Harper re-issues reap critical kudos – Vol. 19 of Harper podcasts posted

Influential, eccentric British singer/songwriter Roy Harper is releasing a series of his seminal albums in the United States for the first time through KOCH Entertainment Distribution, via its distribution deal with London-based Cadiz Music. The initial batch of releases will include Stormcock, Jugula and Flat Baroque and Berserk as well as a 2CD best of Counter Culture. Harper has been revered for decades by visionary musicians from Led Zeppelin (they wrote “Hats Off to Roy Harper” in 1970) to and Pink Floyd (he sang lead on “Have a Cigar” from Wish You Were Here) to Joanna Newsome most recently.

This deal marks the first official US release of these recordings which were previously only available as imports in this country. These newly restored and repackaged albums are released on Harper’s own Science Friction record label in exclusive distribution partnerships with Cadiz Music in the U.K. and KOCH in the U.S. Additional Harper titles will be released in early 2009. I’m including a link to Volume 19 of the ongoing series of Harper podcasts, this one being an interview with longtime sideman, Dave Cochran.

In this country, the British singer-songwriter Roy Harper is best known as a song title – “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper,” on Led Zeppelin III, was named in tribute to him – and a legendary accident: In 1975, when Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters had trouble nailing the vocal on his record-biz satire “Have a Cigar,” Harper – a friend of the Floyd, making his own record next door – sang it to scathing perfection. Harper knew the sleaze and insult in Waters’ lyric more intimately than the Floyd or Zeppelin. His first albums of Dylanesque invective and pastoral sensuality – 1967’s Sophisticated Beggar and Come Out Fighting Ghengis Smith; 1969’s Folkjokeopus and 1970’s Flat Baroque and Berserk – came out on four different U.K. labels, and most of his nearly three dozen studio and live records were never formally released here. Incredibly, Harper’s greatest album, 1971’s Stormcock, makes its first-ever U.S. appearance in a hard-bound reissue from Harper’s own Science Friction label, which now holds his entire catalog. Stormcock is still eccentric majesty, four long songs of challenge (“Hors d’Oeuvres”), frustration (“The Same Old Rock”), mission (“One Man Rock and Roll Band”) and desire (“Me and My Woman”), sung by Harper in dark-tenor whispers and keening multitracked chorales, through hall-of-mirrors guitars. Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page plays the spider-walk leads in “The Same Old Rock.” He and Harper later made a full album together, 1985’s Whatever Happened to Jugula. Uneven in drama and production, it is Harper at his most enraged (“Hangman”), stoned (“Advertisement”) and loving (the haunting stasis of “Frozen Moment”) all at once. Flat Baroque and Berserk was my personal introduction to Harper. Spare in strum, it remains perfect in its extremes, from the soft, gorgeous “Another Day” to the torrent of bile in “I Hate the White Man,” aimed at then-apartheid South Africa. Oddly, this reissue opens with what was Side Two on my old vinyl – it’s like I’m hearing the record backward, although it now ends logically with the electric tumult of “Hell’s Angels,” which is Harper armed with prog-rock trio the Nice. David Fricke/Rolling Stone cover dated 10/2/08

Most rock fans know guitarist/singer/songwriter Roy Harper as the voice of Pink Floyd’s “Have A Cigar”; as well, Led Zeppelin dedicated a song to him – “Hats Off To Roy Harper” – on their third album. Harper’s own music, however, has remained largely out of the mainstream, partly from his reputation as an oddball.

Uncompromising is a word often used to describe Harper’s music. His songs can span double-digit minutes, and change mood, as well, several times throughout a composition. He’s also known for his brutally honest lyrics, at times berating and controversial, others moving and vulnerable. As Harper has said, it takes a certain investment from the listener to get into his work. But don’t let that throw you, much of the music on this twin-disc set is undeniably beautiful and requires little effort at all to connect with. Harper’s voice, at times, sounds very like Bert Jansch, and if you like Jansch you’ll probably dig these tunes. And like Jansch, Harper is an excellent acoustic guitar player.

Counter Culture features 25 tunes, personal favorites handpicked by Harper himself, and covering the time from 1966-2000. It also features a fantastic array of guest musicians, including John Renbourne, David Bedford, Jimmy Page, Bill Bruford, Ronnie Lane, Alvin Lee, David Gilmour and Kate Bush.

Harper has said before that he puts poems to music, and what’s most striking here is the music itself. Much of it is truly beautiful and varied. Harper’s finger picking and voice make tunes such as “South Africa,” “Forget Me Not” and “Another Day” resonate deeply. As well, the arrangements and orchestration (where present) imbue the songs with a rich, layered almost soundtrack-like atmosphere.

Part of Harper’s genius is his ability to make a 10-minute (or longer) acoustic guitar track interesting. “The Same Old Rock” – one such number – triumphs with fascinating guitar interplay between Harper and Jimmy Page. It’s cool to hear Harper thump out the rhythms while Page picks flurries of lead notes. The two styles are perfect complements.

“When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease,” is Harper’s masterpiece: a gorgeous, elegiac musing on summers in yesteryear Britain and the men who wielded the wicket. The lyrics convey a pastoral mood, heightened by Harper’s gentle fingerpicking and a French horn echoing the melody.

“One Of Those Days In England (Parts 2-10)” is a dense, quirky expose of Harper’s motherland, from the past into the present, and one of the best examples of his song writing style, with its ever-shifting dynamics and moods. Paul and Linda McCartney make unaccredited guest vocal appearances.

So many tracks standout here, it’s hard to separate the songs from the collection. In whole, Counter Culture is a superb introduction to an extraordinary songwriter. One that will certainly lead listeners down the road, deeper into Harper’s catalog. I know I’m going there. Todd Whitesel/classicrockmusicblog.com 9/30

The phrase musician’s musician is almost as overused as the fifth Beatle. But the long-underappreciated folk-rock Harper is exactly that. On this stunning 1971 release, previously available only as an import, it’s easy to see what longtime fans (and sometime collaborators) Pink Floyd and Led Zeeppelin see in him. Elements of Bob Dylan, Syd Barrett, Jimmy Page, and other titans of the era frequently emerge in Stormcock’s epic four-song cycle, but Harper’s otherworldly swirl of incsive lyricism, quicksilver melody and gorgeous guitar technique is absolutely his own. “A” Leah Greenblatt/Entertainment Weekly 9/12/08

I sure most of you are more familiar with the name Roy Harper rather than the body of work that accompanies the man. Led Zeppelin made an all to famous tip of the hat towards him on the second side of Zeppelin III, and that sticky vocal you hear on Pink Floyd’s “Have A Cigar,” Harper as well. An underground English folk act since his debut in 1966 Harper spent 40 years, writing, recording, and touring. For the 2005 release of Counter Culture Harper hand picked 25 cuts from the plethora of 15 albums that is specifically geared towards turning a new generation onto the wealth of the English folk singer.

Guest musicians include Jimmy Page, Ronnie Lane, and David Gilmour. Some consider Harper “the longest running underground act in the world,” but if I had a pick he has without a doubt the most British song tiles on any disc I have ever seen. “Sophisticated Begger,” moans in a classical manner while “Blackpool,” screams Zeppelin-esque instrumental. “When the Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease,” and “The Flycatcher,” electrify the folk artist in haunting melodic tone.

Additional composition notables include “One of Those Days in England,” “Cherishing the Lonesome,” and “Hallucinating Light.” Counter Culture is an interesting glimpse into the influences of the English side of 60’s revolution and defiance. Martin Halo/Downtownmoneywaster.com 9/10

Ya say there’s just too durn many selections in Roy Harper’s toy box? Ya think ya might have a nervous breakdown trying to select which one to start with? Is that what’s putting the grit in yer farina, Bunky? Well, fear not, Uncle Roy hisself has issued a 2-CD release of his faves through a 40+ year history. It’s packed with killer material, legendary musicians, and tons o’ musical surprises, all the while guaranteed to make you atractive to the opposite sex, freshen your breath, eliminate body odor, and vaproize latent urges to Republicanism.

It’s doubly a treat that this compendium is arranged chronologically, but, with Harper, that’s almost pointless, as you’ll understand when you hear the first disc’s opening cut with John Renbourn, Sophisticated Beggar, from the 1966 debut LP of the same name. It’s as hip, nuanced, passionate, and clever as anything he put out for the next four decades. If you’re a true folker, Harper’s work can’t be passed up if one wishes to be held in esteem in genteel crit circles or hip confabs. The man has constantly been more innovative than Dylan (other virtues render Dylan untouchable), as symphonic as Al Stewart, and as gritty and airy as Dave Cousins and Tom Rapp,

To show just how wry Harper can be without even thinking about it, in the intro to I Hate the White Man, he tells the crowd “Anyway, this is a.this is a song for the, uh.well, there’s no need to name them, there’s absolutely no need to name them. They are who they think they are.” That, my friends, is a quote worthy of archiving with Bakunin, Chomsky, and the great anarchists, devastating for its layers of connotation. Roy’s intelligence, sense of humor, passion, and musical virtues attracted the greats of England: Jimmy Page, Alvin Lee, Bill Bruford, David Bedford, David Gilmour, Kate Bush, and Andy Roberts (and will someone, please, for God’s sake, re-issue Andy’s solo LPs!), all of whom appear here, with more besides.

For FAME, I’ve recently penned critiques of Harper’s Flat Baroque and Berserk, Stormcock, and Jugula, and, somewhere in there, I made the case that the man is seriously in need of critical re-appraisal, his work far too much neglected in the past. Every damn cut he’s ever written sounds like it was scribed yesterday, fresh, immediate, and invigorating, filfulling precisely what folk was developed for. Were Harper to have been as broadly affective on all folkers as Mayall and Korner were on bluesrock, we’d have a much healthier, far brasher, and virtually fearless genre environment more explorative in its musicalities. Ah, but genius is not easily absorbed and so, while we wait, there’s this set and his entire catalogue to keep the faithful warm, happy, and politically pissed off until the rest of the world catches up. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the last part, but *do* cop this release to pass the time fruitfully in the meantime. Mark Tucker/AcousticMusic.com 9/4

Roy Harper has attempted the near impossible with Counter Culture. He put together twenty-five of his own songs that encompass a career to date for a ‘best of’ style double CD collection. When you consider the sheer quality and depth of his material during a career spanning forty years you begin to realize the size of the task.

What makes this set even more fascinating is that it comes with an accompanying booklet that explains his rationale behind each selection. Of course there was always going to be room for “When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease” and “One Of Those Days In England parts 2-10”, which are both rich in English eccentricity and have lost nothing over the passage of time. There had to be space too for several others and Roy explains that “Another Day”, “12 Hours Of Sunlight”, “Hallucinating Light”, “Pinches Of Salt”, and “The Green Man” all but picked themselves.

Okay, that gives him eight. Even though I cannot recommend visiting the already mentioned tracks strongly enough, there is plenty more fascinating material on this collection likely to provoke discussion amongst his fan-base from here to eternity. Starting with another invaluable contribution “Sophisticated Beggar” from his first album of the same name and “You Don’t Need Money” from his Come Out Fighting Genghis Smith Harper sets a chronological time frame to his choices. “Francesca”, “I Hate The White Man”, and “Another Day”, which he tells us was written in a few lucid minutes, are all brought forward from the magnificent Flat, Baroque and Beserk album of 1969/1970.

A true masterpiece follows from Stormcock, which I recently reviewed. “That Same Old Rock” is a track that is a timeless reminder of Roy’s sometimes all too relevant stance on organised religion. He follows this with the timeless content of “Me And My Woman” also from Stormcock. Lifemask offers up “South Africa” and 1974’s Valentine, “I’ll See You Again”. HQ’s gives us “Hallucinating Light” and of course the superb “When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease”. If you have never heard Roy Harper this is as good a place as any to go through the door.

The second CD presented a problem to Roy as he had to choose between “The Game” and “One Of Those Days In England”. He chose the latter, thus omitting one of his favourites in deference to one of many of his fans. An all but impossible choice. “The Game” can be found on HQ’s and yes, it deserves inclusion, highlighting that if this double collection was in fact a box set it might just capture all the best moments. Either way this will have us old enough to remember hearing “Hats Off To Roy (Harper)” on Led Zeppelin III and deciding to find out who he is. We will be warming in the glow and dusting off our old vinyl copies, remembering just why this man is one of the most overlooked of our national treasures.

Anyone who has seen Roy over the years performing “One Of Those Days In England” will know the special place this holds in our hearts: “The Government must love me ‘coz 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”.

As the second CD journeys on through a kaleidoscope of highlights it is “You” that catches the ear. Essentially a duet with Kate Bush, it was penned by Roy and David Gilmour. Also Roy’s tribute to Miles Davis, “Miles Remains” and “Evening Star” are both touchingly effective and beautifully performed.

Anyone who hasn’t visited Roy Harper’s work should pick up a copy of Counter Culture. It is, despite the inevitable gaps the most obvious being “Rushing Camelot” covered again in his wonderful album notes, the perfect starting point. Jeff Perkins/Blogcritics.com 9/25

. “Hors d’Oeuvres” had been previewed two years earlier in a faster incarnation, but this version is pleasingly lethargic in a way much like Pink Floyd’s “Fearless.” “The Same Old Rock” is an extended musical poem about the narrow-mindedness of organized religion and features several movements, including one of Jimmy Page’s best solos, even though the notes list Page as S. Flavius Mercurius. After the strangely melodic “One Man Rock and Roll Band,” the album ends with the grand “Me and My Woman.” This version, while slower than the definitive live take from Flashes From the Archives of Oblivion, features lush orchestration by David Bedford. All four lyrics could stand on their own, showing Harper’s vision to be much more profound than the typical stoned poet. His musicianship on acoustic guitar is revelatory, at once thoughtful and hard-edged. Stormcock, in fact, epitomized a hybrid genre that had no exclusive purveyors save Harper — epic progressive acoustic. In this style, Harper amalgamated the best elements of associates Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and folk artists like Bert Jansch into a winning stew of thought-provoking acoustic music. Harper dabbled in this style with mostly good results for the rest of his career, but never again would one of his albums exclusively have these type of songs on it. Stormcock represents a truly original vision comprised of oft-heard parts rarely assembled and therefore is on par with other heavyweights from the class of 1971 such as Led Zeppelin IV or Meddle. Brian Downing/AllMusic.com

This LP was always an enigma. Was it’s title Roy Harper & Jimmy Page and under Harper’s imprint or was it Jugula and under the aegis of both? This re-release does nothing to solve the mystery, save that Harper has control of it under his catalogue. When I first copped it back in the mid-80s, I was curious what the proper attribution might be and still am. It matters not a fig, given the music, but that’s the way critics are: a bit anal retentive, its our gig style. For the record, though, Wikipedia claims the real title is Whatever Happened to Jugula? and line-shots the original vinyl cover showing it.yet that bit is erased in the new version. Hmmm.

Jugula seems to have been intended as a group effort, but that’s always a dicey statement with Harper. Nonetheless, his son appears (16 at the time) along with David Gilmour (uncreditted and invisible, writing the music for Hope) and many mistake the lead guitar as Dave’s but it ain’t so. That’s Roy’s own progeny, a guy who has gone on to follow his own musical aspirations, appearing with Dad every so often, live and on LP. Toss in Tony Franklin, Nik Green, Steve Boughton, Ronnie Bramble, and Preston Heyman, and we have the makings of an honest-to-God ensemble.

Well into his line of releases, Jugula delivered everything expected of Harper, who e’er kept to a solid integrity of vision and performance, accounting for the bloke’s longevity and place in fans’ affections. It wouldn’t be a mistake to find the release even moodier than its predecessors, themselves not exactly confabulations of Anita Kerr and Rod McKuen, if you get my drift. Starting with a riff on Orwell, Nineteen Forty-Eightish, when one gets to Hangman and Harper’s ever-evocative lyrics:
Hangman oh hangman
You’re working in the shade
For the creatures of the jungle
Whose message is displayed
In graphic tones of blood revenge
All down the civil blade
And you’re the greasy little monkey
Who murders to get paid
.well, introspection and accountability are the price of admission, aren’t they? The CD comes off like a concept album but isn’t, not really, save for the narrative thread. Enjoy it that way if you wish, I do, but it ain’t, though the maniacal end refrain to the song, “We are creatures of darkness”, pretty much nails the entire flavor of the album. Dwelling in the Kafkan nightmare capitalism has produced, we Far Lefties find consolation in such dark works in the same way many refresh themselves, albeit disconsolately, in the blues. Harper was ever one of the few who dared the inner labyrinth of the human heart and mind to find Hope (a song title here) even amidst the chaos and despair. He still does, and this preservation of such a fine lineage of artworks (well over 30 releases) such as Jugula represents will, I confidently predict, one day find itself in a much wider epiphany of rediscovery, hopefully very soon. Mark Tucker/Acousticmusic.com 8/28/08

This CD re-releases Harper’s fifth LP from 1971 directly upon the success of Flat, Baroque and Berserk (reviewed elsewhere in this forum), departing from the strict folkistics of that album to construct a concept LP in four movements. For folkers, this was rather a radical act in the day and remains so today. Starting with trademark acoustic guitar, voice, and hyper-attractive sincerity, the first cut soon introduces an ethereal choir-consisting of he, himself, and Harper-deepening the atmosphere oceanically. An organ ties the ethereality back to the ground but sophisticates the song, branching it. The repeating bottom refrain becomes a baroque exploration of the simple chord cycle exploring its own possibilities and, thus, we see why Harper’s material proved so compelling to other musicians.

Jimmy Page stepping into the second movement rather proves it. Credited as “S. Flavius Mercurius”, due to the usual corporate contractual bullshit, he plays acoustic lead atop Harper’s 12-string, and one can’t help but notice that Page may well have been rather influenced by Harper’s style as the two fit like hand in glove (Harper was no slouch when deciding to strut his fingerpicking), the interplay becoming mesmerizing. Page then steps out and Harper solos the third cut (each is titled simply I, II, III, and IV),obviously inspired by Jimmy and bluesing his lines right from the git-go. Roy was rarely content to just sing his own words, he wrestled with them, forcing the world of the syllable to bleed over into the very different realm of sound, achieving a marriage satisfactory to his wont; thus, plaintive strains and fierce emphasis are frequent. III, when one is hip to it, is actually quite John Lee Hooker-ish, Harper wringing the tune for all its worth, dragging the structure out indefinitely, the result being that the listener wishes it would never end.

David Bedford (well-reputed arranger) wanders in for the finale, but, really, the result is not very dissimilar to the lead cut, save for the strings, which are, well, somewhat superfluous, Harper needing little in terms of assistance in that wise. Nonetheless, it all works and the growingly legendary folker dazzled the fans of the early 70s with a work that nicely stood with the experimentation so engagingly rife back then.

The superb deluxe packaging, in the mini-LP format, adds in a wealth of new materials, including photos, artwork, and lyrics (I have the original Chrysalis release in vinyl and it contains none of these things). The ability to read and ponder his words, however, becomes rather surprising: Harper had a John Cage-ian side to him, a la Cage’s obscure *Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make It Worse)* release (8 CDs!). Consider a few fragments:
Hierarchies form.
Mass religion is inevitable.
The addictive ‘one god’ becomes inevitable.
An eventual deluge becomes predictable.
Government has to be by juggernaut.

So simple yet so direct, and one is left to ponder the narrative long after the eyes leave the printed word. Mark Tucker/Acousticmusic.com 8/28/08

Though he’s at heart what we might call a fundamentalist folkie, Roy Harper may well be the most famous unknown guy in rock and roll, often referred to as “the longest running underground act in the world”, so this push to re-acquaint him to the public is timely, especially at a moment when the industry and a number of its genres are in the doldrums. Harper was influenced by gents like Huddie Ledbetter, Josh White, and Woody Guthrie and, amidst a stint in the Royal Air Force, discovered he had little sympathy for the ways of the capitalist world. Faking madness, he received a discharge, but not before being subjected to electro-shock therapy. The government will have its pound of flesh.

This is his third release, originally printed in 1970, and solidly demonstrates the power and integrity of his work, viscerally demonstrated in the sophomore track, I Hate the White Man, a dazzling provocation in thought, act, and word. A protest against the imperialism of the European and American civilizations. Here, Harper’s armed with only an acoustic guitar, a voice, and a pen, inditing and singing elegantly surreally worded denunciations of societies based in predatory advantagism:
And the reins of coloured thunder of the stallion of the dawn
Ride the coal-fire morning on the beach where all is born
Where the emperor of meaning is burning up his fort
And sits to warm his toes around a fire made up of useless thought
And when the children tempt him with the riddles of their trance
He flings the flames of solstice casting laughs into the dance
Where the crazy white man in the desert of his bones
Lies bleached as the paradise he likes to think he owns.

Jimmy Page, David Gilmour, Keith Moon, Bill Bruford, and other rock luminaries came to admire Harper not just for the attractiveness of his work but the man’s personal integrity as well. His fights with record labels and social institutions were well known and showed an individual living his philosophy. Though he’d frequently grow experimental, this CD embodies the ground on which every one of his songs-over a rather astonishing catalogue of releases, especially now that he’s recaptured the copyrights-dances and glowers. Probably best compared to Donovan’s work for simplicity and hypnotic engagement, where Mr. Leitch celebrated life, Harper deconstructs it for the hidden menace and ambushes awaiting everyone. Those traps inevitably issue not just from institutionalized greed and insanity but interpersonal contretemps as well. In true poetic fashion, Harper lets none escape the microscope.

The guitarist-composer spent a lot of time in the States but never gained the status he should have, despite an almost fanatical fan base and the ongoing interest of some of progrock’s top names (here, on the final cut, Keith Emerson’s The Nice, provides a complete contrast to the rest of the LP, simultaneously demonstrating what killer lead lines Roy could produce when he wanted to), so it can only be hoped the act of keeping his work, now on Harper’s own Science Friction label, in the public’s face will result in a re-evaluation and re-influence of and by his material. God knows we need retrospection and invigoration desperately right now.

Mark Tucker/Acousticmusic.com 8/28/08

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Author: James McQuiston

Ph.D. in Political Science, Kent State University. I have been the editor at NeuFutur / neufutur.com since I was 15. Looking for new staff members all the time; email me if you are interested. Thanks!

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