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Uncut - August 2001
Royal Festival Hall, London
That Roy Harper celebrates his 60th birthday this year has been slightly overshadowed by the hullabaloo surrounding that other singer-songwriter guy. However, the packed Royal Festival Hall is all but letting off party balloons in what amounts to one of the most convivial gigs I've been to. It feels like a private do for all the maverick souls who have kept faith with this maverick of mavericks who's been recording since the mid-Sixties - An Evening With Roy. He cuts a very avuncular figure, long since retired to his cottage of Dunrantin', reminiscing about the day he took magic mushrooms with an ex-miner's leader or the first time he played the Royal Festival Hall and a woman in a mink coat flounced from the venue screeching, "I've never heard such rubbish in all my life!"
With David Bedford conduction a small chamber orchestra and various guests including co-guitarists Andy Roberts and son Nick, Harper tends to indulge the more wistful, romantic, bucolic aspects of his canon. There's the glorious, troubled "Another Day", for instance, all dark clouds of sober regret, or his own take on the old folk standard, "Girl From The North Country", easily the equal of his fellow birthday boy's.
He revisits material he used to busk in his earliest days, softening the shaking-his-fist-at-the-universe edges, as well as a medley of bluesier material, reminding us just how profound an effect the blues boom of the early Sixties had on him and his generation.
All through this, however, there are highly excitable voices screaming for him to perform his more abrasive material - "I Hate The White Man" and " "The Lord's Prayer" -and I mean screaming. Even the old punks who turned up to heckle Wire here didn't make this much noise. One woman in particular is creating and carrying on like Fredo's wife in The Godfather II. "This isn't the WWF," Harper admonishes her. It's clear that his past rage and volatility has passed on to significant sections of his followers. The calls, however, go unheeded.
Highlight of this warm, though occasionally weird evening, is "The Same Old Rock", Harper's anti-religious tract from Stormcock, in which he breaks into a marvellous improvised scat and demonstrates some touchingly deft guitar interplay with son Nick, a hint of a massive musical presence still very much with us.