Roy Harper (b1941)
English singer/songwriter/guitarist, Roy Harper, moved to Folkingham in 1987. He bought No. 25 Market Place, now The White House, a three-storey five-bay late eighteenth-century stone house on the west side of Market Place.
He converted the top floor into a recording studio which witnessed sessions from famous musician associates, such as Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Harper, whose output on the Harvest label remained both brilliant and eccentrically erratic, was on close terms with both Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, as well as Kate Bush.
He was honoured in the song Hats Off to Roy Harper on Led Zeppelin III, and famously sang the lead vocal on Pink Floyd’s Have a Cigar. He also sang backing vocals on Kate Bush’s Breathing, and she covered Harper’s Another Day with Peter Gabriel
During 1987, Harper recorded the album Descendants of Smith, at Stoic Studios, which presumably was the name of his Folkingham studio. The album, which was his last release on EMI, was a reference back to his second 1968 album, Come Out Fighting Ghengis Smith. It was engineered by Jacqueline ‘Aqualine’ Turner, Harper’s then girlfriend, who also contributed emulator.
Harper sold the White House in 1990 to move to Rossmore, near Clonakilty, County Cork, Ireland where he still lives.
After the house sold, and prior to the move, he lived in accommodation at the rear of The Greyhound. Harper split from Jacquie in 1992 after she ran off with violinist Nigel Kennedy, with whom Harper was working on a version of Brahms’ Violin Concerto – the trauma caused contributed to the material on 1992’s Death or Glory? album.
Jacquie Turner is credited as the producer/engineer on a number of Nigel Kennedy albums including Kafka in 1996 and Kreisler in 1998.
Overall, he released 22 studio albums (and 10 live ones) across a career that stretches back to 1966.
As a musician, Harper is known for his distinctive fingerstyle playing and lengthy, lyrical, complex compositions, reflecting his love of jazz and the poet John Keats. He was also the lead vocalist on Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar.”
His influence has been acknowledged by Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Pete Townshend, Kate Bush, Pink Floyd, and Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, who said Harper was his: “…primary influence as an acoustic guitarist and songwriter.”
In 2005, Harper was awarded the MOJO Hero Award, and in 2013 a Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
He was born in 1941 in Rusholme, a suburb of Manchester. His mother, Muriel, died three weeks after he was born. From the age of 6, he lived in St Annes-on-Sea, a place he described as being “like a cemetery with bus stops”.
He was brought up by his father and stepmother, with whom he became disillusioned because of her religious beliefs. His anti-religious views would later become a familiar theme within his music.
Harper began writing poems when he was 12. At the age of 13. he began playing skiffle music with his younger brother David (“Davey” on the album Flat Baroque and Berserk), as well as becoming influenced by blues music. At 14 he formed his first group (De Boys) with his brothers David and Harry.
He was educated at King Edward VII School, Lytham St Annes and left aged 15 (1956) to join the Royal Air Force to follow an ambition to be a pilot. After two years Harper rejected the rigid discipline and feigned madness to obtain a military discharge, as a result receiving an electroconvulsive therapy treatment at Princess Mary’s RAF Hospital, Wendover.
After his discharge, he spent one day inside the former Lancaster Moor Mental Institute before escaping. These experiences would be recalled in “Committed”, a song on Harper’s debut album, Sophisticated Beggar. From around 1961 he busked around North Africa, Europe and London for a few years.
Musically, Harper’s earliest influences were American blues musician Lead Belly, folk singer Woody Guthrie and jazz musician Miles Davis.
Harper has also cited the Beat poets as being highly influential, particularly Jack Kerouac.
He played his first paid performance at a poetry reading in Newcastle in 1960.
Harper’s first album, Sophisticated Beggar, was recorded in 1966 after he was spotted at Les Cousins and signed to Strike Records.
The album consisted of Harper’s songs and poetry backed by acoustic guitar, recorded with a Revox tape machine by Pierre Tubbs and with contributions from English guitarist Paul Brett.
In June 1968, Harper performed at the first free concert ever held at Hyde Park, acting as compere and sharing the bill with Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd and Tyrannosaurus Rex. At the time, he spoke of co-writing a rock opera with Pink Floyd. No opera resulted, but it was the beginning of a musical relationship. Harper began to attract a following of fans from the underground music scene and tour the UK.
With Harper’s reputation growing, Pink Floyd’s former manager Peter Jenner signed him to a long-term (and at times confrontational) deal with EMI’s ‘underground’ subsidiary, Harvest Records. Over a ten-year period, Harper recorded eight albums at the Abbey Road Studios for the Harvest label and for much of this period was managed and produced by Jenner, initially acting for Blackhill Enterprises.
In 1972, Harper made his acting debut playing Mike Preston alongside Carol White in the John Mackenzie film Made. The film was chosen (along with A Clockwork Orange) to represent Britain at the Venice Film Festival. Harper also recorded the soundtrack for the film, released the following year as Lifemask, again with contributions from Jimmy Page.
At the time, Lifemask was created as Harper’s final bow, as he had been diagnosed with the (then) little-known genetic condition HHT, which caused polycythemia, incapacitating him. The cover art shows Harper’s life mask, as opposed to the ‘death mask’ it might have been.
Controversy followed the release of 1977’s Bullinamingvase. The owners of Watford Gap service station objected to criticism of their food – “Watford Gap, Watford Gap/A plate of grease and a load of crap…” – in the lyrics of the song “Watford Gap”,as did an EMI board member who was also a non-executive director of Blue Boar (the owners of the service station). Harper was forced to drop it from future UK copies of the album, though it remained on the US LP and reappeared on a later CD reissues.
Throughout 1984, Harper toured the United Kingdom with Jimmy Page performing a predominantly acoustic set at folk festivals under various guises such as the MacGregors, and Themselves.
In 1993 Harper established his own record label Science Friction and obtained the rights to all his previously released albums. As a result, from 1994 much of Harper’s back catalogue became available on CD once more.
Harper was very productive during the decade, releasing five studio albums.
In addition, Harper released a live video, Once (1990), an EP Burn the World (1990), a 4-track CD single Death or Glory? (1992), a limited edition live cassette Born in Captivity II (1992) (featuring cricketer Graeme Fowler and a cricket poem written by Harper: “Three Hundred Words”), a compilation album An Introduction to ….. (1994), and a reissue of Descendants of Smith (his 1988 release) renamed Garden of Uranium (1994).
In 2000, Harper released an almost entirely acoustic album, The Green Man, accompanied by The Tea Party’s Jeff Martin on guitar, hurdy-gurdy and numerous other instruments. The following year (2001) Harper celebrated his 60th birthday with a concert performance at London’s Royal Festival Hall and was joined by numerous guest artists including; David Bedford, Nick Harper, Jeff Martin and John Renbourn.
HQ was awarded Record of the Year in Portugal in 1975. That year Harper also received a similar award in Finland for the same record.
Work of Heart was named The Sunday Times Album of the Year in 1982.
One of Harper’s sons, Nick Harper, is a singer-songwriter. He has occasionally toured and recorded with his father and appeared as a guitarist on a number of his albums since 1985. Another son, Ben Harper (by English actress Verna Harvey), lives in the US. Songwriter and record producer Felix Howard says Harper is his children’s “biological grandfather”.