I attended the Royal Festival Hall on Friday 28/09 as a long time admirer of Joanna Newsom. This was to be the first time I had seen her perform live and I was naturally excited to be in possession of a ticket of a fine view in such salubrious surroundings. The omens (should you believe in such things) were good. I arrived early to see an A4 sheet detailing the running order for the evening pinned to a wall. I was aware of the first act, The Moore Brothers, and knew them as friends of Joanna’s. But the second act detailed on the sheet was, (and this is a difficult statement to make in here amongst the company present), not much more than a vaguely familiar name. In truth I had never heard the music of Roy Harper. There… it’s done now, all said and out in the open. You may have to bear with me from here on. If I had to describe my taste in music I would sadly have to resort to an often overused and indefinable single word, that unsatisfying post-modern catchall: Eclectic. Who really theses days cannot claim to have an eclectic taste in music? We are surrounded by technology, a savage media and perhaps (too much) information that makes it far too easy. Music is a commodity for some and a fashion accessory for many. With the click of a button or the gush of a torrent we can expand our taste remotely and swiftly define music within i-tunes genre before neatly storing it with binary logic into compact ones and zeros. We can send music through the air without even hearing it as if by magic. Technology, by its ease of use, seems to compel us to share and not necessarily for the right reasons. I have a friend who often brags of having downloaded another x-gigabytes of music or of having the need to buy another terrorbyte (sic) hard drive for storage as if the quantity and quality debate had never existed. Sometimes the whole phenomena tends to make my head spin. Are we storing things that we cannot feel as well as not being able to hold or touch? So purely as a flimsy attempt at an introduction, and in the absence of a more suitable word, I’ll stick with eclectic to describe my musical taste. And as far as discovering new music is concerned I try to follow the unwritten and possibly unsaid edict of the late great Mr. John Peel… you simply have to keep listening. Discovering new music used to be fun. It would involve some effort. Whispers, rumours and hearsay. Recommendations from real ‘live’ people who you could actually share a pint with. Finding yourself tucked away in the corner of some crusty bar room or dingy club. Stumbling across a support act. It was all together more innocent and organic from a time when the word organic wouldn’t make you cringe and we thought that pesticides were actually quite a good idea! These days even having a ‘free’ CD thrusted into your hand after a gig is little more than a slick piece of marketing. Anyone remember the C-60? But the truth is I had never heard the music of Roy Harper until Friday evening. I was already comfortably seated when Roy took to the stage and I was immediately aware of the recognition he had from the assembled audience. There were obviously many fans of his present and this was borne out by the warm reception he received. And soon I was to learn that Roy’s appearance on this night was far more than that of a supporting act. His introduction was to describe that he had been personally invited by Joanna to perform and that he was grateful to have the opportunity to play in the great hall once again. I learned that he was to perform Stormcock in it’s entirety much to the obvious pleasure of many of those assembled and that due to time constraints he would cut short his customary between song chat. Without knowing quite why I already had a peculiar sense that this was an unfortunate time constrained omission from his normal performance modus and I had a curious sense that I might have been missing something. But still he managed quite effortlessly to introduce the first two songs with enough words to capture my attention before managing to rivet me to my chair and mesmerise me for the next 45 minutes with a performance of jaw dropping proportions. There is probably very little mileage to be gained by attempting to describe what I witnessed here, I am aware that I am amongst the converted and more learned and preaching has never been part of my style. I can only speak from a personal point of view to say that I was completely stunned by my first hearing of Roy’s music, entranced by his performance, and quickly became aware that I was in the privileged position of witnessing a full Stormcock set. At the end of his set Roy took to the mic, after quelling the rapturous applause and a standing ovation to once again thank Joanna whom he described as an ‘individual’ and as such a commodity that is in short supply these days. I was simply one of those who had risen to my feet in admiration. It transpires that Stormcock is one of Joanna’s favourite ever records that Roy’s decision to play the 4 songs was a kind of gift. When Joanna took to the stage later her first words were to thank him and that of all of the wonderful things that have happened in her life witnessing his performance that evening was probably the one that she would one day tell her grandkids about. She thanked him again for his gift at the end of the show, which solicited a shouted “you’re welcome” from Roy himself who had watched the show from one of the Loggia boxes. Some performers seem to grow weary with age. Some grow old disgracefully and some just a little too gracefully for comfort. It would be churlish and unnecessary of me to name names here. I had no sense of this with Mr. Harper, his performance seemed utterly genuine and powerful. I had a sense of history, without the baggage of antiquity that’s normally tethered to such a word. I’m sure that these songs initially crafted long ago had undergone subtle changes through tireless performance over the years but were nevertheless as strong and perhaps timeless as the day they were written. And that is entirely to his credit, craft and performance. Timeless. For the record Joanna was everything and more that I could have wished for. She is very special to me. At the end of the gig I was lucky enough to be seated near the box where Roy had watched the show. I felt compelled to thank him for helping to make the night so special and I said so I shook his hand. He was kind and gracious in return and he clearly had enjoyed the night as much as the rest of us. So here I am. Opened up by coincidence. I tend to become gently obsessed when I stumble upon new and inspiring music and with Roy I have a huge catalogue to happily draw on. I’m looking forward to the journey. On Friday, purely by chance Pandora’s box was opened. Many thanks to Roy for taking the lid off. if you got this far, thanks for listening.