New Music Express 1990

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NME 23 6 90 Len Brown

After 25 years on life's acoustic stage, ROY HARPER is undoubtedly King Of The Hippies. In a moment of good karma, NME let the man who once contacted anthrax by kissing an infected sheep spill the mung beans to LEN BROWN.

'Maybe I'm just a shithead.' You won't hear Roy Harper blowing his own trumpet. A flick back through 20 years of NME attacks on old Roy is guaranteed to make you wince. 'You don't have a life, you just have a death' he chuckles to himself on reflection.

Yet his only real crime was to be Green when the term was synonymous with old hippies. 'People haven't been able to accept the green political statements I've been making, or the way I've been making them,, for the last 20 years,' confirms Harper. 'And that's done something to me. I began to be almost ashamed, reclusive, about some of the things I was saying. I could sense they were true but everyone else thought I was a raving maniac.' 'So to offset that I became a court jester, some kind of fool.' But is it not the fool who is all-seeing and all-knowing? 'Yeah, I feel like I've been taking part in Lear all my life,' grins Roy. 'It's been a very sobering experience being kicked from pillar to post. I've often looked in the mirror and said, they've given you stick for 20 years, Roy. Don't stick your neck out anymore or they'll have your head off.' But when I sit down with a blank piece of paper again it all streams out....And it just hasn't been commercial.'

He remains, without much doubt, an English institution. Like Rampton or Strangeways. But Roy Harper is perhaps the only constant (and not incontinent) performer of his generation still committed to playing the festival circuit. 'I haven't done so many in recent years because....there haven't been that many,' continues 49 year old Roy. ' To be honest I've lost a bit of faith recently. Stonehenge was a big let down. It used to police itself very well, you never got anything bad happening there. OK, some went over the top and got into self-abuse but those older ones among us could give advice about what to touch, what not to touch, who's dealing bad stuff... 'There was a time in the early 70s when I was actually out of it all the time. But if you've got your head screwed on you'll get tired of all the drugs. They're useless. 'It's sad that Salisbury Plain can't be given over to young people for one month a year. 'I'm sure we could hold it together and it would refuel everyone. There's another world out there; grass, trees, earth, birds. People would get out and say, 'Wow, Phew, Thank f--- for that.'

Despite a decade of disillusionment Roy Harper has stubbornly refused to lie down and die.'

'When I first walked into the music business in '67 it was linoleum on the floor, in about '69 they got carpets. From 1970 the pile of the carpet began to rise, and in some offices, particularly the head of A&R's and the managing director's, it rose to about four inches. You could shag in there. 'Then from 1974 it started to come down again. It reached carpet tiles and now we're down to even cheaper carpet tiles.' Of course, this may say more about the offices Harper's been shuffling through of late than about the quality of rugs the majors still shag on. For whereas contemporaries like Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush have managed to exist as individuals within that corporate world, Roy's been shunted onto the sidelines. The reason, he maintains, has more to do with bad management than bad art on his part. 'It became par for the course to rip Roy off. The last manager walked out the door with £14,000 in his pocket and left me £100,000 in debt. I was within £2,000 of being bankrupt. I've also supported a manager with a cocaine habit. He managed to keep it from me for two years. So from 1985 onwards I've been climbing back out of the crap again.'

Amidst many tall tales of a thousand festivals, there's the Glastonbury story to top them all.

'I was headlining the Friday night and Ginger Baker forced himself on to the bill. Eee Christ. Anyway, Ginger turns up and I've never seen anybody as completely out of it as that. You can't say he was on anything but you can definitely say that he'd been on everything at some point in the not too distant past. Everything. 'He had this whippet and he just kept on saying. 'Ere, where's my f---ing dog? 'Ere, where's my f---ing dog? And the only other thing he said all day was , 'Ere I'm Ginger Baker, I am. I'm Ginger Baker....Where's my f---ing dog?' That was all he said. Every time the dog appeared it was cowering, poor bastard. You just knew that dog got kicked regularly. 'Later I'm playing the gig, going down quite well, building up to the finale. Then Ginger starts walking on with drums, setting up right in front of me, destroying everything. I couldn't believe it. So I left the microphone and said 'Hey, what you doing?' And he said, 'F--- off, you've been on here to f---ing long, you c---' and his band started bringing all their gear on. 'So I started to seethe, nudged one of his drums with my left foot and he lunged at me. I just burst, turned round and gave him one right in the guts. Ginger goes, 'Urrgghh you c----.' Then we were fighting and the stage was full of people. I completely flipped my lid.' '

There we were at a festival dedicated to peace and love man and I hit someone. He may have been the thickest idiot at the festival but I'd actually hit him. After that I was filled with frantic remorse and basically just wanted to hit everyone, everything I could lay my bloody hands on.' 'So they got hold of my arms and carried me off, looking like I'm ripe for Broadmore, wearing this human straightjacket, screaming 'You f---ing bastards. 'I'd lost it altogether, I was fighting f---ing mad.' 'Meanwhile Ginger set up and started playing and the crowd started stoning him. And he got a bottle in his face or a large stone and they carted him off to the hospital. There was blood all over him. Needed 12 stitches. So I had to chuckle afterwards, mainly about the state I'd got in but it did seem to balance out the furore. But fancy ending up like that. Love and peace man became a raging f---ing battle.'