Influencing such luminaries as Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Pete Townshend, Kate Bush, Pink Floyd and Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull – the 2 bands with whom he shared the stage at the first free concert held at Hyde Park in 1968 – Harper’s guitar-work and profound lyrics have made a distinct mark on the face of music. Celebrating 50 years of monumental classics including the epic ‘McGoohan’s Blues’, Roy Harper opens what is to be his final tour in Birmingham’s Symphony Hall. The knowledge that this may be the last we see him on stage fuels the applause and cheers that welcomes the white haired and pointy goatee’d Harper to the stage.
The Symphony Hall itself is vast, even the slightest glimpse to the lights hanging high above the stage is enough to give you a nosebleed, but Harper fills the room with his presence, his musings on a world that is at once alienating and embracing reaching every corner. 77 years old, a wealth of experience and wisdom channelled into every song he ever wrote, this performance, like every other, is sincere, emotional and beautifully moving. With a pianist/violinist, cellist, trumpeter, bassist – upright and electric, drummer and guitarist surrounding him, Harper is centre stage, the musicians accompanying him add shade and texture to what are already powerful songs.
There’s a warmth in the air as the crowd politely take what opportunities they can to joke, to heckle, or to convey their love for him. Harper himself has a few “senior moments”, almost forgetting lyrics and wondering if he has the right guitar – “the brown one”, says someone in the crowd; “they’re all brown!”, replies Harper, to much merriment. It’s like being with a friend. And it’s apparent that Harper feels this. A well-chosen set with three new songs (they must be because those that frequent set-list.fm don’t recognise them either), Harper receives applause humbly, gratefully. Telling us how he has had a good life, he closes the set with a new song that, as he claims, will soon become our favourite and leaves to a much-deserved and emotional standing ovation. Hats off to Harper.
- Hors D’Oeuvres
- Time Is Temporary
- (New Song?)
- Don’t You Grieve
- (New song?)
- McGoohan’s Blues
- Another Day
- Drawn To The Flames
- Highway Blues
- Hallucinating Light
- When An Old Cricketeer Leaves The Crease
- (New song?)
Roy Harper, Birmingham Symphony Hall, March 12th 2019.
Boasting over 50 years as the troubadour somehow always on the wrong side of the popular music press, 2019 sees Harper embark on what he calls “The Last Tour”.
At 77, Harper still casts a whimsical eye across the audience, mostly who have greyed with him, to perform a solid, accomplished set with excellent support from an ensemble, led by Fiona Brice, now incorporating keyboards, electric bass and percussion, with strings and brass to finish the young and inspired complement. Given that this was originally billed as a dip into the back catalogue from the Folkjokepus era, the band set up isn’t out of place, although the set varied and encompassed much of his career, including old favourites such as perhaps his best known piece, When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease, in which the game is metaphorically used to describe life, and death, and a stunning rendition of Hallucinating Light, which could have been taken straight from 1975’s HQ, such was the accompaniment, lifted also by Bill Shanley’s sublime electric guitar.
Making full use of his vocal range, and backing, Harper reminds us subtly that even back then he had his finger on the pulse of what today seems remarkably prophetic, with the lyrics of his 1968 penned epic (written when the French were rioting, he says, with a wink), McGoohans Blues, finishing the first half in which, “The town label makers stare down with their gallery eyes, and point with computer stained fingers each time you arise, to the rules and the codes and the system that keeps them in chains, which is where they belong with no poems, no love and no brains” or where in that pre-reality TV period Harper foresees that “Ma’s favourite pop star is forcing a grin; he’s a smash, Obliging the soft-headed viewers to act just as flash, the village TV hooks its victims on giveaway cash, the addicts are numbers who serve to perpetuate trash”. Bringing that theme right up to date, in one of three new songs show tested, The Wolf At The Door nods to the digital age, of scammers and scams, selfies and the Kardashian phenomena.
The set was warmly received but proved movingly poignant, with Harper declaring he was glad he could do the last tour, “Whilst he still could, and not when he couldn’t” and of a life lived with no regrets, despite the ups and downs, which made the closing new song, “I Loved My Life”, (tender, lingering and beautifully unremorseful, but talking of a life that “Must stay here”) leaving this critic hoping the goldstar performance was not a Blackstar eulogy.
Hors D’Oeuvres (From “Stormcock”)
Time Is Temporary (From “Man and Myth”)
The Man In The Glass Cage (New – spoke much of justice in light (I think) of 2015 trial (RH acquitted of all charges)
Don’t You Grieve (Rocked up, best version I ever heard!) (From “Flat Baroque and Beserk”)
The Wolf at the Door (New)
McGoohan’s Blues (From “Folkejokepus”)
Another Day (From “Flat Baroque and Beserk”)
Drawn to the Flames (From, “Born in Captivity” and “Work of Heart”)
Highway Blues (From “Lifemask”)
Hallucinating Light (From “HQ”)
When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease (From “HQ”)
I Loved My Life (New)
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