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Roy Harper - Roy Harper

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 18 / 5 / 2011

Roy Harper - Roy Harper


Malcolm Carter reflects on the career of English folk/rock singer-songwriter Roy Harper, who is celebrating his 70th birthday by making his entire 19 album catalogue available online for the first time and also releasing a double CD compilation, ‘Songs of Love and Loss Vols 1 and 2'.

This month, June 2011, Roy Harper celebrates his 70th birthday so it is fitting that Believe Digital have chosen this month to launch 19 of Harper’s albums through mainstream online stores such as iTunes for the first time ever. The only legal way to download Harper’s albums before this deal was via the artists own website www.royharper.co.uk. The initial release will be 'Songs Of Love And Loss Vols. 1 & 2', a two CD brand new compilation of Roy’s work covering some of his most well-known and loved albums. The campaign will then continue over the coming twelve months with a handful of Harper’s albums appearing every three months. The reissues will take in all of Harper’s early albums, starting with his 1966 debut ‘Sophisticated Beggar’, and, therefore, there won’t be many Harper fans that will be disappointed with the selection of albums that will eventually be available. While many of Harper’s followers rate the same batch of early albums as his best, ‘Folkjokeopus’, Stormcock’ and ‘HQ’, there are those who prefer some of his later albums such as ‘The Green Man’, and these too get the digital reissue treatment. With TV specials, a live show at London’s Royal Festival Hall planned later this year and the expected coverage in the monthly music magazines, it seems that his 70th year will be one that might well introduce the timeless music of Roy Harper to yet another generation of music lovers. Harper’s one of those musicians who, even though always going his own way and not once betraying his beliefs or values to shift an extra album or two, has managed not only to hold on to the respect he gained early in his career from fellow musicians but also to influence and inspire new artists along the way. It’s been well documented that Led Zeppelin paid tribute to Harper on their third album with the song, ‘Hats Off To (Roy) Harper’, and Harper’s friendship and working relationship with Jimmy Page is well known. But being championed by the biggest rock and roll band in the world wasn’t enough, Pink Floyd invited Harper to sing on ‘Have A Cigar’ which was a highlight on the ‘Wish You Were Here’ album, which led to Dave Gilmour playing on the ‘HQ’ album and Harper co-writing a song on Gilmour’s 1978 self-titled debut solo album. Kate Bush is another major artist who took part in the now familiar musical-exchange with Harper. The list of artists who have covered his work would take up far too much space but mention must be made of the Elizabeth Fraser (Cocteau Twins) version of his ‘Another Day’ on the This Mortal Coil collection ‘It’ll End In Tears’. Yep, even the 4AD roster of artists were inspired by Harper’s work. Not bad for someone whose first album, ‘Sophisticated Beggar’, which was released in 1966 and seen as the work of yet another folky singer/songwriter who at that time probably wouldn’t have a career past the end of the sixties. But Harper didn’t fade away like many of his sixties contemporaries. He just went his own sweet way and, although at times he came across as a bit of a cantankerous old sod, there was never any doubt that, while most fans would point to his guitar playing as the one reason why Harper stood out then as well as now, there are just as many Harper devotees who would say it’s all in the voice. Listening to the tracks covered by the new compilation, which covers the years 1966 to 1992, the one thing that is consistent throughout, the one thing that lifts these excellent songs is that voice. It has lost none of its gentle power through the years. It’s one of those voices that will hold you spellbound, and is the perfect vehicle for Harper’s thought-provoking lyrics. Despite being held in high regard by his fellow musicians Harper has always been out there on his own really. There is simply no other artist who does what Harper does. He’s an excellent guitarist, lyricist and has a voice that captures the listener the very first second they hear it. Harper has never lost sight of his folk roots, even on the latest songs on this compilation which come from the 1992 album, ‘Death Or Glory?’ we can hear it’s still the same artist who touched us way back in 1966. The tracks included on this 23-song collection are not going to include everyone’s favourite Harper song obviously but it’s an excellent taster for anyone who has yet to hear this extraordinary artist. There’s nothing from his early 70's masterpiece ‘Stormcock’ of course; any one of the four lengthy pieces that made up that album would be out of place here and that album demands to be taken as one long suite but it’s good to know that it’s going to be in the first batch of albums that will be digitally released. With a new generation of artists like the Fleet Foxes and Joanna Newsom admitting being influenced by his work, it seems that even at 70 Roy Harper is still as relevant today as his was back in the sixties.

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Roy Harper - Roy Harper

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Interview (2011)
Roy Harper - Interview
Roy Harper speaks to Ben Howarth about the first four albums in the digital reissue series of his complete back catalogue, his 70th birthday and his plans for a new album

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