Some artists have a hold over us. Either it’s a period of time or an ability to connect with us on a level that is so real, close, uncanny even that it is as if they see into our deeper darker recesses. It is something that goes beyond an admiration for the music or poetry, it’s something that talks for us not to us. This type of artist has not just written a song we love but has a whole catalogue of material that connects with us and can make us pause.
This is what I was thinking as I pre-ordered three vinyl reissues by Roy Harper, Flat Baroque and Berserk, Stormcock and Lifemask, I saw them advertised a couple of days ago and managed to hold out for some time, actually about three days. Eventually crumbling and hitting the order button to finally shut the voices in my head up. These three albums are part of my history, my growth as a human being and at times almost an obsession.
They are not the only Harper albums that have a hold on me. They are however three albums that are astonishing in their ability to make me pause and listen. But more of that for when they arrive I guess.
I have been looking for a copy of Stormcock I could afford for a long time. The reissue of all three is slightly less than good copies of Stormcock are selling for so what’s to lose really. Now I am trying to figure out how long I have to wait until they are in my hands.
They are here if like me you can’t resist: Harper albums.
Harper is not particularly easy to like. A deeply flawed individual, arrogant, abrasive, haunting and brutally honest he can be a difficult listen. My experience of him in person has always been positive, the few times I met him he was incredibly kind to a somewhat gushing and flustered fan, luckily for me. So how does that go with his writing and his reputation for unpredictability, I have no idea.
As I sit here and listen to his last album Man and Myth, I realized something. Harper is one of the few mainly acoustic musicians that needs to be played loud and very loud at that. Which when you consider this is an album that is looking at life from the perspective that time is running out is pretty amazing. The music is big, all encompassing overwhelming almost. It is at times delicate, brutal and terrifying. Simultaneously incredibly intimate and fearlessly public. Harper like his music at the best is a force of nature. He is often seen as a folky but has as much in common with Zeppelin and Bowie in the drama and grandeur of his music. He is also one of the few musicians of any genre that has truly managed o integrate the orchestra into his work.
It seems at some point he has influenced many musicians who went on to greater success because they were willing to compromise. He however, forever uncompromising remains the ultimate obscurity and underground sensation. Lauded by many of his contemporaries and current musicians he continues to forge his own path and stand alone as a truly unique force in music.
Over the years I have sat and pored over the lyrics, searching for truth about the man and the human condition. Sometimes shaking my head at the lunacy of the whole stupidity of the music and lyrics or smiling at the cynicism and then in the very next track marveling at his ability to capture the fragility of life in a way that hits you in the gut and then he writes something that may shock and cause you to pause, closely followed by moments of beauty in a fragile song recounting the end of a relationship.
So what have I taken form Harper? Well I stopped wearing a watch, I always tell my love that I love her and I always try to speak my mind, sometimes when I should shut up. Also if it’s good turn it all the way up and don’t worry about the neighbors they need some culture.