Roy Harper – The Book Vol 1-4

After the false start with the biography I settled down to writing a different type of beast. The first task was to get all the lyrics written up. This was not quite as easy as you would imagine. Firstly Roy had not written them down. Secondly, when you got down to it the lyrics were not all decipherable on some of the albums. Thirdly, what I thought were the lyrics were not always what Roy thought they were. Fourthly, I was working on a type writer so every change in a single word meant that I had to retype the whole thing.

I produced draft lyrics. Roy corrected them. I retyped. Roy re-corrected. It took a while.

Then I started transcribing some of the gig talk from old bootleg tapes. Roy had always been one for rambling away and coming out with the first thing that came into his head. Most of his work had some social implication and I had always loved the brilliant streams of consciousness that poured out of him almost as much as the songs. There was an intelligent insightful mind at work with a rare quirky slant on things. I’d always found it interesting and thought provoking and I wanted to get some of that free flow on to the record.

I resumed interviewing Roy, though it became hard to pin him down and even when I did he was often distracted. If a test match was on it became an impossible task. His focus always seemed to be on other things, an album, a song, an event, a bit of news, sport; it could be anything. I amassed thirty C90 tapes of interview that I transcribed.

I then started assembling the lyrics with relevant gig talk and anecdotes with additional lyric commentary. As back then there was no computer I did this all on type-writer on big sheets of sugar paper. It began to come together. I reworked the interviews and gig talk to try to keep the natural cadence of Roy’s speech rhythms. It seemed to come together well.

I went down a few times and stayed with Roy in Brixton and then Lincolnshire and finally Ireland. He came round to me a few times. Roy had this huge old wooden trunk in which he had thrown everything from his career. I went through and sorted out photos and visual material that I thought might fit in.

I did some time lines of influences and a discography. Then we got to dickering about the songs that went in. I had broken it down into a series of themes rather than stick to a chronological sequence and I wanted to include all the lesser songs as well – though I was willing to put them in in small print as an appendix at the end labelled – Minor Songs. I am a completist and I knew that anything missed out takes on a greater importance than its worth. Roy did not want the minor stuff in.

We then got to dickering over the title – various titles were mooted – ‘The Bible’, ‘Off the tracks and between the lines’ and ‘The book’ being three that were bandied about.

By now, after twenty years, I had the book broken down into four volumes and volume 1 was ready to go. Roy had actually introduced me at a concert as his biographer and publically presented me with a manuscript. It was due to come out. I went out to Ireland to do some last finishing touches.

Then Roy pulled the plug on it and decided to pull out. I don’t think he liked the idea of sharing the book with someone else. My name and my acknowledgement and foreword at the front were probably the last straw.

Roy quickly produced his own book – ‘The passions of great fortune – the songs explored’.

My four volumes of ‘The Book’ now exists in a filing cabinet. There are a large numbers of plastic files, type printed drafts, 30 C90 tapes, and a great number of folded sugar paper drafts with lyrics and commentary glued on.

It is very different to Roy’s book but I don’t suppose it will ever see the light of day. I wouldn’t release it without Roy’s permission – the lyrics are copyrighted anyway. I did make some attempt to transcribe it to computer and do have a chunk of it digitally now.

Who knows? – Maybe one day!

Here is an extract:

ROY HARPER

AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING    VOL. 1

Lyrics, Comment & Rambling

Love, Sex, Drugs, Madness and Religion

Lots of laughs

Opinionated and controversial

(The whole dirty story)

By

OPHER GOODWIN & ROY HARPER

Chart of Influences

 

Section 1 – DUBIOUS HYPOTHESIS

Legend

Come out Fighting Ghenghis Smith

Don’t you Grieve

Tom Tiddler’s Ground

 

Section 2 – THEATRE

Exercising some control

Feeling all the Saturday

Zengem

Manana

Committed

Mr Station Master

You don’t need money

 

Section 3 – BARBED WIRE

How does it feel

Hell’s Angels

McGoohan’s Blues

MidSpring Dithering

I Hate the Whiteman

Circle

Section 4 – GLANDS

My Friend

Forever

Beautiful Rambling Mess

Goldfish

What you have

She’s the one

Goodbye

Another Day

Davey

East of the Sun

Francesca

Song of the Ages

Section 5 – SPEECHLESS

Blackpool

One for All

Section 6 – PSY-FRY

Sophisticated Beggar

Freak Sweet

Big Fat Silver Aeroplane

Composer of life

Ageing Raver

In the time of water

Srgt Sunshine

Highgate Cemetery

All you need is

Section 7 – PUDDLES, DRIPS, DROSS & ERRORS

China Girl

Girlie

October 12th

Black Clouds

It’s tomorrow & Today is Yesterday

Zaney Janey

Ballad of Songwriter

St Thomas’s

Life Goes by

Take me into your eyes

Pretty Baby

Discography

Epilogue 

SECTION 1 – DUBIOUS HYPOTHESIS

 

                Some thoughts have travelled long distances, mitigated by faith, fantasy, belief, superstition and what have you. Hardly anything is new except the context. These songs express ideas, some fleeting, some tenuous, some intangible. Codes, modes; things brought back from seemingly immeasurable distances from places outside the confines of more usual experience. Brief glimpses of forces so intense they are inaccessable for longer than moments. Dangerous expeditions into no-man’s land on the horns of flailing inspiration, and then some straightforward suggestions.

                Philosophical doctrine, hard-line dogma and rigid formula have lost ground. It is no longer satisfactory to shut any door forever. Even when I am firmly of the opinion that war and brutality must be closed, there are elements in both that will remain part of us for countless millenia.

                It is not enough to discount the Cabbage White without also discounting the Red Admiral and the Hair Louse. Degree is rather a function than an option. The more degree the more option. Data and context rush and writhe eternally. Open your mouth and a foot races away. Uncatchable. Perfection and error are both contained in each other, the same two words, different degrees of the same state, individually idealised polarities of the same imagined expression. What can error possibly be? And you cannot just apply the word relative without laughing, without wanting to break into the Louvre in a twenty ton truck full of unstable Semtex to try to get a private view of Guernica (if it was there). But Sartre and Dali et al have meandered there with more patience than I ever could have………

                Though philosophy may very well be alive and well and living in a Brussel sprout, it will always be hare, and often the one that ate it.

                And then there’s always the word ‘relative’, sometimes used as an anvil for concepts by ad-men.

                And then there are advertising men’s mother-in-law.

                And trespassing into temptation.

                Inventing dreams to freeze moments.

                Whose sole expression is hope.

Legend

Come out fighting Ghenghis Smith

Don’t you grieve

Tom Tiddler’s Ground

THE FIRST ALBUM

                During the recording of the first album it was all a bit hectic. My flat was a general meeting place in the area for nutty stragglers and ageing ravers; people like James Edgar and Fred Yates. I can never forget one morning waking up with a hell of a row going on in the flat. Fred is diabetic and has gone into a coma and Jim was busting into the kitchen, which was through our bedroom, to get some syrup to stuff down his throat. I’m woken up by the noise and he gets me to go down and phone an ambulance. I’ve got to bed at God knows what time in the morning and I’m in no state to even get out of bed.

                I come back in and Jimmy’s stuffing his fingers into the tin of syrup and forcing it into Fred’s mouth. I’m standing there muttering – ‘Jesus F Christ’ – under my breath. The ambulance takes about ten minutes to get there and by the time it arrives Fred has come round again — ‘Where am I??’ —  ‘What happened??’

                Fred once went down King’s Road and they were shooting one of those ‘I love Lucy’ things down there. He jumps out infront of the cameras, whips up his vest, grabs a fold of skin on his stomach and jabs the needle in. I was in hysterics. Nobody realises he’s diabetic. They’re all thinking  —  ‘Christ!! —– Junky!!! —Drugs!!!’

                Pierre Tubbs and I produced the first album. We recorded it in one day. Pierre was looking for talent to record and he was like a friend of a friend of a friend. I owe him a microphone. I said at the time that if I ever made it in this business I’d give him a microphone.

                The story behind ‘Strike’ records was that there were these two guys who had cleaned out the City to the tune of some three million quid. They wanted to launder the money somehow and decided that a decent way of doing it was to set up a record label.

                The album was actually recorded in a garage on a two track machine. It was a sort of very basic ‘British Garage Punk’, I suppose. At the time. After that I was very much pushed into the Folk scene which was unfortunate really. It was management that did that.

                I was at a tender age in a tender age. I could have been pushed into Opera, which would have been weird for those boys. The ‘garage’ version of ‘the flight of the Valkeries’ could have been a smash — could have apocalypsed Pol Pot.  Pierre, and Joe Lustig, are responsible for me being known in some quarters as a Folk Singer. I am responsible for Elvis Presley being known as a folk singer in a few others.

                But then, there was this girl in Edmonton, on the last Canadian tour in ‘85. She sat on the front row and after one particular song she just said — ‘Wow! — This brings a whole new meaning to Folk!’

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2 thoughts on “Roy Harper – The Book Vol 1-4

  1. Hi Opher, I read this very enthusiastically, beeing a Roy Harper fan. I wish this series of books would sometime see the light of day . I would be happy to read Roy’s biography. Everything about him is intersting and important to me. I just got back from a tour in London and Scotland where I attended both the RFH and the Usher hall gigs.
    Ofra

    • Hi Ofra (love the name) – good to hear from you.
      I hope you like all the Roy Harper posts I’ve put out.
      My Ruminating on Roy Harper book will be out later this year. It is the history of a fifty year friendship.
      I too was at the RFH and Usher Hall. Great gigs. It is so good to see him back on the road.
      Stay in contact.
      Best wishes – Opher

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