That was it; coming up for 44 years since I first him and more than 20 gigs later I’ve seen my last Roy Harper performance. As he told us, he’s 78 next June and so this is his farewell tour (though he dropped a couple of hints that it may run for a while longer – I don’t believe him).
I really wish that I could report that he went out with a mighty bang. He didn’t, though it was a lot more than a whimper. It just didn’t hit the heights I have been hoping for since I bought my ticket many months ago, though it contained many fine moments.
The good news for us Harperphiles is that there will be at least one more record, but the three new songs here were a microcosm of the evening; the second new song, utilising the tune of Times They Are A Changin’ was about cyberspace and clickbait and was to my years a crock of shit. The first new song was a rage filled recounting of the injustice he underwent inspired by the court case where he was prosecuted in a post-Savile accounting for alleged historic sexual abuse. Roy was cleared of all charges but his view as “the man in the glass cage” of the scales of justice, is that they are desperately unbalanced. It’s classic Harper and reminds me why I have continued to listen to him all these years. A whim of hate ruined his life for a number of years, costing him dearly, but he’s through it and can have his say in the best way he knows; through the medium of song.
The third new song, and the set closer, is one, as he tells us in his preamble, that can only be written from the perspective of old age. He sings of how he has loved his time here, the ups and downs, the rough and the smooth. It’s sung over a finger-picked melody that isn’t far removed from North Country and was a splendid, superb, stunning end to the evening. I can’t wait to hear the recorded version.
Playing the Palladium as his final London gig seemed somewhat perverse. It’s a bastion of safe, family oriented entertainment as the Val Parnell bar and the many pictures on the wall testify (the Two Ronnies, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davies Jr and dozens of music hall type acts that I’ve never heard of) and for an artist who has been associated with the counter-culture so deeply and for so long it’s a bizarre juxtaposition. On stage he alludes to Tommy Cooper dying on that very stage – at his age it’s a consideration that can’t be totally ignored.
With no support and the Palladium being a very formal venue, the show started just after 7:30. I’m happy enough with that, but what it meant was that for half an hour or more latecomers were filing in. It wouldn’t have been too bad if they had been kept back until a song was over, but they were disturbing people by demanding access to seats in the middle of songs. Call me old fashioned, if you will, but it doesn’t seem too much to ask that if you can’t be bothered to find out the start time, you show some manners and wait until an appropriate moment before disturbing those who did bother to find out and be seated in time.
The night kicks off with Hors D’Oeuvres. It’s mostly good, though there are a couple of shaky moments when he stumbles over lyrics. Coming from Stormcock I had hopes that The Same Old Rock, also from Stormcock and my favourite song from the record, might be part of the set with Jimmy Page joining Roy onstage to reprise the part of S. Flavius Mercurius (as contractual obligations deemed he had to be credited on the album) from his box just up and to my right. He didn’t and the song wasn’t played.
Roy was so happy to report that the discovery, some years back, in a cave in Egypt of The Gospel Of Judas confirmed his prediction made in Don’t You Grieve, which he recorded 50 years ago that Judas was “the master’s best friend” and following his instructions and not actually betraying him. The performance was suitably sprightly and joyous.
There was but a single song from Man and Myth, his last album from three years ago. That was Time Is Temporary. I should admit that it was my least liked song on the album, but I really liked the performance here, though I really wanted to hear January Man and The Enemy from that disc.
We’d been informed that McGoohan’s Blues was going to the centrepiece of the night. It’s a song that I’ve never heard him do live and so I was really looking forward to hearing it. But there were major stumbles over the lyrics, with Roy apologising for forgetting a verse, though he felt it was a happy accident that improved things. I didn’t think so.
It closed the first set. At around 8:20 we were around the halfway mark. I reflected in years gone by that Roy would still be gearing up for the night’ performance at that time, with an hour or more to showtime.
I should mention the excellent band Roy had with him. The main man was Bill Shanley accompanying, very tastefully, on acoustic and electric guitars and banjo. The only other person to be fully credited was Fiona Bryce on violin and keyboard and the musical arranger for the tour. The others were Vicky on cello, Ryan on trumpet, Beth on upright and acoustic bass and Into on drums and percussion. An unusual line up and very differ form the string and brass sections Roy has employed at birthday gigs at the Royal Festival Hall.
The second part was mostly from the 1970s, though I was surprised and pleased to hear Drawn To The Flames from the Work Of Heart album from the mid 80s. He hasn’t played it more many years, but felt it’s ecological message was very apt.
Otherwise we had Another Day and Highway Blues and the new song I despised before main set closers Hallucinating Light and When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease.
Hallucinating Light has long been one of my favourite songs and so I was ecstatic not just to hear it, but hear Roy perform possibly the best version of it I’ve ever heard. Excellent though it was, Cricketer couldn’t quite match the brilliance of the song that preceded it.
We were up on our feet. Roy didn’t actually leave the stage but took the applause, beaming from ear to ear, thanking us for coming out.
He sat down, did that wonderful new song and then with further waves to us all, as we rose again to say farewell, he was gone. The house lights came on, some music played and it was over. I can’t quite believe I’m unlikely ever to see him perform again.
I know he’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but he’s been with me most of my life. Thanks for the music and the memories. Enjoy your retirement, Roy.
Mostly older men and women – people like me who’ve been listening and watching for years, but I did see one kid aged about 10. I would guess his first and of course his last Harper gig.
It made me think..
Of friends I’ve shared Harper gigs with over the years – some lost to the mists of time, some I’m still in touch with but wishing each and every one of them had been sitting in the same row as me.