RICK SANDERS Hors D'Oeuvres Issue 22 Page 17
COME OUT FIGHTING, ROY HARPER
It's a surprise to discover that Roy Harper is just about five foot eight tall. You're expecting someone much bigger physically, someone with a frame more fitting for such a big expansive personality. Dressed in a powerful mixture of Red Indian, Eskimo and (whisper it) hippie garb, with the whole effect set off with a black cowboy hat marked 'Perfect', Harper appears to do everything in a big way. At present he's working on plans to produce operettas with Ron Geesin and the Nice - both large scale projects - as well as writing songs for himself, performing, and generally getting as much as he can out of himself and anyone else whose interested. On stage, his performance is strong meat. Singing 'I Hate the White Man' with all the feeling he can muster. Singing McGoohan's Blues', injected with a massive passion unrivalled by any comparable artist, it's a difficult thing to remain unmoved and uninvolved as he thrusts his whole being at the audience. To Roy, 'McGoohan' is the one song which wraps up all he feels. A cry of anguish at the modern people-crushing system, it's a long painful - but exhilarating - performance, and goes on for around 20 minutes. Sparked off by 'The Prisoner', the surreal, disquieting television programme in which Patrick McGoohan set out to find where he was and then proceeded to smash the evil power-structure, 'McGoohan's Blues' explains Roy Harper. Or at least the most prominent piece of Roy Harper.
The whole of his recent work is social, dealing with the inhumanity of life as it is now, coupled with a strong vein of self-examination. As such, he finds himself a loud-speaker for a lot of the ideals of today's youth - not only the hippies, the students, the demonstrators - putting their ideas into an original musical form. They like Harper. He has none of the showbiz glitter about him, no false enthusiasm, and above all, he absolutely refuses to conform to accepted commercialism. "My manager keeps on asking me to go in the studio and turn out a nice little hit-parade song, something to try and get the real mass sales. But that's not my scene. I've got to be completely honest in what I do, and once you start bending your ideals that way, you lose all of yourself in bits and pieces. You get gradually eroded away until there's nothing left". On a recent concert trip to Cuba, he was impressed by what can be achieved with ideals. "Castro has gone to great pains to stick to the attitude he had when it all started. He goes round in his dirty old combat jacket, he's still true to the ideals he presented after the revolution, and standards of social welfare and so on are fantastically improved. When he took over, only about two per cent of the population could read. Now it's up to 90-odd per cent. But when Joe Lustig (his manager) wanted to go over to Florida, where he comes from, he simply couldn't do it. There's no way of crossing the 200-odd miles from Cuba to the states. It's a strange situation. I tried to get the Cuban authorities to stamp my passport but they wouldn't do it. That was so I wouldn't have any problems if I ever wanted to get into America".
It was surprising to hear Roy speak of Cuba this way, considering his violent mistrust of any system, a subject on which he has a great deal to say. "The only hope lies in the children. No matter how sure we are that we've got out of the system, there's a lot of prejudice left in us." This respect for children shows in Harper's work. On the cover of his second LP, 'Come Out Fighting, Genghis Smith', the recently-emerged Genghis is pictured as a new-born infant. "What I wanted was a picture with the embryo still inside the mother, but of course, the record company said it couldn't be done. I've seen the shots, though, and I told them where to get them". On his recent concert at the Cambridge festival, Roy had his three-year-old son on the stage with him. As dad performed his songs, Nicky Harper -a born showman- strummed his uke and swayed to and fro in perfect rhythm. But despite Roy's defiantly anti-commercial attitude, the powers are happy enough with the sales of 'Genghis' and we'll soon be seeing a new album by Harper, exactly as he wants to do it. It's likely to be a very significant record.