he has no healing formulas…

This afternoon I sat out in the shade and listened to Peter Gabriel’s Passion album. It seemed appropriate this being Good Friday and all.

It occurred to me that this has to be the least commercial Easter season in a long time. The eggs are not bought there is no chocolate as we have eaten the Peanut Butter Cups already, especially the dark chocolate ones. No gifts fripperies and other things.

My brain was in the middle east and my body the north west.

I sailed away for over an hour headphones on with Gabriel’s soundtrack in my ears and the arm breezes of spring. The dog sat at my feet and for awhile I was content.

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It truly was a beautiful day.

We barbecued chicken and made potato salad and home made baked beans, quite perfect and not exactly fasting, more feasting to be honest. Like most of the staying at home there is often not much else to do than eat.

In the early evening we went for a stroll with the dog and Syd managed to strike a pose in the woods. He can be a handsome dog.

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About five minutes after this he managed to sink himself into the muddy bottom of the creek and wallowed like a hippo. I drove our trails and mowed the new growth of nettles and other unpleasantness so we can get around without it being too big of a chore, then i got entailed in an old fence that was under a pile of berry bushes, leaving me crawling under the brush hog with wire clippers to free up the blades. Not so fun.

This evening I sat down with Stormcock by Roy Harper.

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This is one of those albums that I consider to be as perfect as a record can get. It is an album of angry and frustrated songs as well as an epic love song. It is deeply anti-authoritarian and accusatory to both the establishment and the anti-establishment. It calls for something different, a humanism and humanity to transcend pettiness, or some other bullshit.

Harper does not give any healing formulas, he accuses and seeks the alternative. The personal responsibility and accountability that critics, politicians and religions deny. It’s a call to action and a mournful acceptance of the inadequacy of society to address that call, there is also a disdain for the hypocrisy of those that offer answers to a question that is personal.

It’s interesting to note the mistle thrush or stormcock of the title is most frequently heard singing after a storm or rainfall, not as I originally thought singing into the storm. It’s the song after the shit has gone down, a call to change.

It is as I may say the dialectic of my day, passion to pragmatism via activism, go figure.

What a lovely day
What a day to play at living
What a mess we make
What a trust we break
Not giving our wings to our children
O how we fail them
O how we nail them

Your gravestones mark the past my friends, your bank balance marks the future…

 

Songwriters are  those minstrels/troubadours, strange mysterious creatures who hold a mirror up to our times or pour their tortured souls out for us to observe their innermost thoughts. They are our higher selves connecting with our souls to bring us truth and light. Or on occasion they are crazed loons screaming into the storms of life.

I have been tossing and turning trying to decide who to write about and how to write, I have unfinished thoughts on many a songwriter percolating in my mind. Let’s face it songwriter covers a lot of territory from Burt Bacharach to Taylor Swift, via Elvis Costello, Paul Simon and those other tortured souls from the 60’s and 70’s and beyond. It’s hard to know where to begin.

Recent events in the media have taken me to strange places thought wise as I have tried to find a way into this subject. I wanted to write about Ian McNabb or Mike Scott, really wanted to think about Van the Man or Neil Young, maybe Stephen Stills, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Patti Smith or Dave Brock, not to mention Bob Calvert, John Martyn is a favorite or how about Simon Nicol, that one would be easy he has only released one song and a tune in his name, or Richard Thompson the list could go on and on.

I was attempting to come to terms with gun culture and paranoia and all I could think about was the moment on Flashes from the Archives of Oblivion when an audience member shouts “White Man” and Roy bellows back “you’ve got  a white man.”  I knew I wanted to write about Roy Harper but didn’t really know how.

A few years ago I loaned Death or Glory to a friend and he came back the very next day and handed it back to me. “He feels too much” was the comment. I think that is what we need now is to feel too much. From day one of his recorded output Roy has felt a lot, he also has done the other side of this which is to tell the world what he is feeling. In another age I may have mentioned his beautiful love songs, that are poetic, honest and earthy.  However this is the time to think of his social commentary, he is not a protest singer and does not write protest songs. He does write commentary on our human nature, spiritual and political but ultimately how we connect as humans. His strength is he will happily tell you how he feels and thinks, he will however not tell the listener how to think or what to do, he is a chronicler of our baser and better natures.

IMG_8036This year for the first time in 35 plus years I put on a watch. There are many complicated reasons including some to do with health why I made this decision, it did however feel like an abandonment of an ideal. 35 years or so ago I was sat on the floor when Roy sang the line “with your god on your left wrist.” This had a profound affect on me, I took my watch off and threw it into the mud under the pier in Southport, I would say sea but anyone who knows Southport would know the tide seldom comes in. Since that day I walked through the world with no really convenient way to tell the time. This made me look up for clocks, talk to people in the street and at times turn up late for meetings. It also meant I saw and met people I may not have if I had been able to look at my wrist.

Then cell phones arrived and suddenly time telling was part of my life again. I was pushed into being even more disconnected from the passerby and stranger. I no longer had to exit my own comfort zone for a mundane reason. To combat this I have forced myself into the decision to make the attempt to connect with  people during the day, to attempt to talk to one stranger at least in some way even saying good morning/afternoon/evening or thank you. Now I have the ultimate tool for (dis)connection in an Applewatch, now I can be contacted anywhere at any time, tracked, monitored and at the beck and call of work, home and anyone who has the number. In some small way I feel like I have compromised my ideals.

So this week as I along with the rest of the USA dealt with the ultimate result of disconnection in mass murder I turned to Roy. For 52 years he has been holding the mirror up to humanity. Singing into the wind like the Stormcock. I listened to idiots demanding that our schools become fortresses manned by armed teachers so our children can be caught in the crossfire. I watched the NRA spout hate and our politicians prostitute their souls on national TV and the children sound more adult than the be-suited men and women that sought to belittle them and steal their voice.

Like Roy so many times on stage I pointed a finger at myself and you and hollered:

“While outside in the whitewash
Where the guns are always, always right
A shooting star has summoned
Its dark angel from his night

And I hate the whiteman
And his evergreen excuse
Oh I hate the whiteman
And the man who turned you all loose
And the man who turned me loose…”

So for 52 years Roy has kept his message pretty consistent, go listen to the records, take some time to be still and contemplate the world we have made for our children and what they are saying to us now. He may be flawed, opinionated but like any truly great artist he holds the mirror up and shows us ourselves, the difference with Roy is he places himself right there in the frame too.

Here is a brief selection of lyrics from every album, enjoy, squirm and get angry.

“You teach the children fear to gain some easy applause…”

October 12th from Sophisticated Beggar. 1966

“The social game we live in is based on possession
And if you think you own a body then you’re playing
But if you think you own anything you must be mad”

Come Out Fighting Ghenghis Smith from well that album…1968

“I’m the rich man, the poor man, the peace man, the war man, the beast
The festive consumer who ends up consumed in the feast”

MsGoohans Blues from Folkjokeopus. 1969.

“How does it feel with your god strapped to your wrist?
And him leading you such a chase?”

How Does It Feel from Flat Baroque and Berserk. 1970.

“And you tell me that Grandad was a hero
That he fought for peace and no more guns
But you know I think he must have changed his name to Nero
You see that every time he grunts, he kills his sons.”

One Man Rock’n’Roll Band from Stormcock. 1971

“Poaching tomorrow
From God and the state
Of homo his shadow
The well known long haired straight”

Highway Blues form Lifemask. 1973.

“To think of my friends underneath the same roof in one common destination
When all we do is remain aloof like we have no close relation”

Commune from Valentine.1974.

“Where once were men are now but sheep
-A fiction and far cry
From planet earth’s proud animal
-Who would be you and I.”

The Spirit Lives from HQ. 1975.

“We might have to take the world the way we made it
It seems we have to find a fight
Though some of us ain’t satisfied with less than any Universe
I’m not sure that any side is right.”

These Last Days from Bullinamingvase. 1977

“And I cry in my sleep
For all the hungry children
And the unbelieving sheep.”

The Unknown Soldier, well from that album 1980.

“All of my life I’ve been chasing reality
All that I write is a dream
But some dreams come true
Though it’s only a few
The most are off-beam
And all that I see are the ghosts of the robbers
Who laid all these traps
Where blind politicians made desperate decisions
With wall to wall cops”

Work of Heart, from that self same album. 1982.

:Whatever persuasion you are
You must open your door
If you mean to meet
Come and be counted in whispers of multitude
And come on your own feet
I’d love to be able to say
My old grandmother marched
To people the street”

Elizabeth from Whatever Happened to Jugula. 1985.

“But what I say ain’t worth a sheet
Is it mother?
Breaking methane through the seat
Listen mother
Lighting it to warm my feet
Only mother
How we gonna cool the heat
Cool it mother
And don’t make a fuss
Because otherwise
They’ll think you’re just a loony sitting next to me on the bus”

Loony on the Bus from well again that album. 1988.

“The young folk in my country
Deserve the truth
Uncluttered by deception
In the flower of their youth
What they have are gutter papers
Biased news clandestine capers
Run by shady operators”

Government Surplus from Descendants of Smith. 1988.

“The world you died for, was all but a pack of lies
It had to fall down, and keep on falling
You gave us the world they promised you,
And in the morning
We are the flowering
We are the flowering youth
Berliners”

Berliners from Once. 1990.

“Left right left right
The war came home tonight
Set alight by satellite
Drenched in tracer bullet bright
Left right left right
The newsmen stir their appetite
Camera zooming every goof
Shooting ratings bullet proof
Desperate to generate
A crisis to manipulate
You’ll wonder where the country went
In the target rich environment”

The War Came Home Tonight, from Death or Glory. 1992.

“Come the revolution
You’ll be brushed aside
By the wisdom of the teeming millions
Who know that money stinks
That possession is against the mind and soul of destination”

Come the Revolution from, The Dream Society, 1998.

“The revolution’s always over
The apocalypse is now
All hands are on the keyboard
Hardly any on the plough

The new government’s the old one
Same old handbags at the helm
Lapsing back into religion
Letting voices overwhelm:

The Monster from The Green Man. 2000

“The punters gather at primetime
On the flat screens of their dreams
To vote for dumb celebrity
And witter into gathering storms
Of universal screams
The great shampooed are stranded
With the cowgirls in the sand
Here in Cloud Cuckooland

We are condemned
We are condemned
To make
The same mistakes
Over and over and over and over
And over and over again”

Cloud Cuckooland from Man and Myth. 2013.

 

Hat’s off to ****** Roy Harper and Have a ****** Cigar…

So like most people I belong to probably far too many online groups about music or books or games or movies and sometimes the inane comments get to me.

So for those of you out there who care, Roy Harper is a lot more than the guest vocalist on the fourth best Pink Floyd album or a convenient name for a track on the best Led Zeppelin album.

Here’s to the Loony On the Bus who has been producing infuriating and inspiring records for many years. Has been remarkably consistent in his anarchic view of politics, religion and social issues, has influenced his peers and at various times has had Bruford, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, David Gilmour, the McCartney’s, Keith Moon and Ian Anderson to name a few appear on albums or on stage with him and still is a thorn in the side of whatever establishment is in power and has a true sense of sartorial elegance.

Which at the end of the day is a great commendation, he pissed off the establishment and looked good doing it.

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They are who they think they are…

Well my Harper parcel finally arrived and it is a collection of joy sitting there on the coffee table demanding to be played. The decisions waiting to be made are almost overwhelming.

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The only thing to be done was play the single most powerful album I ever heard during my formative musical years. An album that justified my angry young man stance and my wise stoner outfits for years and to this day still informs many of my decisions social and political. An album that is full of beauty and ugliness, celebrating all that is good and awful about our degenerate race as we rush headlong into fucked upville at a rate that is bewildering. An album that still makes me sit up and listen and nowadays chuckle at the sincerity of it all, a sincerity that is still as raw and honest as ever.

It helped tonight that I played it right after the travesty that was the vice presidential debate when I heard many an “evergreen excuse.” Somedays I still wish that I could be feeling all the Saturday again in order to get thorough the farce that American politics has now become.

So here I am sitting and listening to the brilliance that is Flat Baroque and Berserk after the travesty of the playground fight I just witnessed on national T.V.

So for my American pals:

“How does it feel to be completely unreal?

How does it feel to be a voter?”

and

“How does it feel to be out on your own?

How does it feel to be thinkin’?”

The question of “How does it feel with your god strapped to your wrist?” has made it so I have not worn a watch since 1980 when I first heard this album, it is also what saved me from the fitbit wave a few months ago.

The whole album is full of lines that seem to have defined so many times in my life. Memories flood back throughout the whole album, throwing vegetables at Thatcher, yelling at the guards outside the  U.S .Embassy in Grosvenor Square. Sitting on the floor attention thoroughly focussed on Harper as he fumbled his way through a set of songs in a way that verged on insanity or transcendence. The Irish Center, the Adelphi, Krackers, The Floral Hall, The Philharmonic Hall, when they wouldn’t turn the lights off, gigs in Southport. Liverpool, Manchester, Warrington. St. Helens, Bradford, Hull, Brighton, New Brighton, Putney, so many festivals, in fields, halls and mud puddles too many shows and too many memories and always the core of songs from this album present.

I’ve sat crying as relationships end to this album. Tested out new relationships, can you really live with someone who can’t stand your favorite record? Sought solace in poetry and laughed at the lunacy.

Just remember.

“Free Speech

One each.”

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They know who they are…

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 IMG_5505terrifying. 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.

 

And though the time fast slips away, it’s long enough to laugh and play…

Prior to 1994 I had seen Roy Harper more than any other musician. The only reason this changed was my move to the USA that year. I had laughed with and at Roy for a long time, I had picked him up off the floor and helped him to the stage and he had stepped over me on the way from the stage possibly on the same evening. My eldest son went to see him twice in the womb and my wife fell asleep at at least three of his shows. I had seen him at festivals, churches, concert halls, Irish Centers and lecture theaters. I had waited for the bus with him, bought him drinks and laughed cried and howled with him. He was not a hero to me and my friends but he came close.

He has always been an enigma, making you uncomfortable in his beliefs and things he says and also making you very comfortable with is ability to tap into what you are thinking. He is an iconoclast and ultimately a deeply flawed human being as many of his contemporaries are.

Of all the English songwriters he is the closest I think to merging poetry and music. His imagery and use of language can at times make you weep with the beauty of the words and then he can rage like no other, pointing an accusatory finger at politicians prophets and priests. His sound especially in the 80’s was loud and angry, the audience was made up of punks, hippies, old and young and when he played you could hear a pin drop. When he rambled it was a conversation with the audience and no two shows were the same.

 bullAs an ex-pat there is nothing more enticing than the memories of home but can we ever go back there to that place and time we miss. We have all moved on and grown a lot so those places we remember are just that memories, whether it is the shingle beach in Brighton or the woods in Formby looking for squirrels before there was a parking lot and gate.

Even though Roy has gone quiet after his most recent troubles and the questions surrounding him. I still remember him giggling as he began the Lord’s Prayer under the mirror ball, sitting on the illuminated floor trying to decide if he should finish so the disco could begin in Southport. Or the infamous day we declared we are with the band to con our way into the Adelphi, the band being one man and his guitar.

I saw Roy once in the USA and I have the poster to prove it and a signed menu from the bar. We played ping pong and I got boisterous and we laughed at each other. We remembered some gigs we thought we could and pretended it mattered. I wanted him to be great but he was OK and I may have made a fool of myself. He was kind to me and ultimately that is what I remember.

If you have twenty or so minutes to spare go wallow in that nostalgia.