Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Roy Harper

I've been suffering from pretty bad hay fever this week, waking up every morning with a miserable runny nose, which runs like a tap throughout the day. It's really beginning to get me down. I had to get out of bed in the night. I sat and watched a home improvement show. It's not hard to find one of them on the telly! I must have fallen asleep on the sofa because Nathan woke me up with a cheery "oh hello there." He'd gone to the loo in the night without realising I wasn't in bed, heard the telly on and assumed it had turned on by itself. I must have been in some mega-dream, because his voice royally freaked me out. Apparently I shouted "please, no. Please don't..." I think I thought he was some sort of ghost! My head's a funny old place! I went back to sleep and dreamed I was visiting the Scilly Isles. It was a beautiful hot day, but the waves in the sea were twelve feet tall and inundating all the country lanes. 

I worked all day on the title song from Em. I'm now really very happy with it. I'll play it to Nathan first thing tomorrow to see if he has any thoughts...

This evening we went to see Roy Harper playing at the Royal Festival Hall, which was a wonderful treat. I went with Sam's sister Katie, who was the perfect companion for the evening. Keen readers of this blog will remember that I conducted two tours of Roy's music a few years ago. I felt very honoured to do so. Roy is a living legend. His music has influenced Pink Floyd and Kate Bush. He was one of the first folk rockers, a pioneer of acoustic prog rock. He's also a very decent human being who certainly does not deserve to have been subjected to the two years of agony which were caused by spurious allegations made by God knows who. That's the problem with these allegations. You can make them and get away Scott free. 

I was particularly moved when he played "I'll See You Again" which has always been one of my favourite Roy Harper songs. It wasn't on the set list for the last tour I did with him and I twisted his arm to have it reinstated, so I was really thrilled it was played today. It has this fabulous brass fanfare, which I used to get a rush of excitement whilst conducting. I got a little bit teary during the concert. I was experiencing a big old dollop of love for Roy, a great sense of relief and joy to see him back on his feet again, and it suddenly struck me that three of the five string players in the line up had played at our wedding. 

Roy's voice sounded great. He was singing with more vocal support and possibly emotion than the last time I heard him. Mind you, the last time we worked together, he knew about the allegations but was obviously unable to talk about them. That must have been just awful: sitting in front of an audience, secretly knowing it might be the last time you play publicly, wondering what kind of a shit storm will happen when the news escapes, all the time knowing you're innocent but being helpless to do anything to protect yourself... 

He performed a few songs which I didn't know. One, called The Hang Man, is sung from the perspective of a man waiting to go to the gallows who knows he is innocent. Roy sang it with such fire, defiance and passion. He's plainly a man who has spent some time staring at his own set of gallows. 

I was thrilled to see Beth the bass player elevated to the ranks of band member for several of the numbers. She came down off the orchestral podium and stood between Roy and his other guitarist for several numbers, and absolutely looked (and sounded) the part, giving it some seriously beefy pizzicato work, and making the trio look so blinking cool. 

Roy's signature song is Me and My Woman. It's fifteen minutes long, and has an epic, restless quality, changing time signature and key all over the place. With a full symphonic line m-up of brass and strings, it's the track that many of the audience spend the night waiting for. I loved conducting that track more than any other. There's a great long sequence in 12/8 which used to give me an absolute rush of excitement. There are few adrenaline bolts in the world which match being in the thick of music making of that quality. 

Of course he finished the set with When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease which is one of the saddest songs in carnation. And the ensemble played it stunningly. One day, I guess, Roy really will play that song for the last time, but on the basis of tonight, his 75th birthday concert, that won't be for many, many more years. 

The great joy about a Roy concert (obviously apart from the music) is the banter. He chats to to audience as though he were holding court in a pub. Some of the brave ones shout a question or make quips out loud which Roy almost always responds to. He has the ability to make everyone feel valued. And heard. And that's a rare gift. 

Fiona had done all the orchestral arrangements and her name was even on the tickets which felt like an appropriate honour. She took the reins from the late, great, David Bedford who collaborated with Roy for countless highly fruitful years. Bedford's death could have been catastrophic for Roy, and he was very lucky to find Fiona. He plainly adores her. 

I was proud of the players, proud of Fiona and proud to know Roy and his wonderful wife Tracy. It was a very good night.

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