A few years ago Roy Harper was playing at the Coal Exchange in Cardiff when he announced that due to the behaviour of a small section of the crowd, who had been less than reverential during his set, he would never play in the Principality again. True to his word he hasn’t. This in many ways is a good example of how Roy’s strength of character has undermined his ability to ever have mainstream appeal, but also how this maverick and self-determined artist has managed to stay true to his ideals over the past 5 decades. This is one artist who has definitely never sold out to the 'man’.
Born 68 years ago Roy was raised by his father and step mother in Rusholme, Manchester. His youth was generally unhappy and his antagonism to his step mother’s beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness later influenced his work and his general rejection of organised religion. Another important factor in his work and life was his disdain for authoritarianism which partly stemmed from his unhappy period in the Air Force which he had joined at the age of 15.
Having left the forces Harper began busking around Europe and eventually got his break performing at Soho’s legendary ‘Les Cousins’. Releasing early albums such as ‘Sophisticated beggar’ and ‘Come out fighting Ghengis Smith’ and appearances at numerous free festivals made him a favourite of the underground. This changed somewhat in the early 1970s when Led Zeppelin featured the track ‘Hats off to Roy Harper’ as a tribute. This relationship between Zeppelin and Jimmy Page in particular, has continued ever since with Page appearing on one of his finest works; ‘Stormcock’. During the 1970s Harper’s star was in the assent with radio friendly tracks such as ‘When an old cricketer leaves the crease’ and ‘One of those days in England’. However, he seemed unwilling or unable to build on this success and released a series of ever increasingly difficult albums throughout the early 1980s.
Since the 1990s Roy Harper has continued touring and releasing consistently fine records documenting his observations on life, growing old and the general state of the world. Age certainly hasn’t mellowed his views or willingness to speak his mind. During this period the support slots for his tours was often taken by his son Nick Harper who quipped at one show “My Mother always told me that due to Roy’s precarious finances I might one day have to end up supporting my Father – I didn’t realise this would mean having to be his support act!”
Roy Harper is currently taking a break from touring in order to spend more time at home in Ireland and to write and according to his website ‘having fun!
If younger artists are looking for an artist to emulate then Roy Harper is a good example of how to survive – just – by being true to yourself, never giving in to commercial pressures and at the same time producing a body of work which contains incredible variety, and integrity as well as some of the most inspirational recordings of the past 40 years.
Sophisticated Beggar (1967)
The Green Man (2000)