Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Roy Harper

Roy Harper, (born June 12, 1941), is a British singer-songwriter who specialises in uncompromising introspective lyrics and folk influenced compositions.

Harper was born in the Manchester suburb of Rusholme, England. After the death of his mother during childbirth, he was raised by his father and his step-mother, whom he did not get along with because of her Jehovah's Witness beliefs. Harper's anti-religious views would later become a familiar theme in his music. At the age of 10, he began playing skiffle music with his older brother, David Harper, as well as being influenced by blues music. Leaving school when he was 15, he joined the Royal Air Force only to reject its rigid discipline, and then managed to feign madness - and receive ECT - in order to get a discharge. Harper then busked around Europe until 1964 when he returned to England and gained residency at London's famous Les Cousins folk club in Soho.

His first album, The Sophisticated Beggar, was recorded in 1966 after Harper was spotted at the Les Cousins club and signed to Peter Richard's Strike Records. It consisted of his sung poetry backed by acoustic guitar with a revox tape machine. CBS Records saw his potential and hired producer Shel Talmy to arrange Come out Fighting Genghis Smith, with the 11 minute blues track "Circles", marking a widening of Harper's audience away from pure folk. Its cover was controversial at the time, depicting a new born baby, complete with umbilical cord.

1969's Folkjokeopus virtually mirrored the previous album, with a 15 minute version of "McGooghan's Blues". Starting since May, 1968, Harper was making regular appearances at free concerts in London's Hyde Park attracting a cult following of fans from the underground music scene. Harper's first tour of the United States followed the release of the album Flat Baroque and Beserk in 1970 which featured The Nice on one track called "Hell's Angel". Its ethereal sound achieved by a wah wah pedal attached to an acoustic guitar. Flat Baroque and Beserk also marked Harper's long yet confrontational association with Harvest Records.

After the Bath Festival of 1970, Led Zeppelin wrote a song titled "Hats Off to (Roy) Harper", which appeared on the album Led Zeppelin III. According to Jimmy Page, the band admired the way Harper stood by his principles and did not sell out to commercial pressures. In a mutual appreciation of their work, Harper would often attend live performances by Led Zeppelin over the subsequent decade as well as contribute sleeve photography to the album Physical Graffiti and appear, uncredited, in the 1976 film, The Song Remains the Same.

Harper's 1971 critically acclaimed album was the four song epic, Stormcock, featuring Jimmy Page on guitar and David Bedford's orchestral arrangements, who would collaborate on future releases. In 1972, Harper made his acting debut in the Mike Preston film Made. The soundtrack for this film appeared in the following year with the title Lifemask. His next album Valentine, was released on Valentine's Day, February 14, 1974 and featured contributions from guitarist Jimmy Page. A concert to mark its release was held at London's Rainbow Theatre with Page, Bedford, and John Bonham on drums. The live album Flashes from the Archives of Oblivion soon followed.

Between 1975 and 1978, Harper spent considerable time in the United States. Pink Floyd's 1975 release Wish You Were Here saw Harper as lead vocalist on the song "Have a Cigar". Pink Floyd's David Gilmour returned the favour by appearing on Harper's next album, HQ, with his occasional backing band called Trigger (Chris Spedding on guitar, Dave Cochran on bass guitar, and Bill Bruford on drums) and Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones. The single "When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease" taken from the album, is Harper's biggest selling and best known solo record to date.

Controversy soon followed with the release of 1977's Bullinamingvase, with a service station objecting to the lyrics in the song "Watford Gap" which criticised their food. Harper was forced under duress to drop it from future copies of the album. Bullinamingvase also featured "One of Those Days in England", with backing vocals by Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney, which became a Top 40 hit. In April 1978, Harper began writing lyrics for the next Led Zeppelin album, with Jimmy Page, but the project was shelved when Robert Plant returned from his self-imposed sabbatical after the death of his son Karac.

In 1980, Harper sang backing vocals on the Kate Bush song "Breathing". The Work of Heart album released in 1982 marked the formation of his own record label with Mark Thompson, entitled Public Records. Throughout 1984, Harper toured the United Kingdom with Jimmy Page, performing a predominantly acoustic set at folk festivals under various guises such as The MacGregors, and Themselves. They released an album called Whatever Happened to Jugula under Harper's name but co-credited to Jimmy Page. Tony Franklin, the bass player in Harper's group would later join Page in The Firm.

Since 1986, Harper has kept a relatively low public profile, although 1990's Once was a tour-de-force, again featuring David Gilmour and Kate Bush. After the end of his marriage, Harper composed the melancholy Death or Glory in 1992. Harper's spoken words can be heard on The Tea Party's 1995 album Edges of Twilight and he sings on the track "Time" from their 1996 album Alhambra. His son, Nick Harper, is also a songwriter- guitarist and contributed tracks to the 1998 album, The Dream Society. Jethro Tull's singer Ian Anderson also sessioned, contributing flute to the song, "These Fifty Years". The 2000 album, The Green Man was an entirely solo effort with Harper on acoustic guitar with no accompaniment.

In June 2001, he celebrated his 60th birthday with a concert at London's Royal Festival Hall, featuring many guest artists.

His son Nick, a successful singer/ songriwter in his own right, occasinally tours and records with him.

Table of contents
1 Discography
2 Filmography
3 External link



External link