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www.djburnham.com, Writing, Review of Roy & Nick Harper live at The Forum Theatre, Wythenshaw, Manchester, 17th November 1991, David Burnham, D.J. Burnham, Dave Burnham
ROY and NICK HARPER AT THE FORUM THEATRE,
17TH NOVEMBER 1991
"Bowled over in a Hacienda"
It was a wet and blustery night in Manchester...The bell drew us in from the bar earlier than usual for a Harper gig, so we took our seats and mulled over the bizarre stage set. An Alan Ayckbourn play had finished the previous night, but the set remained - a patio scene of a Hacienda (quite appropriate really, as Manchester is home to the club of the same name) complete with tiled veranda, paved patio slabs, potted plastic plants and bougainvillea, wrought iron gates, and a 'real' heated swimming pool (!) all of which were bathed in the blue U.V. light of the sky backdrop. Roy's guitars and monitors looked somewhat out of place amongst this lot.
Australian cricket commentary filled the theatre - Richie Benaud (or a sound-alike) coming out with some silly comments, e.g.: "Won't be long before this match is pissed on from a great height...the rain's still coming down in fuckits...er...I mean buckets...oh shit! Can someone close my car window?" 1991 is Graeme (Foxy) Fowler's testimonial year, and as this particular gig was to be a tribute to him, it promised to be an unusual evening - especially when we noticed a drum kit lurking between the rubber plants.
Roy entered the stage via the green garden gates and opened to the 400-strong crowd with 'Once.' "You could write a thesis on this next song; well I could...the Blackcap is one of my favourite song-birds and I used to listen to him when I got cheesed off...which was about once a minute. He sure is a strong singer for a little bird," said Roy, as he went on to caress our spirits with 'Commune.' Then he adjusted the microphone stand so that, "I can sing and see you at the same time." A heckler shouted something about catching buses rather than horses - Roy looked around the stage and retorted, "We were thinking of having a donkey on stage tonight, you'd have been at one!" Next came 'How Does It Feel', then "Our hearts and minds are going to be fought for in the next two or three centuries. The left's merging with the right...and the centre's coming out in Durex." He let rip with the uncompromising fury of 'Black Cloud of Islam.' "This is the brother song," he said, linking it to 'If.'
It's funny to know someone in nappies and two seconds later they're getting married...it's a song for them and us," said Roy, paving the way for 'Evening Star' (a current live favourite of ours.) He then told part of the famous California beach arrest story, in particular the bit about the cop asking him where he came from, and having established that it was Manchester, England, he went on to tell Roy about his holiday in the U.K! The first half was concluded, "This is from a time when they weren't so keen on seeing their soldiers come back." After a fabulous rendition of 'One Man Rock 'n' Roll Band,' Roy made his exit, stage left.
A quick chat with Darren Crisp (displaying his usual array of essential Harper merchandise) during the interval, and a brief encounter with a couple in the bar who cracked up laughing when they read the back of the latest t-shirt ("ER...WHAT WAS I TALKIN' ABOUT?" - Roy Harper) that Sue was wearing, and we resumed our seats. Roy soon reappeared, accompanied by Nick. Someone shouted for 'Rainbow'(?) Roy looked across to Nick (resplendent in his leather motor biking trousers) "Go on the, Rainbow!" Nick produced an array of harmonics and swept his arm in a semi-circular arc, obligingly. They synchronised pitches before getting going on the second set, "Ancient Chinese song called Tu-Niing," quipped Roy (Groan) and they went into 'Descendants of Smith.' "Welcome to my nightmare, it's the one in which I walk when I'm not sleeping - it's one of my favourite lines," Roy said, as they launched in 1984. He egged Nick on into overdrive and a veritable guitar battle ensued. Shouts of, "We love you Nicky," from the crowd, at the end of this one. "Tonight's a night I've devoted to a special person-I've been a Lancashire supporter all my life. I sit here as a musician wishing I was a professional athlete..." laughter from the audience, wry smile from Roy, "...and there are professional athletes who wish they were musicians - so we try to swap psyches now and again. It's Foxy Fowler's benefit gig tonight, and I dedicate this to him." They played 'When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease' for Foxy, followed by 'Hors d'Oeuvres' and 'Me and My Woman.' Roy broke a string just before "...the sword slides out..." but with his experience and Nick's brilliant accompaniment, it was hardly discernible. "I broke a guitar string and a sixth of the orchestra went down," joked Roy, as he handed the guitar to Nick, who fitted a new string quicker than a Grand Prix pit stop. "We've had the written word for 7,000 years" (his friend a restless mouthpiece, 7,000 years of age) "and we've got the everlasting light" - pointing at one of the spotlights (everlasting light is burning bright inside his cage.)
Following 'Same Old Rock' Roy read us 'Three Hundred Words' - a poem that he'd written for Graeme's testimonial brochure. Then, "Ladies and gentlemen, FOXY FOWLER. Spare time drummer," introducing him to the stage. "Remember, we've had just three hours' rehearsal for this!" said Roy, as Foxy settled behind the drum kit and Nick strapped on his guitar (preparing to play standing, which we've not seen him do before.) For a change, they batted off with 'Hope,' Foxy swapping willow for drumsticks and hitting the skins with the same aplomb. The theatre shook seismically, shaking our fillings, threatening to slide the tiles off the veranda and giving the 12 BOSE p.a. speakers stretch-marks. So the first Englishman to score a double century in India had made his mark with an excellent spot of tub-thumping. Definitely one of the gig's highlights, and for only three hours rehearsal they did bloomin' well. They followed that with 'Short and Sweet' and 'Highway Blues,' leaving us grinning from ear to ringing ear.
Roy remained on stage, following huge applause for the trio, saying, "If we don't get off by 11 o'clock we get charged, and it comes off his benefit!" Someone in the crowd yelled, "We'll 'ave a whip-round." "It's nice to be able to put some money back into the game I love," said Roy, "and I'd like to thank all those people who put in a lot of effort for tonight. On behalf of Graeme, I'd really like to thank you. Take care. See you later." He finished with 'North Country
It was a wet and blustery night in Manchester...but we left with a warm glow to keep out the cold.
Dave and Sue Burnham 1991