Pete Jenner. The two of them had hit it off and he knew that they could work well together. He had a lot of respect for Pete’s abilities and that was mutual, Pete really rated Roy’s song writing and musicianship and, having previously worked with Floyd, was keen to experiment and push the boundaries. It provided great potential and Roy really thought that the partnership would bring out the best in him – as it did. So I was excited to be part of that.

 

Roy came equipped with a bunch of brilliant new songs, most of which he had tried out and honed live. He really wanted to do a good job on them. He knew he had strong material and EMI were giving him full backing. They’d provided him with the best recording facilities in the world, virtually unlimited time and Pete Jenner and John Leckie as producer and technician who were both the best in the business. The atmosphere in the studio was perfect, the surroundings were conducive and EMI had promised to promote Roy as a leading musician from the 60s Underground. This was his big chance. The Harvest label was their attempt to attract the cream of the British Underground and Roy was one of their first signings. They were putting their weight behind him. For once someone was taking him seriously and giving him the opportunity he deserved. There was a real buzz about the place which was reflected in the constant stream of Britain’s top musicians who were either wanting to contribute or turned up to watch and be part of it. The feeling was that Roy was on the brink of something huge.

 

Looking back I wish I had taken it more seriously, maybe taken my camera along. But that simply did not feel appropriate. There were things that you did not do.

 

As one would expect the studio was state of the art for 1970. Pete Jenner sat at the mixing desk like he was at the controls of Starship Enterprise. A big soundproof glass panel separated the control room from the studio. There was much talking back and forth as they set things up, much banter and a relaxed, but focussed atmosphere. After a take Roy would come in and he and Pete would listen to it, play about with the controls and discuss how to improve it. Roy was very hands on and involved. The final mixes were the result of a joint collaboration (in more ways than one). Roy knew exactly what he wanted and Pete had the expertise to enable him to get it. They both had an ear for the music and were perfectionists. They worked together well. Despite the many spliffs and congenial atmosphere with much laughter, the proceedings were extremely professional. The pair of them were meticulous and wanted things to be perfect. Roy knew that he finally had an opportunity to do full justice to his material and he was determined to seize the opportunity.

 

I sat quietly an unobtrusively at the back, watched and listened. The sound quality through the studio speakers was out of this world. It was crystal clear and the separation of instruments was more than I’d ever heard. I’d never experienced such sound quality. I revelled in it. Pete Jenner and John Leckie made me very welcome and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I knew my place. They had a job to do. I was privileged to witness them at work and see how a top recording studio with quality musicians operated. I knew that as long as I did not get in the way and let them get on with it I was OK there, so I limited myself to the odd comment about the brilliance of the takes and soaked it up. For the most part I sat in the background and watched with a big smile on my face.

 

Thus it was that for Flat Baroque and Berserk, Stormcock, Valentine and HQ, over four glorious years, I would turn up to as many sessions as I could fit in. Abbey Road became a regular fixture and I witnessed many notable performances and incidents. Then, with mixed emotions, we moved up north and that was the end of my Abbey Road experiences. I still think back to those wonder years, when Roy recorded four of his best albums, with great fondness. There were many tales to tell.

 

But more of that another time.