Roy Harper Biography

I had been friends with Roy for about fifteen years and in 1982 I had come to a bit of a crossroads with my writing. I thought I needed a new direction. Something I could get my teeth into. It seemed natural to me to turn my attention to one of my other passions. I rated Roy’s lyrics and song-writing as the very best. I still do. I do not think anybody else has matched them. I also knew a fair bit about his life and knew it was so interesting it was the stuff novels are made of. I didn’t want to write a novel. I wanted to do a biography.

I approached Roy in 1982 while he was out on his ‘Work of Heart’ tour. It was a bit of a come-back for him after a sojourn on the ‘Farm’. We’d been out of contact for a little while. He’d settled into life as a farmer and I’d moved to Hull and started teaching. I suggested that we might collaborate on a biography. He thought about it and decided that he would. He’d had a number of other offers but, as we were friends, he knew he could trust me. I wouldn’t put anything out there that he did not want putting out.

We met up a number of times and I interviewed him and started piecing it together. The first phase was to record some interviews and produce transcripts. That wasn’t easy as I really didn’t have a means of recording and playing back. I used a crappy old tape machine and had to play then hit the rewind button to go over it until I’d got it transcribed with my one finger typing. The recordings were crap. The microphone was rubbish and so the quality made it very difficult to make out – particularly if we got excited.

The interviews were really rambling reminisces and fun to do!

When I’d done a few I shared the raw transcripts with Roy. He went very quiet and I could tell that he wasn’t happy. It was one thing to have an idea of doing a biography and quite another to do it. The reality of it hit home. This was putting his relationships and feelings into words. Having typed words in black and white was entirely different to having them in sound waves on the wind. These black and white ones did not fade. Roy began to worry about the people that might be hurt by the stark disclosures. There were implications about putting things in print.

We both went away and had a rethink. I came up with a different concept. I suggested we dispensed with the idea of a biography and produced a book based around the lyrics. Most of the lyrics were biographical anyway. I envisaged a large coffee table book with room to spread out in. I wanted a page that was the lyric, nicely presented in a lot of space. Opposite that I wanted a busy page with photos, anecdotes, gig talk and song comment.

Roy liked the idea and we moved on to a new project –

The biography now exists as a number of type-written pages and a bunch of old C90 tapes. It will never go further than that unless Roy thinks that enough distance has been in place and it is time to have another bash.

I somehow doubt it.

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