It took me a full decade to fully appreciate Roy Harper. Even then I was some forty or more years late. I first saw Roy when I was asked by some friends to go see him play in London. It was his 60th birthday performance, and for me it was an opportunity to go to London, and maybe listen to some nice music too. At that point I had only heard of Roy Harper from the reference to him by Led Zeppelin in one of their song names. After the gig I was quite impressed with how much I had enjoyed it, but then I forgot all about him again. Occasionally since that date I had been to see his son Nick Harper, who is an incredibly talented guitarist too, and his small and intimate gigs have been astonishing, if often unappreciated by the audiences in front of whom he places himself.
Fast-forward ten years and the opportunity came around again. Something in the back of my mind insisted that I should go again. Something much deeper than the shallow opportunism of the last gig. Something in my druid mind nudged me, and said that I should go. I didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation again. Only when the first few songs began to seep into my mind as the lyrics resonated around the vast space of The Royal Festival Hall did I suddenly realise why I was there this time – Roy Harper is a bard and druid and I was witnessing this great man passing on his mantle to his son like some kind of delightfully touching and inspiring pagan ritual!
For his 70th birthday concert Roy was able to demonstrate that both his vocals and his guitar playing are still in excellent form, although he apologised for not being up to the standards that he had set himself. Believe me – he has talent to spare, and the occaional twang from the string is no distraction amongst the mellifluous tones he generates seemingly at will.
Most impressive for me was his frequent rambles between songs during which he sometimes dispensed his wisdom on topics such as how humans can and should interact, the way that love expresses itself, how we are most human when we treat the Earth with respect, and how excited he still is at the magic of the forces that weave through us and the planet. His humility was genuinely touching for such a talented man, and audience and performer were often brought to tears during the two long halves of the performance.
For a brief account of the evening see this write-up in The Guardian. One of his memorable quotes was included this gem:
“It seems that the ArchDruid has spoken. ‘Tax the bankers!’
Actually, I think somebody else said it a couple of thousand years ago!“.
A reference to the Jesus and the Moneylenders episode, no doubt. From his “Same Old Rock” song accompanied by Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin). The appearance of Jimmy caused a huge ripple of excitement to go through the audience, and there were several audible excited gasps and then a low roar as the legendary Zeppelin guitarist came to sit alongside Roy for the long and complex song.
In the 1970s Roy played at the Stonehenge Free Festival along with Hawkwind. Very druidic musical credentials, if you ask me. Wish I’d done that (although I may not have survived to tell the tale).
Here’s Roy playing surely his most druidic track “The Green Man” from his 70th birthday performance at the Royal Festival Hall in London. The track begins at 4:30 if you don’t want to hear all the introductions, but I would recommend that you give it all a listen for the full picture.
What a wonderfully gentle, wise and witty man he is. I urge you to introduce him into your life. He’s the only songwriter whose music makes me cry.