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I wrote about Roy for my degree.

Discussion in 'General' started by oksauce, Jan 22, 2013.

  1. oksauce

    oksauce I've got a zappy little nappy

    Hello, so I just finished this essay about Stormcock for my English degree. It contains musical analysis too. I thought people might be somewhat interested to read it -

    In what ways does Roy Harper’s Stormcock reflect the influence of the Beats and the Romantic poets?

    Made up of four epic songs, Roy Harper’s 1971 album, Stormcock, is a unique hybrid of poetry and progressive folksong in which words and music both play an interesting role. It can be argued, however, that the words are given precedence over the music in terms of the presentation of the songs. Harper sees himself predominantly as a poet, and has often described his major poetic influences as being the Romantic poets and the Beat poets, saying in one interview ‘’I’m a hybrid of the 19th-century Romantics and the Beat poets.’’ He especially admires John Keats and Percy Shelley - ‘’I knew from pretty early on all about John Keats, Percy Shelley, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Lord Byron, who I never quite liked. So, I was very influenced by them when I was younger - Keats particularly, and Shelley later on, when I had enough experience to understand what he was going on about politically.’’ Of the Beats, Harper found Jack Kerouac to be the most inspiring, ‘’Whereas I was much more attached to Jack Kerouac and the Beat poets.’’ The question we must ask is this - have Harper’s literary ambitions and influences produced a work of literary quality, or are they to be taken as a claim of little substance?
    The ideological influence of both kinds of poetry is easy to detect in the songs. The Beats were, arguably, predominantly a social movement that advocated non-conformity and independence through their poetry. Liberal political ideas, a dislike of injustice, and a distrust of authority can also be said to be part of their ethos. Harper expresses similar opinions throughout the album -every song can be said to have a rebellious ideological element to it. For instance, ‘The Same Old Rock’ is a fiery tirade that targets organised religion, and is constructed around the refrain
    ‘’And you try to tell me with consternation
    That you have found me a brand new lock
    Then you try to warn me that there's only one combination
    One new sling - the same old rock’’.
    The metaphor used here is quite sophisticated - Harper points out the primitive tribal impulses behind what he perceives as the divisive, corrupt religious institutions in the world. The use of ‘you’ and ‘me’, pronouns used to depict a confrontational exchange in which both parties stand at intellectual opposites, highlights the factious interpersonal relationships that religion can potentially create, in which communication is impossible.
    The ’same old rock’ is a well chosen image, reflecting the primitive brutality of the ancient tribal impulse, which Harper presents as being simply dressed up in the ‘one new sling’ of modern organised religion. The simplicity of the ABAB rhyme scheme lends accessibility to the rhetoric - Harper is aiming to convey a message, so he does not use an overly complex rhyme scheme. However, the atheistic message of the song does not reduce its expressive quality. Interestingly, Percy Shelley was also an atheist, having been expelled from Oxford University for publishing a pamphlet in 1811 called ‘The Necessity of Atheism’, although, as Sharon Ruston says, ‘’it was dangerous in those times to declare that you held such beliefs’’. The ideolgies apparent in the album are thus clearly influenced by both the Beats and the Romantics.
    Harper recognises throughout the album that for humanity to progress, it must move beyond the ’you’ and ’me’ of these primitive, divisive institutions, to become a united, secular ‘we’. This utopian dream of freedom, unity, and the challenging of established power structures is related to the social ideas of the subcultures of the 1960s, which Harper had been part of, and which had evolved out of the Beat Generation. However, while that decade’s ideological underground can be said to be a failure on a mass level, mostly decaying into hedonism, Roy Harper continued to express his hopes for the future of humanity in song.
    Though it can be broadly categorized as folk music, Stormcock features a number of progressive musical elements and is flexible in terms of genre definitions. Rob Young writes of this flexible idea of folk, ‘’British musicians and composers have drawn on an idea of folk, alongside a literary (or cinematic) sense of nostalgia and connection with the landscape, all of which feeds into an encompassing expression of Britain that Blake, at least, called ‘visionary.’’
    The subgenre of Progressive folk emerged in the mid to late 1960s, and can be defined as music that rejects or de-emphasizes the conventions of traditional folk music and encourages stylistic or thematic innovation, while still maintaining some elements that identify it as ‘folk’ music. In the case of this album, some of those elements are instrumentation and harmonic structures. Acoustic guitar textures are the dominant sound of the album, and create a sound world that is immediately associated with the folk genre. However, some more unusual elements are included. ‘Me and My Woman’, for instance, prominently features string and brass arrangements, which is a progressive and artful touch that would not be expected from more traditional folk songs. ’Hors D’Oeuvres’ features electric guitar and keyboard.
    The social themes of the album are something that can also be linked to folk music - the anonymity of the traditional folksinger meant that they could offer biting subversive or satirical social comment without fear of persecution. This is the benefit of an oral musical tradition - it leaves no trace of the song or the singer. Harper’s social comment is in a similar vein, even if he is ultimately more influenced by the social and literary ideas of the Beats and the Romantics.
    Structurally, the music is progressive and unusual - each song runs to, on average, ten minutes in length, and most feature various thematically linked sections. However, the actual harmonic patterns and chord sequences of each section within the long songs is generally fairly straightforward, though some more complex chords are used. For instance, ‘Me and My Woman’ begins in B minor, and changes to A major and G major, a commonly used chord sequence in popular and folk music. However, some more unusual chords come later in the track, and the string section arrangement modules from E minor to E flat major after the intro, which has a jarring and unusual effect. What we expect from ‘folk’ music is challenged and subverted by the progressive musical palette of the album.
    The word Stormcock is an old English name for the Mistle Thrush, a bird that ‘delights’ in ’the storms of early spring,’ and indeed, nature and the pastoral play a significant thematic role in the album, especially in the song ’Me and My Woman’. Of course, these themes were also hugely important to the Romantic Poets. Onno Oerlemans writes, ‘’That many romantic-period writers expressed profound interest in the natural world has always been obvious. Their distinctive passion was marked by…the celebration and detailed descriptions of natural settings.’’ In ’Me and My Woman’, this appreciation and celebration of nature is tempered with an awareness of the implications of industrialisation and human progress. There is also, arguably, no more fitting musical genre to deal with pastoral or natural themes than folk music - the music of rural tradition. Harper’s progressive twist adds a rebellious, subversive twist to the folk idiom.
  2. aspwatterson

    aspwatterson The Unknown Soldier

    Free online dictionary quote...

    fractious [ˈfrækʃəs]
    1. irritable
    2. unruly
    [from (obsolete) fraction discord + -ous]
    fractiously adv
    fractiousness n
    Usage: Fractious is sometimes wrongly used where factious is meant: this factious (not fractious) dispute has split the party still further

    And this was the poem which I thought may have inspired Roy as well?


    Brian Cox [astrophysicist] quote in the DT mag 19/01/2013 :

    "Cox is an atheist, though 'I don't like that label. Johnathan Miller got it when he said that atheism was the wrong description because he thinks of the existence of God as often as he thinks of the existence of witches. There is a long list of things I don't believe in and it would take a very long time to define me in those terms'. But he is friends with both the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the Very Rev Victor Stock the former Dean of Guildford Cathedral, and he does not think that believing in science and believing in God are altogether incompatible. 'You could be a deist and say there is no better demonstration of the ingenuity of the creator than this magnificent universe with life in it, with biospheres like Earth,' he says. 'I get irritated with fundamentalists and Young Earth Creationists because we have this magnificent evidence of how life began, evolved and became more complex, and it really is a tremendous story that doesn't undermine religion at all if you don't decide to be a literalist.' Cox believes that creationists miss out on the true wonders of the solar system, the Universe and life. 'All living cells go some really ridiculous lengths to do things that are just inexplicable' he says. 'Every blade of grass has 3.8 billion* years of history written into it'.

    He was in Madagascar, one of the most biodiverse places in the World, when they finished filming Wonders of Life , <BBC this weekend series starts> and the Director asked him what he had learnt. 'I was sitting on a little rocky outcrop in the Mozambique Channel, which had one tree on it,and it was nice to be able to say that now I look at things differently, that I learnt some stuff.' Was it a religious experience? He shifts uncomfortably. 'It's a good point. I suppose the best way to have some kind of religious experience, to develop some awe, is to actually learn about it, which is the scientific way.' He ponders this for a little while. 'It's the difference between going outside and seeing a sky full of lights and a sky full of worlds. Once you know it's worlds, everything is different'

    Good luck with your Degree and let us know how you get on. Shall we try and get PD on Mastermind specialising in Roy Harper? :>

    * Astronomical billions

    A x

    Last edited: Jan 24, 2013
  3. oksauce

    oksauce I've got a zappy little nappy

    Whoops, here's the second half of it -

    Harper was also aware that to consider the present and the future of the human race, an understanding of our primitive rural past is essential. For instance, in ‘Me and My Woman’, the couplet‘’I never know what time of year it is living on top of the fire, but the robin outside has to hunt and hide in the cold frosty shire’’ deals with the effects of human technology on our experience of the seasons. The comfort of our habitations protects us from the wind, the snow, and the rain, but the danger is that we may become forgetful of our origins, and alienated from the natural world. The robin is also anthropomorphised in the couplet ’but he knows just what goes in-between his cold toes and his warm ears, and he's got no disguise in his eyes for his love as she nears.’ He is attributed an instinctive satisfaction with his natural situation, which humanity has lost as a result of civilisation‘s influence. This couplet also implies that disguise, and therefore deception, has become an inextricable part of human social relationships, especially in affairs of love.
    And love is a significant theme in this song, as the title suggests. In the very first couplet of the song, ’I never know what kind of day it is on my battlefield of ideals, but the way she touches and the way it feels, must be just how it heals’, we are introduced to two characters - the male narrator, and his female lover. Their namelessness renders them anonymous, and therefore universal - they could be any pair of human lovers.
    The ‘battlefield of ideals’ metaphor is a compelling one, conveying brilliantly the confused landscape of modern life, and the primitive, physical act of love - the way ’she touches’ and ’the way it feels’ - is presented, in an almost spiritual fashion, as a panacea and a relief from the pains and difficulties of modern life. However, communicative problems are present in the relationship of these characters, as a result of their alienation from nature, due to society’s influence. The female character, for instance, ‘fakes and says I’m a hard case’ - another reference to deception and disguises.
    The song also explores the tensions that exist between the values of the individual characters and of society at large, which is presented almost satirically - ‘’and the Lord speaks out and the pigpens fawn, the sword slides out and the nations mourn. The hoard strides out and the chosen spawn, the devil rides out and the heavens yawn.’’ The repetitive AAAA rhyme scheme emphasizes the repetitiveness of human social mistakes - history repeats itself. The vivid imagery brings the chaos of Harper’s ‘battlefield of ideals’ to life. This bizarre imagery has a lot more to do with the Beats than the Romantics, and it is interesting to observe that this approach sits alongside the pastoral ponderings earlier in the song - it is as if the very language of the Beats and the Romantics has become fused in Harper’s work.
    Consumerism is also depicted grotesquely in this string of flashing metaphors - ‘’Space is just an ashtray, flesh is my best wheel. The atmosphere's my highway, and the landscape's my next meal.’’ There is a surreal element to these violent and destructive images, and ecological concerns are apparent. The natural world becomes a vulnerable space, and human civilisation becomes a hungry, destructive beast. This again, is more of a Beat idea than a Romantic one.
    The Beats, disenchanted with the confines of 1950s American society, also searched for some kind of romantic, emotional, or spiritual fulfilment. For instance, Jack Kerouac, through a fusion of, amongst other things, Buddhist and Catholic ideas, attempted to find some kind of spiritual truth or fulfilment. This impulse to search for some kind of meaning outside the confines of modern society is very similar in spirit to the portrayals of nature found in Romantic poetry, though the Beats and Kerouac necessarily explored it in a very different way to the Romantics. In ’On the Road’, he refers to this elusive satisfaction as ’IT’. Nancy M. Grace writes, ‘’On the Road presents no rational explanation of where IT resides or what IT means, but as Ben Giamo notes, if one traces IT throughout Kerouac’s prose and poetry, one will discern that he experimented with various meanings, ranging from ‘’romantic lyricism to ‘the ragged and ecstatic joy of being,’ from the void-it of the Great World Snake to the joyous pain of amorous love, and, finally, from Catholic/Buddhist serenity to the onset of penitential martyr-hood’’#. It certainly influenced Harper and is especially apparent in ‘Me and My Woman’. However, the religious element of Kerouac’s writing, though almost individualistic and idiosyncratic enough to be considered more of a spiritual impulse than a religious one, clearly did not influence the atheistic Harper.
    ‘One Man Rock and Roll Band,’ being an anti-war song, is the most overtly political song on the album. Anti-war songs are one of the most common archetypes of traditional British folk music, and this is the only song on the album of which the form itself seems directly influenced by tradition. The presentation of the anonymous ‘Johnny soldier’ character, who seems intended to represent potentially any soldier, is very similar to the portrayals of soldiers found in many traditional songs. An obvious example is the Irish song ‘Johnny, I hardly knew ye,’ in which a soldier is grievously wounded and must beg to survive for the rest of his life. Harper’s portrays ‘Johnny’ as a strongly tragic character who is possibly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, as evidenced in the line ‘welcome home, you total stranger.’ The soldier has been changed unrecognizably by his experience of warfare, to the extent that he can no longer identify or be identified with his natural situation. Society is condemned by Harper once again, ‘we treat you here just like they treat you there’, which recalls again the chaotic ‘battlefield of ideas’ metaphor that runs through the album. Society has become an ideological battlefield in these songs. Contextually, these anti-war sentiments would have been very culturally resonant, given that the Vietnam War was still being fought.
    The language of ‘One Man Rock and Roll Band’ is less obviously influenced by either the Beats or the Romantics, and perhaps this is the result of it being part of such a culturally known genre as the anti-war song. The song is played in an open D suspended fourth guitar tuning that has a cathartic effect, due to to it being neither major or minor when the open strings are played. Harper also uses chord phrasings that depend heavily on fifths to add to this harmonic ambiguity.
    The song ‘Hors D’Oeuvres’ is a brilliantly witty
    ‘put-down song’- a vitriolic attack by Harper on a critic who had criticised his songs. The title is a pun - ‘Oeuvre’ here has to do with both cuisine and with an artistic body of work. The critic is likened to a judge, and images pile up, rhymed every line, into a courtroom drama. This is a brilliant poetic conceit, as it gradually and dramatically unfolds the scene to the listener. Harper’s sarcastic and biting caricature of the critic as someone who ‘’strains and farts’’ and ‘’thinks in terms of booze and tarts’’ is quite brilliant, as is the hypocrisy inherent here - ‘’and he says I’m much too crude and far too coarse.’’ Most devastating of all is the critic’s bitter statement ‘’and you know what? I don’t think his little song’s gonna make the charts.’’ To Harper, the commercial world of the charts is not something to aim for - his ‘little’ songs aim to achieve an uncompromising kind of poetic expression. Harper’s words are not in the least bit contrived, and reveal him as being the inheritor of a genuine poetic sensibility that stretches right back to the influence of the Beats and the Romantics.
    To conclude, Roy Harper’s Stormcock certainly bears the mark of both the Beat and the Romantic poets. However, Harper’s work is too complex to attribute singularly to their influence. The way in which he combines what are essentially modern folk songs with poetic ambition and progressive musical arrangements makes him a fiercely individualistic artist, and makes Stormcock a tremendously original statement that is genuinely literary.

    Word count - 2526


    - Grace, N. M. 2007: Jack Kerouac and the Literary Imagination. Palgrave Macmillan. Page 3.

    - Koch, L. 1957: Encyclopedia of British Birds. London: The Waverley Book Company Limited. Page 361.

    - Oerlemans, O. 2002: Romanticism and the Materiality of Nature. Toronto, Buffalo London: University of Toronto Press Incorporated. Page 3.

    - Ruston, S. 2007: Romanticism. London: Continuum. Page 33.

    - Young, R. 2010: Electric Eden - unearthing Britain’s visionary music. Kent and London: Faber and Faber. Page 5.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 1, 2013
  4. Kenny_Wisdom

    Kenny_Wisdom Computer stained fingers

    I know I am too late, but don't forget to reference.

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