All Killer, No Filler
The greatest music geek I’ve ever known turned me onto the whole underground british folk scene back in early ’70’s, and one of the albums he used to seal the deal was Roy Harper’s HQ. Within seconds I was sold on “The Game”. “This is folk music?”, I asked. Well, folk rock, anyway.
It was pretty hard to find until it’s US release as When An Old Cricketeer Leaves The Crease. This was yet another album my dorm roomate had to embrace, because I played it all the time. It wasn’t easy finding the cd. For years, this was one of a handful of albums I looked for everytime I walked into a cd shop. When I tried to order it at my home store, they couldn’t get it. I finally found it at the Virgin Megastore at Times Square, as they were going out of business.
The band on “The Game” is a supergroup worth noting. John Paul Jones on bass, David Gilmour on guitar, and Bill Bruford behind the drum kit. All were at the top of their game (!). The guitar solo was played by Chris Spedding as Gilmour couldn’t get one together for whatever reason. Word was Spedding came in like a gunslinger with a white Strat and a black Les Paul and did it in one take. At over 13 minutes long, it’s really an epic suite of five related parts, rather than just a song. It nearly made Roy a rock star.
Also included are two other favorites, “Don’t You Grieve” from Flat Baroque and Beserk, and “One For All” from Fokejokeopus.
Flat Baroque and Beserk
An idiosyncratic British singer/songwriter acclaimed for his deeply personal, poetic lyrics and unique guitar work, Roy Harper was born June 12, 1941, in Manchester, England. As a teen he tenured with De Boys, his brothers’ skiffle band, before leaving home at the age of 15 to enter the Royal Air Force; he subsequently secured a discharge by claiming insanity, resulting in a long period marked by frequent stays in mental institutions (where he was the subject of ECT treatments) and prison. Harper later drifted throughout Europe, and by 1965 was a mainstay of London’s Les Cousins folk club, performing alongside the likes of Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, and Nick Drake.
Everybody's got something to hide except for me and my monkey
In 1966 the tiny indie label Strike issued Harper’s debut LP, The Sophisticated Beggar; the record brought him to the attention of Columbia, which released his sophomore effort, Come Out Fighting Genghis Smith, the following year. In 1968, Harper mounted a series of free concerts in London’s Hyde Park, which greatly expanded his fan base in preparation for the release of 1969’s Folkjokeopus, which included “McGoohan’s Blues,” the first of his many extended compositions.
What a Bill!
After meeting Pink Floyd manager Peter Jenner, Harper was signed to EMI’s Harvest subsidiary, and in 1970 he issued Flat Baroque and Berserk, recorded with contributions from members of the Nice; that same year marked the appearance of Led Zeppelin III and its track “Hats Off to Harper,” a tribute penned by longtime friend Jimmy Page. According to Jimmy Page, the band admired the way Harper stood by his principles and did not sell out to commercial pressures. In a mutual appreciation of their work, Harper would often attend live performances by Led Zeppelin over the subsequent decade as well as contribute sleeve photography to the album Physical Graffiti. He also appears, uncredited, in the 1976 film, The Song Remains the Same.
Upon relocating to the Big Sur area of California, Harper began writing 1971’s Stormcock, regarded by many as his finest record, featuring Jimmy Page on guitar (credited as ‘S. Flavius Mercurius’) and David Bedford’s orchestral arrangements. David Bedford would collaborate on future releases. In 1972, Harper made his acting debut playing Mike Preston alongside Carol White in the John Mackenzie film Made. The soundtrack for this film appeared in the following year with the title Lifemask. His next album ‘Valentine’, was released on Valentine’s Day, 14 February 1974 and featured backing by Led Zeppelin. A concert to mark its release was held at London’s Rainbow Theatre with Page, Bedford, Ronnie Lane on bass and Keith Moon on drums. The live album Flashes From The Archives Of Oblivion soon followed.
Between 1975 and 1978, Harper spent considerable time in the United States. Pink Floyd’s 1975 release Wish You Were Here saw Harper as lead vocalist on the song ‘Have a Cigar’. Floyd’s David Gilmour returned the favour by appearing on Harper’s next album, HQ, along with Harper’s occasional backing band called Trigger (Chris Spedding on guitar, Dave Cochran on bass guitar, and Bill Bruford on drums) along with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones. The single ‘When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease’, taken from the album, is Harper’s biggest selling and best known solo record to date. Harper also co-wrote the song, ‘Short and Sweet’ with Gilmour for Gilmour’s first solo record released in 1978. He performed the song live with Gilmour at least once in the 80s singing the lead vocal.
Controversy followed the release of 1977’s Bullinamingvase, with Watford Gap service station objecting to the lyrics in the song ‘Watford Gap’, which criticised their food (“Watford Gap, Watford Gap / A plate of grease and a load of crap…”). Harper was forced under duress to drop it from future UK copies of the album, though it reappeared on a later CD reissue and remained on the U.S. LP. Bullinamingvase also featured ‘One of Those Days in England’, with backing vocals by Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney, which became a Top 40 hit. Flat Baroque And Berserk, Lifemask, Valentine, Flashes from the Archives Of Oblivion, HQ and Bullinamingvase were all top 20 albums (in England-Ed).
Roy is apparently alive, well, and still fighting the good fight.
The Game (parts1-5)
Don’t You Grieve
One For All