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Discussion in 'General' started by bluepoles, Oct 1, 2007.

  1. bluepoles

    bluepoles Guest

    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.
  2. pd

    pd Slightly Desperate Staff Member

    That was an absolutely wonderful introduction, bluepoles. Thank you so much for writing it. Fun times ahead!
  3. pd

    pd Slightly Desperate Staff Member

    ... and now that I have more time...

    As you've probably found out Roy has a vast back catalogue and the style (both lyrically and musically) differs greatly as he progresses through his career. Perhaps you'd like some recommendations of where to go next after Stormcock? I'd say that his other almost-universally liked albums are Flat Baroque and Berserk, HQ, Bullinamingvase, Jugula, and for live, Flashes from the Archives of Oblivion, Unhinged, Live at Les Cousins. For my part I like the longer "epic" songs which means buying Lifemask, Bullinamingvase, Folkjokeopus (McGoohans Blues is another masterpiece) and Burn the World.

    But of course it entirely depends on you as music is as subjective as anything can get. Ask anyone on here for their "top 5" and you'd probably get a different list. I wonder if there is any way to help you pin things down further. I suppose you might give us a list of other artists you really like then we can try to match for you. Dunno if that is liable to work or not :)

  4. Bob Jacobs

    Bob Jacobs Ride away in style


    May I second Paul's welcome? Wonderful to read an enthusiastic report from a new convert! Your epiphany reminds me of the time I first heard Tim Buckley on record, at a time when I had despaired of ever hearing anything remotely like old John Martyn... or, more recently, seeing Chaney Sims in Terra Blues in Greenwich Village (I don't think she's recorded anything yet but she has a beautiful voice and style).

    Discovering a talent like Roy, with such a long back catalogue, is so exciting. At the risk of over-burdening you with choice, I would add Once and Death Or Glory? to Paul's list of much-loved albums. My personal favourite is Flat Baroque and Berserk.

    If you want to explore someone who's eerily similar but different, try Nick Harper (Roy's son), whose latest album, Miracles For Beginners, has received rave reviews.


  5. bluepoles

    bluepoles Guest

    Next steps

    Many thanks for your welcome(s) Paul and Bob. :biggrin:

    I'll gladly welcome any recommendations or steers that are offered. Having my initial experience from a live setting I'm obviously interested to hear live perfomance recordings and I think I would most probably have a leaning towards those longer epic songs.

    Impatience had me trotting down to a record store on Saturday morning and finding only the soft option of Counter Culture available, however I was thankful for that - Disc 1 certainly fed my initial hunger on Saturday.

    I fear listing other artists might confuse the matter, it would certainly confuse me trying to compile such a list :wink:

    Interesting to see the Poll on the possibility of desk recordings from Clonakilty. If there was an Albert Hall 28/09 desk recording available I'd personally be all over it like a rash.
  6. Barry

    Barry Computer stained fingers

    RFH Live

    If you are looking for a live recording may I recommend Roy's 60th birthday concert at The Royal Festival Hall which has Me & my Woman and Same Old Rock (from stormcock) and is the concert in it's entirety.
  7. pd

    pd Slightly Desperate Staff Member

    I'd completely forgotten about the RFH! That's my afternoon listening sorted then, thanks Barry :w00t:
  8. Kenny_Wisdom

    Kenny_Wisdom Computer stained fingers

    Bluepoles, that was a great read, with a cup of tea in front of me! Thanks!

    It took me right back to the first time I heard Roy, and I too was fortunate enough to do so in a live setting as well, which made it extra special I think.

    It cuts both ways - I've seen various reactions to Joanna's music and I haven't heard any before, and I will be getting a copy of "YS" (seems like a good place to start) any day now. As much as anything it is exciting to hear an artist like Joanna express her praise for Stormcock and I am interested to hear how that transcribes to her own music.
  9. aspwatterson

    aspwatterson The Unknown Soldier

    Dear Bluepolar

    You obviously have an open mind to intelligent life / music and you are in good open-minded learning company here. I can vouch for that seriously. Enjoy the voyage ; as RH would say "I came alone as me, not out of fear". The trip you are about to embark upon may teach you and your children's children's children etc. well!! And you'll never be the same again hopefully! It's not a second childhood but a continuing one! Nothing to do with senility but understanding your life beautiful journey teaching us all as we progress to somewhere ethereal.. sorry I'll shut up now and get back to my other life of survival in another world of day-to-day existence. Thanks for the break from this mundane so-called reality...

    andisean [mental aged unfathomable]
  10. bluepoles

    bluepoles Guest

    Many thanks for the warm welcomes, wise words and compass points of advice in all of your replies. They are greatly appreciated.

    I’m actually quite glad in hindsight that my trip on to HMV on Saturday resulted in finding not much by the way of Roy’s recordings on the shelf. With your collective advice I would much rather be patient and order stuff from the Harpershop online, which seems wholly more ethical and respectful. I am loath to pay for HMV’s overheads anyway.

    I’m grateful for having found this place to assist my knowledge gathering and aid my journey. You might have to forgive me however for sharing some knowledge about Joanna for those who have expressed an interest, for I feel a little more qualified to speak of her rather than launch into discussions about Roy other than to recount my initial, (and quite wonderful), first experience above. I promise not to bang on about her too much. :)

    So for Kenny and anyone else who may be curious of Ms. Newsom Y’s is the best place to start, it being as close to the most perfect album ever in my humble opinion for all sorts of reasons. There are only two other official Drag City releases: The Sprout and The Bean album which predates Y’s and the most recent Y’s Street Band EP which comprises of 3 Live tracks. You can add to this two self released EP’s (Walnut Whales and Yarn & Glue) which are the early works of Jo and fairly unpolished home recordings. These recordings are most notable to illustrate how far she has come with her vocal style (a fact that she has often commented on in interviews “I feel like I am more familiar with [my voice] now,” asserts the 24-year-old singer/songwriter/harpist. “From singing so much in the last few years, I have a wider singing range now. I know that has changed my voice”).

    As far as her connection with Roy is concerned my take would be that her obvious love and admiration for Stormcock would definitely have influenced her in terms of the epic song structure to be found on her longer compositions within Y’s. I’m sure the elements of song structure, key changes and difficult/surprising changes in tempo may well hark back to Stormcock as a formative experience and source of inspiration.

    As I have mentioned to Paul pd, I have collated some interesting interviews in two word docs that may be of interest to Newsom newcomers. She is very erudite, has some fascinating things to say about her songs, compositional theory and life in general. Van Dyke Parks was a huge part of Y’s and her explanations of how that collaboration helped complete the album are particularly interesting… well to me at least. :)

    If anyone is interested in the interviews please do not hesitate to pm me and I’ll mail them onto you.
  11. Dr_Doom_The_Optimist

    Dr_Doom_The_Optimist In a beautiful rambling mess


    I'm so jealous of you! Hearing that back catalogue for the first time! I first heard Roy's music 20 years ago after reading an article on him in Record Collector magazine. The minute the needle hit the vinyl of 'Flat Baroque And Berserk' I was enchanted. Welcome.

    Dr D.T.O. aka Adam Leonard.
  12. Kenny_Wisdom

    Kenny_Wisdom Computer stained fingers

    Well, rather than delay matters, my foray into all things Newsom began today. Still on track one, and clearly this type of epic track will require more than just a quick listen in the car back to work after hitting the shops.

    My very first impression regarding vocal style was it put me in mind of Cerys Mathews.
  13. Sandie

    Sandie Computer stained fingers

    Welcome, Bluepoles. Thanks for your review - having been a fan of Roy for 37 years (and not been at the RAH), it was great to read your review. Have fun listening to Roy's back catalogue - every album is a treat, IMO!!!
  14. The Monster

    The Monster I've got a zappy little nappy


    Thoroughly enjoyed your eloquent and engaging review of the RAH event, far better than the one I cobbled together!!

    We seem to have arrived on the same delayed train, as you can see from the comment I made under 'Blogs' back in August:-

    "Hello Everyone

    Like many, I suppose, I wasted 40 years of fun by somehow only having tangential contact with Roy's music - odd tracks on samplers etc; I was a bit too young for all the Hyde Park stuff.

    I finally got the message when buying the Harvest sampler, Picnic, on ebay. This led to acquisition of the 5 disc set with book, Harvest Festival, which has lots of Roy stuff on it, which in turn led to a search on the site for tour info (talk about skin of the teeth!)

    Saw him at Milton Keynes and was completely blown away by his playing, the songs (unbelievable version of The Monster to close - would kill for a recording), his warmth and humility together with Matt's extraordinary lead-acoustic playing. Got the feeling he really enjoyed that gig.

    Next thing, I'm travelling to Clon for the Sunday concert and Gathering. A very special few days, loved the place, the surroundings (big thx to the charming host at the Clonakilty Townhouse), the other afficionnados, the whole deal.

    For me, the Q&A perfectly illustrated what I really love about him. What is so impressive is his ability to engage with people in a considerate but challenging way; his intellect and erudition is a given, but there is a desire too to think deeply about issues and to carry on thinking while answering a question (a very rare skill), showing an empathy and respect that is hugely complimentary and impossible to resist being drawn into.

    If I've made him sound akin to the Second Coming, it's because he's simply the most impressive and inspiring person I've met for a very, very long time, possibly ever.

    Which brings me to the thorny issue of future performances, carbon footprints and the rest.

    I guess I'd be a bit more inclined towards understanding if I'd not got so much catching up to do as far as live shows are concerned (!) but I hope to heaven (is there a heaven?) that a good break and a trawl down some different paths for a while will bring about a slight change of heart.

    We can't uninvent air travel. I respect totally Roy's deeply held views on the subject, but can't believe we can't find some middle ground, e.g. voluntarily agreeing to limit the remainder of our planned travel in exchange for another week one future July or maybe congregating en masse in the UK and coming over together on a coach via the Swansea to Cork ferry. Where there's a will there's a way...

    Enjoy the rest of the summer"

    I'm not sure whether to be happy as there is so much to discover (I'm acquiring stuff piecemeal to extend the pleasure, so will be up to speed in about 3 years!!) or sad that I've missed so much of the incredible journey others on this site have undertaken. A bit of both, I suppose.

    Welcome to a kindred spirit!


  15. Dr_Doom_The_Optimist

    Dr_Doom_The_Optimist In a beautiful rambling mess

    Harvest Festival

    Changing the subject slightly.. that Harvest Festival boxset you mention went on eBay recently for £140 !! I've got one, but I've misplaced one of the discs!!

  16. The Monster

    The Monster I've got a zappy little nappy

    It'll be inside another cd case, if you're anything like me!

    The set is quite hard to get, mine cost about £60 from a guy in Holland, also from Ebay a few months back, so think I got off lightly...there are 5 on Amazon between £120 and £301 !!
  17. SteveT

    SteveT Gracing the Bahamas in see through pyjamas

    Good grief! I'm sure I only paid around forty quid for mine about a year or so ago.
  18. Enjay

    Enjay The Old Git on the Bus

    Hi Bluepoles

    Just loved your post about RH and your impressions.
    I cannot add to the suggestions already made about listening to his 'canon'. Enjoy the journey...


    P.S. I recently got hold of Joanna Newsom's 'Ys'. I love it, but know nothing about her. I would much appreciate any information you can send me.

  19. The Monster

    The Monster I've got a zappy little nappy

    Meant to say, bluepoles, the book of Roy's lyrics available from the official site is a beautiful artifact (apart from the cover illustration!) and really informative about the songs themselves.

    Strongly recommend an investment!

    Have just picked up a copy of the Stonehenge 84 video for £2 off ebay - great versions of Commune and One Man R&RB and hilarious festival footage


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