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www.djburnham.com, Writing, Review of Roy & Nick Harper live at The Gardner Arts Centre, Brighton, 11th November 1994, David Burnham, D.J. Burnham, Dave Burnham
ROY and NICK HARPER AT THE GARDNER ARTS CENTRE BRIGHTON
FRIDAY 11TH NOVEMBER 1994
CRACKING GIG GROMIT
THE FABULOUS MISTAKE BROTHERS
On Friday 18th of February the
phone rang - it was Darren inviting me to organise a gig for Roy
later in the year. I asked him to name a day, and a short while
later I rang him back to confirm a booking with:-
The Gardner Arts Centre, Brighton for Friday 11th November 1994
Seven months later, after seeing Roy and Nick in the meantime at the Garage in Highbury, two nights at the Half Moon Putney, Cropredy Festival, Guildford Festival and the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth (if you had a flyer thrust into your hand at any of these it was probably me); the day of the Brighton gig arrived. The local news was full of the Tories refusing to return in 1996 for their conference after our Mayor slagged them off at the inaugural speeches - HOORAH! Mid- afternoon Darren and Erica (merchandising) arrived first, then Tony and Paul (P.A.) along with Roy and Nick. It sounds a bit soppy, but I get a wonderful feeling of 'family' being with this bunch, and all the advance planning for the gig was already paying off in having time for a good old natter and a cup of tea (although I did forget to buy any milk - whoops). We unloaded Tony's trusty van with the help of my old mate Matt (total star - more of whom later) and everyone got on with the soundcheck. The dressing rooms were protected by a code lock and when Roy mooched off at one point I quickly told him the seven digit code. An hour or so later we bumped into each other again and he rattled off the code, showing that his incredible memory is still firing on all cylinders.
Around 6.30 people started to arrive and in no time the bar was getting thoroughly intimate, with tickets practically selling out before doors opened. The closest I've come to fundamentalism is with Harper, so a fair few of our friends had come along, some committed Harpies and others virgins to 'Harper's Bazaar' ( all of whom later said they'd loved it.) My wife Sue arrived with Julie Angel, Jo Malone and Lee Sanders, and we managed a brief 'Hello' before I went off to play at being promoter again. Mark Chadwick arrived with a bevy of Levellers so Matt and I pointed out the balcony we were putting guests on "Yeah we can climb up there OK" said Mark with a wry grin....we quickly showed him the stairs at the back of the theatre, just in case he wasn't joking. 7.30 doors opened, Matt and I grabbed a handful each of some address flyers I'd put together and made sure no-one got past us without one; so I could build up a mailing list for future local Harper gigs. Roy and Nick were due to do a local radio show interview after the gig, so we were hoping to get people in and start A.S.A.P. (7.45-ish) Thing is, folks are sort of used to Roy drifting onto stage around 8 to half past, so by the time they'd gathered it was around 8.10 and Nick hit the stage to kick off with his solo set.
"Start things off...Aaah, you made it (looking over at us and eliciting an enthusiastic chuckle )...I'm gonna play a few of my songs, some of which are on my attractively priced CD which is available in the foyer. Start with a song about trousers." Nick ripped straight into 'Headless' and underlined the confidence that he's found on stage with breathtakingly fast finger-picking, gorgeous Eastern runs and tonsil-twanging vocals. The crowd were well into it. "This is a song that says we're all in it together...which too few people seem to realise." Having hooked everyone he floated them into communal spirit with 'Shadowlands', his voice holding out brilliantly after 30 or so dates. "Thank you...I'm glad you agree with those sentiments. I'm going to do another stong...song...not a stong, I'll play the stongs later (laughter ) about a great British hero we're all very proud of." A prowling bluesy riff introduced 'Mr. Grey' (by the way, did you hear about the 'Grey Man of Ditchling?' In protest to a proposed road a 400 ft. tall cartoon of John Major - complete with underpants outside - was cut into the hillside just up the way from us ) poetically imploring our Prime Minister to Naff Orf, and sprinkled with Nick's juxtaposed impersonations. "Yeah..it's not quite finished yet...I've included too much of his vocabulary." On to 'Radio Silence', one of the first songs we'd heard him play in his early solo outings and an engagingly haunting piece ( put this on the album Nick and make sure 'Crazy Boy' is on it too ) "This is a song about a miracle...that didn't happen," I guess he was referring to the last election when the unthinkable happened and the Tories stayed in. A new song followed, a savage inditement of the 80's and their political and environmental heritage, demonstrating that Nick's lyrical flair is developing nicely (I'm not sure of the title at this stage - it could be 'Hearts of Clay' or perhaps 'Thanks for the Miracle). "I'm gonna finish with another song from that fabulous CD...don't buy it." ( all tongue in cheek ) He finished with 'Riverside' ( the first time I've heard it live) and played an utterly joyous version of the 12 string instrumental. A hint of echo in the mix added to the atmosphere, filling every corner of the theatre - veering from thunderous riffing to an exquisitely delicate finale; and at the end the crowd exploded. What a great start to the evening. If you think back a few years to Nick's first tentative steps onto stage with Roy ( possibly the Bloomsbury theatre for Same Old Rock) then his growth rate as an artist has been astounding - WATCH THIS SPACE.
We were in for a very short break as things needed to get moving along quickly to ensure that Roy and Nick could get to the radio station in time later on. I presented a signed CD to Carol Attwood (winner of a Harper ticket competition we'd run in a local paper) and a signed Birthday card to Steve Hollobone who'd bought 11 friends with him from Eastbourne to celebrate his birthday (and had just spent the last couple of months driving around Sussex in his Transit with a large dayglo green Harper gig poster in the back window - fine fellow). I nipped backstage to congratulate Nick on a great set and then dashed in to the bar to jolly everyone along back into the theatre again. A quick chat with Joubert Malherbe ( local journalist who has run some excellent articles on Roy in the past and for tonight's event) and with Paul Davison who'd been at the High Wycombe gig the night before (& who runs the Harper computer electronic mailing list); then on with the show.
Roy came on "I'd like to start off with a song about the Garden of Eden which was discovered a long time before it was written down in words. God I've had a rough few days ( laughter )...in the Garden of Eden...it's capable of doing that to you...the Garden of Eden..it's great though...a song for the kids." 'Tom Tiddler' kicked off the second half of the evening, getting Roy warmed up. Lots of lovely subtle echo on Roy's vocals and swirly panning on the guitar mix ( bloody excellent job on the PA this tour Tony!) Roy turned to pick up the other guitar and found himself in a bit of a tangle with leads and straps..."Oh...dear...sort of a square hole in a round peg...ah look, look ( he extricated himself) come on...applause."( laughter and cheers ). 'You're popular' shouted someone, 'Better than the Floyd' shouted someone else. "Better than the Floyd?" said Roy incredulously "How the Hell could that be?" ( Grinning ) Loads of backchat from the audience "Oooo there was a lot of comment there...now, now Boys and Girls." After rambling gloriously about Salisbury Plain, Norway and blueberries, (to the delight of the crowd ), he went on to play 'Commune. "Thank you...this was gonna to be 'The Marijuana Lecture Tour', there's not much to say really...in any case I've forgotten most of it ( laughter )." Some more weird and wonderful comments and conversations with the audience, initially with Roy trying to discuss the evils of tobacco, someone tried to remind him what he was going on about by shouting out "Cigarette Packet", but as Roy'd lost the thread a bit he was boggled by this apparently abstract observation and suggested that we all popped up to Ditchling Beacon and talked to the Martians. "We are Martians!" retorted Sue, causing Roy to chuckle. "Why do I see these exit signs every I go?" By now we were all in hysterics with the surreal direction things are going in and he mellowed things out by introducing 'South Africa' - "This is a song about a Huge principal...I don't have any faith in any prayers going anywhere, except further in...I'm very pleased that 20 years ago...or so...I wrote a love song instead of a hate song, and that all of us who cared eventually helped to free up South Africa...which must be fairly decent Karma somewhere." ( A comic shrug from Roy during "..I am young and strong.." brought a friendly chortle from the theatre ) 'South Africa' was gorgeous, and bearing in mind that he'd already played some 30 dates, Roy's voice was surprisingly strong and controlled. "20 or 30 years ago it was a bit weird to profess openly that you didn't believe in a 'God'...Percy Shelley was thrown out of Oxford in 1800, for being an atheist...which is actually too strong a term, because we all know that there's a common spirituality amongst us...there isn't anywhere else that I'm going except Planet Earth...I was gonna say Planet Zarg ( Laughter ) but I overcame myself at the last split second. This song dates from a time when it was perhaps important to impress on people that it was they themselves that were in charge of themselves spiritually...Cat Stevens still doesn't appear to have made it ." ( Laughter ) While Roy was telling a few tales about Cat Stevens from the Les Cousins days ,three folks slipped out of the exit, Roy watched them go and said "Sorry there's no accounting for some people" to which one of the crowd retorted "Cat Stevens' fan club" which hit they collective funny bone. One bloke marched up to the stage during 'Man to Man', took a photo of Roy (who gave him a quizzical look) and then turned around, said "Say Cheese" and took one of the whole audience, which caused a lot of amusement. At the end Roy said "Thank you, that was the first time that song has ever been remotely funny...I really appreciated the show of violence outside the Houses of Parliament the other day ( referring to the Criminal Justice Bill Demo') I wrote this song 673 years ago that suggested another way of going about these things...the CJB is aimed at 'Them' actually, but 'Them' becomes 'You' at some point or another ( applause ) ... they're waiting for you with shields and stuff.." "Yeah, and bloody great horses" shouted someone from the audience to which Roy responded "Yeah, well it's okay if you can titivate the horse and hang on to its dick for a while...that's a bit Roman...I'm having a real conversation with some of you tonight...I've got to play now, otherwise people will have come here and all we'll have done is communicated. ( Laughter ) But it's this time of year...it's poppy time and we should take Grandad with his meddles and parade outside Parliament with a banner saying 'FUCK OFF' ( Laughter and applause) 'You fucking halfwits'...sorry about the swearing ladies." at which point an attractive girlfriend of ours wandered past the stage and gave him a cheeky wave and a smile "Tonight's developing nicely" said a delighted Harper and launched into 'One Man Rock 'N Roll Band.' Half way through the fourth string broke, but he carried on anyway and despite the pitch slipping a bit got thoroughly into it so that at the end the crowd gave him a huge roar. Nick arrived on stage to be presented with re-stringing duties. I caught Si Taylor's eye,(who was sitting on the front row and helped organise the gig) and with a mixture of sign language and hand waving got Nick to give the guitar to him so that Nick could accompany Roy on 'Hallucinating Light.' Si (who's a great guitarist in his own right) restrung and tuned the guitar to the correct open tuning (and stretched the string to take out all the slack). Roy looked over to Si and in a comic Yorkshire accent said "Can I 'ave that other machine back?" and suspended the guitar by gripping the fourth string in both hands and bounced it up and down to the collective cringe of all the guitarists in the audience "Well you may as well find out a dodgy string at the beginning ( Laughter )...a lot of people use a guitar tech and maybe as I approach my dotage it'll be one of the criteria that I work by ( Laughter ) He played about with it until he'd satisfied himself "It's very important I get the tuning right for this, because this is 'One of Those Days in Sussex'." ( Cheers ) "Only a lunatic would attempt this..." "Go on then Roy" said Sue (Laughter ) "On the back of a packet of tobacco ( picking up his thread from earlier) it says 'This'll kill you' and that's written there by the government and they're the bastards who are trying to kill you...so don't put tobacco in your joints." ( Laughter ) Dedicating it to the father of our language (Alfred) in the intro' passage Linda Lovelace's pubic hairdo was replaced by "...and giving Virginia Bottomley a very unvirgin bottom bottomley." ( Laughter and applause ) Roy and Nick masterfully commuted between the hinterlands of apparent chaos to the peaks of perfection and delivered the most magically brilliant version of 'One of Those Days' that we've ever heard live; truly fantastic and rewarded by lengthy applause. "...we must be in Sussex, they must be more intelligent...I tell you what...can you just play Janet and John?" "This is one of my songs that I forgot to play earlier" said Nick and played 'Janet and John' while Roy had a rest and grooved along to it. (Outlining Mr. Major's ludicrous career with high speed lyrical delivery drawing on politico-speak and intelligent satire with an infectiously bouncy riff) They played 'Old Cricketer' and then Roy introduced 'Watford Gap' telling the story about the waitress haranguing him about her vicious dog while a fight went on in the background. Nick was 'relaxing' and Roy started to play, but Nick hadn't started so Roy looked across puzzled and Nick said "That's were you usually stop" ( alluding to Roy's famous false starts, which are often a prelude in themselves to his veering off on a ramble across the mindscape) "Oh...well that was the stopping bit then" joked Roy and off they went into the Countrified singalong pisstake of the motorway service station aping 'Cumberland Gap'. At the end of which Nick hit an extraordinary high note - like he'd just had a run-in with Mrs. Bobbitt; all of which went down very well. "That's how it could be done on BBC2, if only they'd let us...I think there'd have been some questions asked in Parliament.." "Only if you've got the money" shouted out one of the audience, causing hilarity all round. "How are we getting home tonight? Where is home?" They continued with 'Same Old Rock'. "...recently retitled this 'One new doorstep, the same old Jehovah's witness." A great rendition and again possibly one of the best live versions we've heard. During '....Flying through his ceaseless lip...' found Roy going off on a splendidly trippy echoed frenzy of sound effects like a cosmic Eddie Izzard ( more so than I've ever heard him do before, reminiscent of a passage off 'Flashes..') and Nick embellished his final guitar solo to even dizzier heights; the crowd went wild and applauded for ages. "It's been a really very relaxed night for me...as you've noticed...it's nice to have a night off and we've communicated very well...I think I ought to culture you and maybe it should be mutual...anyway I'd like to close with something from the road...thanks, all of you." 'Highway Blues' got everyone rocking and I recalled Cropredy earlier in the year when they opened with this, Roy's hair flying in the wind and excitement reaching fever pitch as they grabbed the World and his lobster by the proverbials. "Have we got time for one more? I'd like to finish with a love song...there's wisdom in love." "We love you Roy!" shouted someone; Roy smiled quietly to himself and played 'North Country' like no one else ever could; charged with sensitivity it was hailed with a thunderous cheer. "Enough...enough for one poor idiot...I'll see you in about a year or so, and I'll have some new songs and it'll be terrible ( Laughter all round )...anyway, I'm having a good time and I hope you are...just remember to wipe your feet before you come in, there's politicians about...I'll see ya, thanks."
The crowd gradually began to disperse, with positive comments abounding and a universal feeling of goodwill. We got ready to get Roy and Nick off to the Radio station, but when we got to Matt's van we found it had been blocked in by a Renault. Matt and I went back in to the theatre and tried to find the owner ( time ticking away before they were due on air) and back outside a couple had spotted Roy in the shadows and he gave them his very warm and total attention which is very characteristic of him ( just as he did with us when we first met him after a gig in Chelmsford in 1988 and prompted our first review). The owner of the car sheepishly appeared and got out of the way, Nick and Roy shot off into the night in Matt's tour van like a scene from the Furry Freak Brothers, and we got back to packing up the equipment. (Matt later reported that Roy and Nick entered the radio station dazed from the gig and confused as to what they were actually doing there at all; then 1/2 hour later came back out barking mad ready for a crazy journey back to the Gardner Centre.) Back in the dressing room they were full of tales of lunacy from the broadcast and Roy suddenly remembered where he'd seen the interviewer before - apparently he used to be a presenter on Magpie; some of you might recall that Roy played on Magpie many moons ago. Anyway, they had to get halfway to Colchester, ready for the following night, so we bid our fond farewells and let them get going. We headed back to our place to party.....and carried on for the best part of the weekend.
Replies to the mailing list continue to flood
in, from as far afield as Surrey, Kent, Essex, Hampshire, Dorset
and Somerset - which gives you some idea how far folks will travel
to see the Harpers. For me that really was one of those 'Dreams
come true' kinda days.
Dave Burnham - 1994
For a Transcript of
Roy and Nick on Tommy Boyd's show
for Southern Counties Radio
Broadcast after the Brighton gig around 11.45pm.
from Marlborough Place in Brighton
This link will take you to Aaro's site