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Roy Harper - Flat, Baroque and Berserk

Flat, Baroque and Berserk

Roy Harper

Available from Roy Harper's web site.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker
(progdawg@hotmail.com).

Though he's at heart what we might call a fundamentalist folkie, Roy Harper may well be the most famous unknown guy in rock and roll, often referred to as "the longest running underground act in the world", so this push to re-acquaint him to the public is timely, especially at a moment when the industry and a number of its genres are in the doldrums. Harper was influenced by gents like Huddie Ledbetter, Josh White, and Woody Guthrie and, amidst a stint in the Royal Air Force, discovered he had little sympathy for the ways of the capitalist world. Faking madness, he received a discharge, but not before being subjected to electro-shock therapy. The government will have its pound of flesh.

This is his third release, originally printed in 1970, and solidly demonstrates the power and integrity of his work, viscerally demonstrated in the sophomore track, I Hate the White Man, a dazzling provocation in thought, act, and word. A protest against the imperialism of the European and American civilizations. Here, Harper's armed with only an acoustic guitar, a voice, and a pen, inditing and singing elegantly surreally worded denunciations of societies based in predatory advantagism:
And the reins of coloured thunder of the stallion of the dawn
Ride the coal-fire morning on the beach where all is born
Where the emperor of meaning is burning up his fort
And sits to warm his toes around a fire made up of useless thought
And when the children tempt him with the riddles of their trance
He flings the flames of solstice casting laughs into the dance
Where the crazy white man in the desert of his bones
Lies bleached as the paradise he likes to think he owns.

Jimmy Page, David Gilmour, Keith Moon, Bill Bruford, and other rock luminaries came to admire Harper not just for the attractiveness of his work but the man's personal integrity as well. His fights with record labels and social institutions were well known and showed an individual living his philosophy. Though he'd frequently grow experimental, this CD embodies the ground on which every one of his songs—over a rather astonishing catalogue of releases, especially now that he's recaptured the copyrights—dances and glowers. Probably best compared to Donovan's work for simplicity and hypnotic engagement, where Mr. Leitch celebrated life, Harper deconstructs it for the hidden menace and ambushes awaiting everyone. Those traps inevitably issue not just from institutionalized greed and insanity but interpersonal contretemps as well. In true poetic fashion, Harper lets none escape the microscope.

The guitarist-composer spent a lot of time in the States but never gained the status he should have, despite an almost fanatical fan base and the ongoing interest of some of progrock's top names (here, on the final cut, Keith Emerson's The Nice, provides a complete contrast to the rest of the LP, simultaneously demonstrating what killer lead lines Roy could produce when he wanted to), so it can only be hoped the act of keeping his work, now on Harper's own Science Friction label, in the public's face will result in a re-evaluation and re-influence of and by his material. God knows we need retrospection and invigoration desperately right now.

Track List:

  • Don't You Grieve
  • I Hate the White Man
  • Feeling All the Saturday
  • How Does it Feel?
  • Goodbye
  • Another Day
  • Davey
  • East of the Sun
  • Tom Tiddler's Ground
  • Francesca
  • Song of the Ages
  • Hell's Angels
All songs written by Roy Harper.

Edited by: David N. Pyles
(dnpyles@acousticmusic.com)

Copyright 2008, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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