Guardian gig review, 1993 (Bloomsbury)

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Guardian January 13 1993

Folk
Roy Harper
Bloomsbury Theatre

Robin Denselow

Bloomsbury 1990.jpg (23285 bytes)Roy Harper had a rotten year and he doesn't care who knows it. His long-time partner ran off with punk fiddler Nigel Kennedy, and his latest batch of songs, which deal with this loss, are not too easily available because his record label has just gone bust... In a year when Dylan was feted in Madison Square Gardens for his longevity, poor old Roy Harper, who was counted as 'the man to succeed Dylan' back in the 60s, seemed headed for oblivion yet again.
Those who have observed the Harper phenomenon over the past 25 years should know that it's at moments like these that the ultimate hippy folk survivor is at his best (just as he is likely to self-destruct when things are going well). He may appear to be wildly unfashionable at the moment, but as the 60s ethos creeps back in, it seems that Harper has retained his cult following, as shown by the scenes at the Bloomsbury Theatre, where he gave two shows at the weekend.

His audience is still the 'folky student population' he sang about in the 60s, and as soon as he appeared a devoted follower clambered on stage to offer him the first of many exotic cigarettes. Harper never became a major star, despite the attention of famous friends from Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin, largely because he always refused to give conventional concerts. He always rambled on and on between songs, and that's still the case, especially on an evening when he starts by announcing: 'I'm suitably out of it already.'

But the quality of his playing and singing - when he eventually gets round to it - has actually improved over the years, and he's still one of the few songwriters we have who dares to be both distinctly English and romantic. At the Bloomsbury he embarked on one of the pained and remarkably honest new songs about his personal life, Next To Me, gave up on it in despair, and quickly retreated back to the 60s and 'You Don't Need Money'.

From then on he swapped cheerfully between early favourites and more recent social comment. helped considerably by the arrival of the young Nick Harper, who not only kept up with his dad but added some remarkably inspired and rousing semi-acoustic lead guitar.

By the second half, when there was thankfully far more playing than talking or smoking, they had shaken new life into oldies like 'Highway Blues', given a noisy imitation of Pink Floyd on the new 'The Fourth World', and revived the still charming and lyrical 'When An Old Cricketer Leave The Crease'. Harper is as unpredictable as ever, but on this showing he actually deserves a new lease of life - thanks mainly to his latest disasters and his highly impressive sidekick.