Live Review: Roy Harper

Film editor Joe Holloran takes us along on his trip to see Roy Harper's farewell tour

Joe Holloran
2nd April 2019
Credit: Man Alive! at Wikimedia Commons
Let me start off by saying that I'm not much of a concert goer anymore. Rarely does a artist or band come to toon enticing enough for me to open my wallet. Roy Harper, however, is one of those exceptions. So, after snapping up the tickets and waiting eagerly for five months, on Wednesday 20th March I travelled across the river Tyne into Gateshead and entered the Sage ready to enjoy one of my favourite songwriters of all time performing one of his final gigs ever, on his farewell tour after a legendary 55-year career.

For those of you who don't know the name, let me give you a brief introduction. Roy Harper is a 77 year old English folk rock musician based out of Ireland who has been releasing albums and touring since 1964. His often cryptic and sardonic lyrics and musical experimentation have been lauded by some of the biggest names in the industry, both past and present.

Fans of old-school rock may recognise his name from the Led Zeppelin tribute song 'Hats off to (Roy) Harper' from their third album, or for his amazing vocal performance on Pink Floyd's 'Have a Cigar'. Modern indie and folk masters such as Fleet Foxes, Bright Eyes and Joanna Newsom (whom toured with Harper in 2010) have all heaped praise on the old timer.

Led Zeppelin payed tribute to Harper on their classic third album from 1970.

For me though, Roy Harper means one thing. My dad. As a young punk/metal-head/Goth/Tori Amos fan, there were few artists whom we both loved. Harper was one of them. So, I brought my dad along with me to the Sage as a birthday present so we could enjoy the great mans music together.

The show itself lasted a little under two-hours and ran for twelve songs. Supported by a six-person band, Harper rolled off some of his classics such as 'Another Day', 'Highway Blues' and 'When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease', along with some of his newer album tracks. The intro lines to every song was met with a ripple of applause and then (mostly) quiet admiration. To that point, I wish the security at the Sage was able to boot-out those clearly too drunk to do anything other than shout out during songs and make a arse of themselves. Not even this however could dampen the mood for long, and the majority of the nearly full house (average age around 65) could seldom have been more respectful. The addition of the band to the usually solo-acoustic styling's of Harper worked brilliantly well, which was surprising, but in retrospect shouldn't have been as each of the members were highly talented.

The gig was one of those rare moments where the communal enjoyment of the music was tinged with an unspoken air of sadness. Neither myself nor my dad are old enough to have followed Harper from the beginning, but his music has played an important role in both of our lives. Watching him perform for the first and probably last time with my dad, to whom Harper's music means so much, was the most powerful live music gig I have ever had. What made this even more moving were the moments where his age started to show slightly. He forgot the opening lines to two classic songs and made a few other false starts on verses and choruses.

Harper's classic ballad on a lost love, also from 1970.

For a man of such stature these came as a shock to myself, the crowd and mostly Harper himself who apologised several times and seemed angry with himself. The response from the crowd was patient understanding and unconditional support. It was beautiful to see.

If this is to be Harper's last ever set of shows then I can only say it was a privilege to be one of those who was there to bid farewell to a unique talent the likes of which we will not see again. But, as Roy said at the end of the show "I'm not dead yet, maybe I will see you soon." I hope so Roy. I hope so.

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