|Roy Harper — Man and Myth (2013)|
Roy Harper — Man and Myth
• • Eccentric, prolific British genius, a folk–rock cross of Bob Dylan’s troubadourism and Syd Barrett’s freewheeling spirit.
• • “Roy is one of the greatest English songwriters we’ve had, and people just don’t realise it. And I really think that when they do we’re going to have another top songwriter up there. He’s brilliant.” — Kate Bush
Born: June 12, 1941 in Rusholme, Manchester, England
Album release: September 23, 2013
Record Label: Bella Union
1 The Enemy 7:34
2 Time Is Temporary 4:57
3 January Man 4:32
4 The Stranger 5:26
5 Cloud Cuckooland 5:44
6 Heaven Is Here 15:24
7 The Exile 7:55
By Matthew Slaughter; 09:04 September 19th, 2013; Rating: 7/10
• • Roy Harper is renowned as something of an awkward bastard. When the world was bobbing its long hair and shaking its joss sticks to three chords and the truth, troubadour Harper was releasing the likes of 1973’s Stormcock, a 40–minute–plus album featuring just four songs of jazz–inspired epic folk rock. When signed to EMI and primed for the mainstream in the Seventies he managed to contract a blood disease that nearly killed him and while signed to Chrysalis in the USA a few years later he apparently attempted to slip past them an album cover that depicted Harper himself walking on water, a bearded, English Christ.
• • Here on his twenty–third studio album and first full length in 13 years, Harper is no less an outsider than he’s ever been. Yet the testimonials of love from the likes of Fleet Foxes, Joanna Newsom, Johnny Marr and the increasing public knowledge of his past collaborations with Paul McCartney, Kate Bush and Pink Floyd may perhaps this time tip him fully and finally into the role of Respected Elder Artiste.
• • Man and Myth is no less ambitious than its portentous title suggests and that’s not just because there are two songs that run past seven minutes and a centerpiece that runs for nearly 16. On ‘Time is Temporary’ a gorgeous two–chord arpeggio accompanies Harper’s whispered vocal before a flute trill segues into pinched, halting violin changes that move in strange, unexpected ways. Nick Drake strings throw bronze into otherwise sparse corners and finally give way to a banjo-spiked coda during which Harper unnecessarily repeats the song’s title until it sounds shopping list banal. This is not some old folkie strumming out his semi-retirement but a man still striving to shed the shackles of genre, sometimes getting it right, sometimes not.
• • His songwriting smarts are sometimes startling as on the unusual, wrong-footing, unresolved melody of opener ‘The Enemy’ which kicks off with a Dylan acoustic rattle and somehow withstands a session guy guitar solo. Harper’s emotional delivery veers between sadness, desperation and being puffed up, robin–like, with smugness — sometimes in the space of just one line. That it’s possible to really enjoy a song that contains trite lyrics like “We don’t live in our villages any more / Metropolis is home…where wildest politicians roam” is one of the baffling tenets of Harper’s mercurial greatness.
• • Harper’s voice is incomprehensibly strong throughout. To hear a 72–year–old man go from full-throated roar to a regretful whisper as on ‘January Man’ which ends with the line “Lad and lass, into the long grass” in delicate, touching falsetto, is not just a surprise but a show of force and power on Harper’s part too. He’s surely peacocking a little here, and why shouldn’t he?
• • The heart of the record lays, strangely, within the incongruous Crazy Horse style rocker ‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’ which has Pete Townshend throwing out some Neil Young distortion and Harper sternly observing: “The punters gather at prime time on the flatscreens of their dreams / To vote for dumb celebrities”. There’s something of the Ray Davies to this attitude – something of his brilliance and also something of his less appealing backward looking tendencies, his smarmy, sometimes imperious lecturing. That it has an exciting, wailing saxophone solo and a blurred, cacophonous climax that Harper rounds off with a Partridge–esque payoff line should serve as the surprise that is no surprise at all. It’s excellent, it’s annoying, it’s perilously close to unique.
• • The best song here is the aforementioned 16–minute epic ‘Heaven Is Here’ which describes the tale of Jason and the Argonauts from the point of view of an Argonaut and is obviously brilliant. Sparse, gorgeously delivered verses build with Tony Levin-style rolling bass (actually played by Tony Franklin) that are, despite their inherent silliness, and despite lines like “Jason said you must sing your song / so I sang my heart” — genuinely powerful and legitimately epic. The second part of the song, album closer ‘The Exile’ ramps up into full Floyd and signs off “We were lost forever…” as Harper intones a personal apocalypse.
• • There may be nothing here that pricks emotion like ‘When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease’ (the song played on Radio 1, at his request, on the occasion of John Peel’s death) and this may not be the truly brazen, bold Harper of the Seventies but it’s a record of reflection, of experimentation, sometimes of egotism, often of near-mystical sadness. It’s a record that could perhaps drag Harper into the spotlight of reverence from the public that’s previously only been afforded him by fellow musicians. It’s always the awkward ones, the ones that don’t quite fit, the ones that try to walk on water, that make the most intriguing art.
Fan site & Archive: http://musicnaut.iki.fi/musicnaut/royharper.html
Artist Biography by Jason Ankeny
• • 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 faking insanity, resulting in a short stay in a mental institution (where he was the subject of an ECT treatment). His rebellious attitude eventually led to him spending a few months in 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.
• • Sophisticated Beggar 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.
• • Flat Baroque and Berserk 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. Upon relocating to the Big Sur area of California, Harper began writing 1971's Stormcock, regarded by many as his finest record; the following year he starred in the film Made, releasing the music he composed for the picture's soundtrack in 1973 under the title Lifemask.
• • Valentine, a collection of love songs, appeared in 1974, and was quickly followed by the live album Flashes from the Archives of Oblivion, featuring appearances by Page, Keith Moon, Ronnie Lane, and Ian Anderson. In 1975, Harper formed Trigger, a backing group including guitarist Chris Spedding and drummer Bill Bruford; however, after releasing just one LP, HQ, the unit disbanded. In 1975 Harper also took lead vocals on "Have a Cigar," a track on Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here. Two years later he resurfaced with Bullinamingvase; the single "One of Those Days in England," with guest vocals from Paul and Linda McCartney, nearly even became a hit.
• • Death or Glory? With the same group of musicians who recorded Bullinamingvase, Harper cut another LP, Commercial Break, but the album went unreleased. Due to financial problems, he did not issue another album until 1980's bleak The Unknown Soldier. Upon leaving EMI, Harper founded his own label, Public Records, releasing Work of Heart in 1982; despite the usual good press, the album failed to sell, and Public soon went under. After selling the limited-edition 1984 set Born in Captivity at gigs, the next year he released the album Whatever Happened to Jugula? with Page.
• • In Between Every Line Harper re-signed to EMI in 1986, recording the double-live LP In Between Every Line. Descendants of Smith appeared two years later, and when the record stiffed he moved to the Awareness label, issuing Once in 1990. By 1991 his son Nick was performing with him regularly; upon the release of 1992's Death or Glory?, Awareness folded, again leaving Harper without label support. He soon founded his own company, Science Friction. The label issued the six-volume BBC Tapes in 1997. Resurgent was the label for 1998's The Dream Society, but lack of interest returned Harper to his cottage industry. His Science Friction label released 2001's The Green Man, and a month later Capitol released the oddball compilation Hats Off. Four years passed before the compilation Counter Culture appeared. In 2013, Science Friction began an ambitious reissue campaign of Harper's catalog; all of it, however, was merely a precursor to the release of Man and Myth, his first recording of new material in 13 years, issued in September on the 47th anniversary of his debut album Sophisticated Beggar.
— HQ was awarded Record of the Year in Portugal in 1975. That year Harper also received a similar award in Finland for the same record.
— Work of Heart was awarded The Sunday Times Album of the Year in 1982.
— Harper was awarded the MOJO Hero Award by the staff of Mojo magazine on 16 June 2005 at the Porchester Hall, Central London. The award itself was presented by longtime collaborator and friend, Jimmy Page and now hangs upon the wall at De Barras Folk Club in Clonakilty, Ireland.
— On 30 January 2013, Harper was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.
• • 1966 — Sophisticated Beggar
• • 1967 — Come Out Fighting Ghengis Smith
• • 1969 — Folkjokeopus
• • 1970 — Flat Baroque and Berserk
• • 1971 — Stormcock
• • 1973 — Lifemask
• • 1974 — Valentine
• • 1975 — HQ (US title: When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease)
• • 1977 — Bullinamingvase (US title: One of Those Days in England)
• • 1980 — The Unknown Soldier
• • 1982 — Work of Heart
• • 1984 — Born in Captivity
• • 1985 — Whatever Happened to Jugula? (with Jimmy Page)
• • 1988 — Descendants of Smith
• • 1988 — Loony on the Bus
• • 1990 — Once
• • 1992 — Death or Glory?
• • 1994 — Commercial Breaks (previously unreleased album from 1977; 9 of its 12 tracks are available on Loony on the Bus)
• • 1994 — Garden of Uranium (reissue of Descendants of Smith)
• • 1997 — Poems, Speeches, Thoughts and Doodles (A collection of spoken tracks with occasional instrumentation)
• • 1998 — The Dream Society
• • 2000 — The Green Man
• • 2013 — Man and Myth — Due for release 23 September 2013
◊ 1974 — Flashes from the Archives of Oblivion
◊ 1984 — Live at the Red Lion, Birmingham (Volume I & II Limited edition cassette)
◊ 1985 — Live at the Red Lion, Birmingham (Volume III Limited edition cassette)
◊ 1986 — In Between Every Line
◊ 1992 — Born in Captivity II (Limited edition cassette)
◊ 1993 — Unhinged (Edited version of Born in Captivity II)
◊ 1996 — Live At Les Cousins
◊ 1997 — The BBC Tapes — Volume II (In Concert 1974)
◊ 1997 — The BBC Tapes — Volume IV (In Concert 1975)
◊ 1997 — The BBC Tapes — Volume VI (In Concert 1978 with Andy Roberts)
◊ 2001 — Royal Festival Hall Live – June 10th 2001
◊ 2011 — Classic Rock Legends: Roy Harper — Live In Concert At Metropolis Studios (DVD + audio CD)
|Roy Harper — Man and Myth (2013)|