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www.djburnham.com, Writing, Review of Roy Harper live at The Pavilion Theatre, Brighton, 28th November 1998, David Burnham, D.J. Burnham, Dave Burnham
ROY HARPER AT THE PAVILION THEATRE BRIGHTON
SATURDAY 28TH NOVEMBER 1998
I Want to be in Love
Drugs for Everybody
Kangaroo Blues (spoken, first few sentences)
The Dream Society
Come the Revolution
These 50 Years
Pinches of Salt
One Man Rock'n'Roll Band
It must be about 25 years since the film 'Made' came about, and featured Roy being interviewed by 'Whispering' Bob Harris on the old West Pier in Brighton. Roy is back in Brighton again...and in considerably better shape than the pier is!
The Pavilion Theatre is a first floor hall, high-ceiling patterned with broad designs, a good sized stage about 3 ft high in the traditional theatre style and a bar set off to one side to minimise noise interference. After a jolly tasty meal of Vogue Buritos, we opened the doors at 8pm. and I've never seen the place fill up so quickly. The folks settled down on the wooden floor and prepared themselves for an evening we'd all waited for, for four years. Picture the gentle hubbub of laughter and chat, with empty plastic beer glasses being knocked over, and bouncing around, from time to time and a totally packed room; the lights during the gig being a mixture of colours very subtly moving from one to another with gentle fades.
Adrian Truman turned in a great thirty minute support slot, his own style heavily influenced by Roy, and was appreciated by the very warm and friendly crowd.
"It's not every day you get to play on the same stage as one of your heroes," he said, going on to play the opening notes from One Man Rock 'N' Roll Band, grinning cheekily, "Only joking, you haven't come here to see me...I know I haven't!" Adrian waved happily as he left the stage, smiling fit to bust, with calls for an encore ringing in his ears.
After a short break, Roy slipped out of the shadows of the wings to be met by an uproarious reaction and settled down among the guitars; looking remarkably full of beans (well, buritos, anyway.)
"When I was small...which was five minutes ago (chuckles), people lied to me...in fact, they still do. It's very hard to think that there are no truths, then it's hard to think that there are also no lies; and so it goes on. I thought that the Garden of Eden was a fantasy, and as a small child I didn't really need that; what I needed was a bit of love. Tom Tiddler's ground is a childrens' game."
(Plays TOM TIDDLER, met by tumultuous applause, the song creating instant familiarity; we were off!)
"This next song is a love song, about falling in love, love at first sight, meeting someone wonderful and wanting to do it there and then on the spot! Right there. I met my girlfriend in Canada, in a town called Kitchener and it used to be called Berlin. (Sue takes a flash photo) Thank you... (Crowd laughs)...was I in a compromising pose? Funny about that, changing the name from Berlin to Kitchener, with that guy on the posters 'Your Country needs You' (in a North Country accent.) I remember once going to a Sussex v. Lancashire game, Benson & Hedges final at Lords, so that'll date it !(cheeky grin at the assembled Sussex crowd) There was this chant coming up from the drunken end which was saying (sings to the tune of the 'Hokey Cokey) 'Lancashire, Lancashire, Lanky, Lanky, Lanky, Lancashire, oooooohhhhh Lanky, Lanky....' and the reply was (polite posh accent) ' Sussex, Sussex, Sussex...Rah, Rah, Rah' (Crowd cracks up) and I thought, do these people live on the same planet? Anyway, this is a love song...and it's got nothing to do with that."
(Plays I WANT TO BE IN LOVE.)
"There's drums on that track...er...as a rule...on the record...sometimes there aren't; it depends on where you take the record off...um. (crowd chuckles) This is another kind of song altogether. As you must all know by now, the President of the U.S.A. is a dog (laughs). I think that's a common denominator among male humans...or maybe I shouldn't go that far...maybe Tony Blair's...not quite a dog...or perhaps he's a bitch? (Crowd laughs) Anyway, let's depart from that thought for a minute, this is a song called Drugs for Everybody, which is actually an anti-drugs song, because there's so much of it about...I always eat mine now...yeah...it's nice when you eat it...it's kind of...you get an inner glow, after a while. The thing to avoid is to get into a panic, and eat it at the airport, just before the plane takes off (laughs)...it gets quite weird then (Crowd laughs)...you're gonna have to adjust to the flight (laughs)...um, I'm wandering. I think that drugs are not gonna be the answer...they ARE the answer now...obviously (Crowd laughs in the growingly smokey atmosphere) but they're gonna probably be superseded by chips...fish 'n' chips (laughs)...but, you know...there's gonna be the implant...I'm afraid. I don't think we'll start growing animals and...coax, ha...coax our brains into them, so we can live for however much longer it is...with baboon lips. But anyway, this song is about all sorts of things, and the last verse says 'Can't you see the future in drugs for everybody, we could all be hundreds of years' old, grafted on to blue baboons and propagated monkeys, the cuckoos of apocalypse untold'...you know, the cuckoo is the parasite, a fellow parasite...'With Valium Up The Bum (theatrically)...I'll sing it! I think it'll be better if I sing it (humorously apologetic with titters from the crowd.)
(Plays DRUGS FOR EVERYBODY with lots of wacky echo on the vocals - excellent!)
"The next song's an Englishy sort of thing...is actually a poem...it was written by some 18th / 17th century pratt. In the 17th century people disappeared to North America, to try for a better and 'God-like' society...disappear into other realms with God...they took him, but he came back...'cos he was lost over there...didn't know what to do...wasn't enough skullduggery (Laughs)...er...so this is a song anyway. I dunno, the words astound me still. The real ones are 'In good King Charles' golden days, when loyalty no harm meant, a zealous high church man was I, and so I got preferment...WHAT?...to teach my flock I never missed, Kings were by God appointed...HUH?...but whosoever King may reign, I'll still be the vicar of Bray Sir...WHAT? Anyway, I changed the words, 'cos I didn't like them, so here's the new version...I changed the key as well! (Crowd laughs)
(Goes into KANGEROO BLUES intro', with all its glorious theatrics and great delight from the crowd.)
"...Hey Mr. Nixon, Hey Mr. Heath, can't you pull your pants up boys, I'm standing underneath...etc...you can clap now...with one hand! (The Crowd obligingly attempt to do so) The sound of one hand clapping...this is another thing entirely...I always wanted to write a song with one chord and didn't have the inspiration until I thought that it could be called Frozen Moment (ripple of applause) so inside this song with its many vocal notes, I've tried to freeze a moment with one chord...it's also a love song."
(Roy went on to play a captivating version of FROZEN MOMENT with dreamy chorus effects on the guitar, trademark layered vocal echoes, lights gently fading from blue to green, all 350 people with him, tranced out during the song and applauding explosively at the end.)
" I'd like to finish this little half with the title track from the new record, it's called The Dream Society and it's a songs dedicated to the Plains tribes of North America who I think had a much better idea of their dream-selves than we will ever do. I don't think that I've done anything else, all my life, except dream. I dream most of the time that I'm awake...I ride with all kinds of old warriors...in my dreams, and in my waking life. This is for all of us."
(Roy played a hauntingly beautiful rendition of THE DREAM SOCIETY. It worked really well back to back with Frozen Moment, as they both have a certain other-worldly quality.)
TWENTY MINUTE INTERVAL, during which people pottered around renewing old acquaintances, went to the bar, stretched their legs and visited Darren's merchandising stall. We had the chance for a quick chat with Paul (Dr. Stormcock), Simon Taylor (guitarist in The Dayglo Pirates - Jethro Tull tribute band) and several other old friends. It was especially nice to meet Ryan Kemp and Sue from the list. Just before Roy came back on, Sue and I positioned ourselves down at the front, having spent the first half on the far side of the hall.
"This is an old song of mine. It epitomises for me, the Summer moment...of my life...which, of course, I'm still in." (wryly)
"Good," replies a lady in the audience.
"See? (says Roy, happily) I used to live at the bottom of a hill, on Salisbury Plain...not that Salisbury Plain is full of hills (Crowd laughs), but on the Northern end it is. I had a girlfriend from Brooklyn, and we were on top of the hill one day, and there was a burial mound up there, it's now wooded...it's grown over...and we were both naked, as you would be...and she was sat there and I was lying there and I thought, how nice it would be for me to make a garland to hang round her neck...and I said 'Hang on, I'll make you a daisy chain'...and she was from Brooklyn right, so she started giggling...I didn't get it really, until I actually enquired. A daisy chain over there means something completely different!"
(The Crowd chuckles and ask "What?" but he doesn't elucidate, goes on to play COMMUNE. Could any of our American friends on the list shed any light?)
"This is a new song from the new record...it should have been a different song, I guess...I wanted to write a song called 'Come the Revolution', but actually, it had already come and gone...and it's almost unnoticed that it's not. Western civilisation is much the same wherever you go,and one of the things that always happens to me whenever I go to the U.S.A., is that I'm always reminded again how silly it all is...someone says to me 'Have a nice day'...which is resonant...you walk into a shop, and someone says 'Can I help you Sir?'...I...er...yes...er...no...very, sort of definite answers. Walt Disney's had his head cut off you know, and put in a box, and he'll be on display...sooner or later. They'll maybe try to revive him (chuckles)...but he won't have the body that he used to have...he won't know his own dick (Crowd cracks up)...Hey, Walt...he'll look down and it won't be Walt...just thought I'd add that. (Crowd keeps laughing) This song is all bits and pieces, all over the place, but this revolution is too...I mean...the revolution that has been since I was a child...seems to have climbed all over us...and here we are, in bits and pieces, surrounded by chips. Part of this song is also Orwellian...George was a fantastic guy, who had this rotten fantasy of rats chewing his face away (one guy at the back of the hall laughs loudly)...somebody back there knows Exactly what I'm talking about...but you read George...and you read all about Big Brother, but actually, it's little brother. I'll probably write the second version of this, but there'll have to be a revolution first...we'll have to get out onto the streets!"
(Plays COME THE REVOLUTION)
"This is a song that came out of a feeling of complete loss."
(BROKEN WING follows, mellowing the tempo after Come the Revolution, and tugged at the heartstrings bringing sustained applause and warmth from the crowd.)
"This is something a little bit lighter...it's a song about ships in the night. I feel as though I've been a bit too frivolous tonight (Crowd chuckles)...so...
(Plays ANOTHER DAY, which follows Broken Wing beautifully; another inspired pairing like Frozen Moment and The Dream Society earlier in the evening.)
"For those of you who've been to the last six gigs...um...tonight's the night I'm wearing black socks..."
"Hangman!," shouts someone from the audience.
"Hangman?" responds Roy in a questioning tone,"Isn't that a misinterpretation? (presumably relating this to the black socks information) This is something very long."
"For those of us that can only attend this gig...." comes a slurred outburst from a bloke in the crowd.
"For those of us that can only drink whisky?" replies Roy, merrily (Crowd love this retort and belly laughs ensue.)
The heckler went on to insist that Roy played One of Those Days in England, encouraged by his lady companion whose strangulated screams of encouragement sounded a little like a mad octogenarian suddenly presented with a large and deadly spider. Roy explained that it would be pretty scratchy, with a few stops along the way.
"I won't come and see you again if you don't!" harangues the heckler, to the crowd's amusement.
"Alright, piss off then" laughs Roy with cheers and applause from the crowd."...and at last they spoke up. This is something better than that!....I will play that song within the next two tours...I promise you. Thing is, you write new songs, you don't wanna play the same old stuff all the time...I move on, you know. This is something immense, that has a lot of value to it...and I'll make a temporary finish with it."
Heckler and companion attempt the spoken intro to One of Those Days in England at this point, and fizzle a little drunkenly at the first fence, at which Roy goes back to singing the 'Lanky, Lanky' drunken cricket supporters chant from earlier. The crowd, meanwhile, are quite enjoying all this sparring.
"Besides," continues Roy,"it's not the best song I ever wrote...and this, actually, is one of the best...don't interrupt again (grinning)...it's just prolonging the issue (laughs)...I always wanted to write a song for a certain hero of mine...you always want to involve your heroes in your dreams (wry chuckle)...and I always want to involve my heroes in my songs and they appear regularly in both. One of my major heroes of all time was a guy called Thomas Henry Huxley (born some 160 years ago just up the road from Brighton, in Eastbourne, if I remember correctly) and for most of his lifetime he was known as Darwin's bulldog...but, of course, he was more than that...because he defended the evolutionary case in the famous 1860 Oxford debate and the church was defended by Samuel Wilberforce who was... believe it or not...it doesn't seem like a rule of thumb to me...a privileged member of a privileged class...a pompous idiot of the privileged class...that wouldn't follow the usual rule of thumb, would it?...with your usual run of Archbishops. Anyway, he spoke for the church and was nothing but stupid, and he got personal with Huxley in the end and he said (posh pompous accent) 'And Sir, pray, which member of your family is descended from an ape? Is it your maternal Grandmother?'...and there might have been a few titters, but Huxley at that point turned to the assembled crowd and said,'The Lord hath delivered you unto mine hands'...which was a complete confusion, because Huxley was buried with no religious ceremony at all, in the 1890's, 40 years later, and he was the man who invented the word agnostic. He spoke from the heart, and the people there must have learned a lot from a man who was completely wired. He finished by getting personal with Wilberforce, and he said,' And Sir, if I was given a choice of being related to somebody who misguided untutored youth, in the way that you just have, and an ape, then I would gladly choose the ape!" (Cheer from the Audience)..and to my mind, it was at that moment that the organised church fell apart, in the middle, in 1860. It's taken a long time for it to diminish in the way that a lot of us would like to see it diminish, it is a far fetched and complete fantasy, which I would like to see the back of, because there are alternative means to achieving a spirituality that those people can only scratch the surface of...but let's not go any further with that (starts to play)...this is a song in which I walk with one of my dream heroes...Tom Huxley. This has more meat to it, than most of the things I've ever written. This has the passion that I've contained...............Full Stop!"
(Plays THESE FIFTY YEARS. A powerful rendition, which is greeted by sustained applause from the crowd, which continues as Roy slips off stage, the crowd holler and whistle, erupting into a cheer as he comes back on for the encore.)
"Thank you...that's kind of you...you've been odd tonight."
"We always are," comes a reply,"That's Sussex for you Roy!"
"You've not been so normal yerself," calls out another.
Roy laughs heartily,"Yeah, yeah, yeah...actually I've been odd too...we're odd bedfellows. It being that there are now 6 billion of us on the planet and that we're 80 percent water, we would constitute a shallow lake, about the size of the Isle of Wight, if we were stood together in one sweaty heap (Crowd laughs), there would of course be a few deaths (grinning)...there might even be a few births (Crowd laughs)...a sobering thought. Anyway, the land on this planet is surrounded by salt water...we are surrounded! It is the substance from which I believe we emerged...this is not my own, sole opinion (Crowd laughs)..it's shared by millions of other people, but people are nothing, in the scale of things...I mean, we could disappear from the planet within, seconds, and we would probably be replaced by something...(a fly whizzes around in the light bathing Roy on stage and he watches it zip up into the darkness above and vanish)...approximating the thing that flew off in front of me, just now (Crowd laughs)...and it wouldn't matter, not one toss. I also think that the moon, the sister planet...sucks...at the Earth. Wherever the Earth is, the water is at its highest, when it faces the moon...it pulls at the water..it is salt...this is a song called 'Pinches of Salt'. It's actually a poem, but I turned it into a song....there are a few more things..."
"NURSE!" shouts one of the audience.
"...the introduction to this song has been known to last for twenty five minutes (Crowd laughs)... but there's only another couple of things that you should be aware of. One is that, when I was very little, telephones were very rare, then suddenly they came onto the street, and suddenly they were everywhere...they mated! (Crowd laughs) And then, I found myself in an age where they'd moved, into the living room...and in some events that was surrounded by Sanderson prints...and then, from there, they moved into yet another new modern age...which was in the top pocket...and they will go from there, even. They will go into the head at birth (Crowd laughs)...as an implant...(O.O.T.D.I.E. heckler heads past the stage for the exit)...there goes one now (Crowd laughs)"
"We get lectures at University!" retorts the grumpy staggering article on his way out.
"Did you hear what he said? ("Yes,' comes the reply from the crowd) I'll sing a song then (Crowd laughs)...I just thought you needed to know various things about the song before I sang it...I do apologise."
"I think he was the idiot, actually," says Nick Hirst from the middle of the hall (ex head honcho of Sheep, the now sadly disbanded UK Pink Floyd tribute band).
"Oh...right...well, I think you can take that up among yourselves...in your own minds...in the quietitude of your toilets (Crowd laughs). The only other thing I should like to add to all that, is that the Universal Law, such as it is, and we don't know it...will be just that."
(Plays PINCHES OF SALT)
"I feel the need to explain some songs...I'm sure that human being will forgive me. This one doesn't take much explaining (plays a few notes from 'Hangman')...Hmmmmmm....next time ("AAAWWWWW, say the crowd) Er...I've been possessed this last month by...um...I often visit southern Ireland...in fact, I live there (Crowd laughs)...I haven't visited it very often this year, but still...and it strikes me that the old guys walking around the streets...the very old guys...were volunteered for the British army in 1914 and came back in 1918 as foreigners in their own Country. There's only a hundred and something of them left now...alive...it's useless for me to dedicate this song to the ones who are dead, they never came home, they were never honoured, nothing ever happened for 'em, their souls are with lost comrades and with figments of the British army that doesn't exist anymore, and it's for them tonight that I'd like to dedicate this song.
(Plays ONE MAN ROCK 'N' ROLL BAND, full on roaring guitar, turned up to eleven making the whole theatre, and us, reverberate magnificently. Given every ounce of power and passion, finishing by strumming the guitar into a frenzy and shaking it furiously over the stage monitor to produce a humming feedback finale and an ovation from the audience.)
"Thank you, thank you...enough...I've got to the stage where I realise what Keith Moon meant when he wrecked another hotel room (Crowd laughs)...it's got to that stage when I'm kind of floating along...and the next place...is the next place...and they're still lecturing ME, even though I never went to university (Crowd laughs)...everywhere I go, is a 3 or 4 hour lecture and it meets me between the eyes...and it's about the speed of sound...ridiculous. Anyway...it's been brilliant tonight, I've really enjoyed myself...it's been a bit iffy at points (Crowd laughs)...but then again...I like that..."
"So do we!" confirms a lady in the crowd.
"...I enjoy that, it's kind of...if you don't have a moment where you go OOoooooooo (pulls a tortured expression)...then you're not alive. Anyway, next time I'll get you seated down in a place...where you can be comfortable...with each other...and with me, and I'll see you soon eh? Thanks very much!"
The crowd cheer Roy's final departure from the stage, the lights go up and our local heroes 'The Levellers' cover of 'Don't you Grieve' plays through the P.A. to see us on our way. No broken strings, no tuning problems, P.A. and lights all worked fine and very few forgotten words - a sterling performance.
Dave Burnham 1998