Vicar Street, Dublin
Concert review: originally published in Mojo, January 1999
Roy assures me that it only happens in Liverpool, Belfast and Dublin. ‘It’ being the verge-of-chaos spectator sport and crowd participation version of what would elsewhere be termed a concert. Every time I’ve seen Roy ‘it’ has happened - an auditorium full of lunatics, drunks, ostentatious people with dodgy substances. The biggest and loudest tosser in the building was sitting next to me. But not for long. This is Roy’s first tour in four years and one wonders where these people go when he’s not touring. No matter, it’s all part of the experience of a Roy show and, foibles aside, one cannot but admire the performer for keeping the whole thing on the road for two hours, weaving merrily around, but never quite diving headlong into, the verge. At a Roy Harper show one may be surprised to find that the most reliable person in the building is usually Roy.
‘I grew up, as a lot of us did,’ says Roy, ‘with a lot of bollocks...’ Immediately the fun begins. ‘Where’s your hat?’ shouts someone. ‘Where’s my hat?’ says Roy, somewhat wrong-footed from what was undoubtedly going to be a pithily amusing polemic. ‘Er, what are you talking about?’ A stirring rendition of ‘Tom Tiddler’s Ground’, from 1970’s Flat Baroque and Berserk, provides a temporary halt to the nonsense and despite regular bursts of vocal requests and people passing notes up to the stage (‘She’s The One’ and ‘Another Day’ being the big hits in Roy’s Dublin constituency), it will be one of the few established classics in the set. ‘Next time...’ says Roy, more than once.
This time around is very much a showcase for his exceptional new album The Dream Society, conceived as part one of a two part autobiographical work examining his life and experiences in loosely sequential order - growing up, love, being branded a loony, meeting his late mother in a dream state, heartbreak and other stories. It had the potential to be a self-obsessed disaster area, but both on record and in the commitment of his song performances tonight - in difficult circumstances - Roy has crafted a work of some profundity, accessible and subtle yet charged with great emotional investment. ‘Hmmm, I went too deeply into that one,’ says Roy, opening his eyes and emerging from a particularly delicate moment. ‘You’re not in Glasgow now!’ comes, on cue, another plainly irrelevant yell. This is the real performance artistry of Roy Harper - being able to deliver heartfelt, serious and alternately delicate and raging music in between submitting himself to lengthy barrages of surreal, ludicrous badinage with his fans. Few in his position - and this is not a small crowd - would put up with it, but Roy is a generous host. Eventually though, even Roy has to cry, ‘Enough, enough,’ and finish on his big new epic, ‘These Fifty Years’, a beautifully melodic, intriguing and compelling dream-meeting between God, Roy and Tom Huxley, the father of modern agnosticism. It lasts a good fifteen minutes. A very good fifteen minutes. The show may not be for the faint hearted, but there are truly gems in the quagmire.