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www.djburnham.com, Writing, Review of Roy & Nick Harper live at Clair Hall, Haywards Heath, 27th October 1991, David Burnham, D.J. Burnham, Dave Burnham





On the night before the gig, folks started arriving at our place in Brighton - Paul Davison, El Rose, Steve Bayley, Tony Pugh (who'd just driven down from North Wales with Roy's P.A.) - Colin Gerrard and Simon Taylor; an evening of indulgence, story-telling and mirth ensued.

Sunday lunch at our local, then a twisty turny drive to Haywards Heath, twice around the one-way system (traditional innit?) and on to Clair Hall to find Roy in the car park waiting for Tony, who'd followed us (like I ever know which direction I'm supposed to be going in.) We wandered in, had a chat and lent a hand setting the P.A. up for a while, before heading back home to pick up the others.

We returned around 7.30 that night and were pleased to find the car park rammed. A good sign, if ever there was, particularly as we'd been a bit worried about how many people would travel to the depths of Sussex. There must have been a good couple of hundred folks gathered inside, along with the 20 or so that we knew, so we settled down on the floor near the front. With our necks straining to see over the cliff-face of the stage, it wasn't long before Roy glided on - "Hey, this is new, I can see you!" He opened with 'How Does It Feel,' played with verve, and it was immediately obvious that he was on good form this evening, responding to a few scattered hecklers, "It's good to come down here and get away from those sharp-witted northern bastards." This was swiftly followed by a little insight into the original lyrical intent of 'One Man Rock 'n' Roll Band' (wonder when/if that book will ever be finished?) "Instead of the violent, bollock-biting, anti-Vietnam demonstration, more might have been achieved by a peaceful protest, with Grandad and his medals along; to remind everyone what happened the last time swords clashed in a big way." Roy played the song aggressively and magnificently, concluding by sliding the guitar neck up the microphone stand to feedback the final notes. Jan Dixon could feel her baby (due soon) grooving to the resonating bass!

Following 'Black Cloud of Islam,' he went straight into 'If' for balance and the two flowed together perfectly. "The last song was about a fairy-tale facade and this next one was written for a friend's daughter's wedding which made him (Robert Plant) smile," said Roy, as he slipped into the truly magical 'Evening Star.' Hopefully that'll turn up on the next album, as it's already a big favourite of ours. A request from the floor for Berliners - "Okay, you've got it!" he replied. "Change was possible, change is possible...change will be possible," he dedicated this to his father's generation, "another song pitted against the wars we keep having, the continual idiocy." We've never heard it played better.

As Roy left the stage for the interval, Sue looked across. "Gobsmacked," she said. He'd certainly left us charged up with impatient anticipation for the rest of the evening, so we took the opportunity to mooch off to the merchandise desk and chat to Darren Crisp (Roy's tour manager.) If you haven't seen Roy on this tour yet (if not, why not?) then you probably won't have seen Erica Paton's superb limited edition 'Burn The World' poster - you'll want one when you have. Excellent value, signed by Roy, and worthy of a place on any discerning Harper fan's wall. Also, the four black and white prints from last year's Bloomsbury Theatre gigs (taken by the charming Julie Angel) were still available, so yours truly had a moment's obsessional purchasing. The new Sophisticated Beggar t-shirt is out too, with the classic, "Er..what was I talking about?" legend on the back, and in a rather fetching shade of purple too.

Back in the hall there was a group of rather noisy articles to our right. Every so often an exceptionally deranged moth seems to get 'Drawn to the flames,' and tonight was one of those nights. At Spilsby theatre, a couple of years back, it was a guy who was intent on arguing loud and long with Roy about World War II. At the Half Moon in Putney recently, it was some berk going on about being a deep-sea diver and a while ago it was another trying to get on stage to present nefarious offerings during his set. This time it was a lurching Herbert claiming to be with the convoy, slurring away about shopping trolleys (he was off his) and constantly apologising loudly, instead of shutting up. Mind you. I'm not for total reverence during a gig either, a bit of feedback can add to the theatre and fun of the proceedings...sometimes.

In almost total darkness, apart from the faint glow of the small spotlights, Roy returned to the stage - the familiar opening strains of 'Once' heralding his arrival. The lighting engineer was pretty tuned in at this venue and steadily built a subtle, fluorescent blue behind Roy, before bathing him in a golden yellow. After that Nick Harper came on, to a loud cheer. "I'm rather the worse for wear at this time of life," joked Roy, "my quiff isn't what it was...his is!" He pointed at a grinning Nick. They played a perfect 'Descendants of Smith' - "We've got blood, gore, politics, more blood, torture, sex, violence and rock 'n' roll on TV, and 'Big Brother' is coming and he's gonna collect the Poll Tax!" This was Roy's introduction to '1984,' together with a quick story about Orwell's original title (1948) being, at the time, a bit too close for comfort for the publishers. "Sainsbury's are a doddle, man!" growled the nutter, for some reason best known to himself. Roy de-heckled him with a maniacal laugh through the echo effects pedal. A new passage has been worked into '1984' so instead of repeating 1984 Roy goes through, "1924, 1934, 1944, 1964, 1984, 19...plenty more." Underlining the song's potentially timeless relevancy. Nick and Roy have certainly gelled on this tour, their collaboration is dynamite. An old mate of ours, who last saw Roy in 1987, commented on how good it was to see father and son so obviously enjoying playing together.

'Old Cricketer' was next, dedicated to Nick's great grandfather (a real family affair, yer Harper gig.) After which, Roy mentioned that he used to like John Snow's relentlessness, which was how he came to be written into the song. 'Hors D'oeuvres' followed (twelve good men and false) played inspiringly. Introducing "Me and My Woman,' "There used to be a comment...years ago...where are we going? Me and my woman." Singing, "I never know what time of warp it is," (instead of '...what time of year it is..') provoked cries of, "Beam-me-up Scotty," from the crowd. Nick sprinkled some brilliant runs over the song and they played it so powerfully that there was one of those marvellous pauses right at the end - a few seconds before the audience came back to Earth and broke into vigorous applause. With hardly a pause, they brandished their guitars and let fly a hail of reverberating sonic arrows with 'Same Old Rock,' popping the cerebral mercury out of the punters' thermometers. The twin Harper-powered acoustic storm whipped the grey matter cogs into a frenzy and then they left the stage.

"It's been a lazy, hazy, crazy night," grinned Roy, returning to thunderous shouts for an encore. Nick kept a solid bass driving 'Short and Sweet' along, Roy working up the power chords for the merry-go-round of the circling chorus. Nick waved and headed off, while Roy adjusted the microphone stand to his usual fair-thee-well position, "I've had an interesting night," he commented, but he wasn't getting away just yet and was persuaded to play one more for us. The hall fell silent as we were all mesmerised by the beauty and intensity of 'North Country Girl,' which was played faultlessly.

"Before you see me again there will be an election - what you'll get with someone else is to keep the NHS going! If you get the chance, please don't vote them in again." These were Roy's parting remarks and Kate Bush's 'Love and Anger' came over the P.A. and nursed our numb bits off the floor and helped us to readjust to the hall lights, after what had been an extraordinary night. Roy had played superbly and sung brilliantly, in the face of bronchial adversity and drunken hecklers, with Nick giving the whole thing a new dimension. It's always more than just a gig with Roy, it's a reaffirmation of the existence of like-minded people. Living songs that evolve over time.

As we said our goodbyes and departed, the line from 'Evening Star' carried us on our way - "...and we'll all be together, no matter where we all are.." So we headed for home with a little more of ourselves.

Dave Burnham 1991


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