A really funny one for me – this article describing Harper`s tour of my country in the middle of the 70s. Not an all-round success, but I like to think that we have improved since then.
Never knew that Roy Harper was an old friend with the Norwegian balladeer Finn Kalvik. I knew that he wrote some Norwegian lyrics to some of Harper`s music, but didn`t know they were so close. Actually, I am quite surprised by the close relation between the man that Led Zeppelin wrote a song for (“Hats Off To (Roy) Harper”) and this Norwegian superstar balladeer. But that`s me…
Have a great read!
Roy Harper in…
Søng Øf Nørsweird
In which Our Radical Hero, his heart intact but his wallet – well, let`s say None Too Healthy – takes a swift sojourn around Norway, and comes to the conclusion that “Fjord” can be made to rhyme with “Oh Gawd” if you`re unprincipled enuff. By Angela Errigo.
“The jungle drums beat fast in Norway. Please be nice in our hotel,” pleaded the diminutive desk clerk at Bergen`s Bristol Hotel. Word had spread quickly via the outraged Norse code of propriety that Roy Harper and an assortment of English loonies were cutting a southerly swathe through the hotels of the land.
Norway, home of Grieg, Munch and the £1 packet of fags, was the recent setting for Roy Harper`s fraught, final tour as a solo performer. Already musically and mentally girded to perform within the context of a band (and having nearly joined Pink Floyd a while back), Harper decided to undertake the trip to Norway for several reasons.
Foremost of these was his genuine love of the savagely majestic Norwegian countryside, and his desire to combine the rigours of the road with a touch of the scenic wonders before embarking on his current British tour (which is currently boosting round Britain, featuring Chris Spedding, Bill Bruford and Dave Cochran – Trigger for short).
Enjoying considerable standing in Norway, Roy Harper also thought to earn enough money on the tour to finance Trigger through the new and crucial period in his career.
He particularly wanted to avoid the almost inevitable cheat inherrent in a “Farewell Tour” of Britain.
“I might end up having to become a solo performer again,” he realizes. “But I will not become a solo performer again in the same way. I`ve got to the stage now where I know that the Great British Public has not accepted me as I am.
“I`ve got to face that fair and square.
“This trip was to say goodbye to me as a solo performer in a place that I thought was going to accept what I had to offer in no uncertain terms.”
That something is screwy in Norway, however, becomes apparent with a first glimpse of the Godfrey Davis van in which roadies Paul Weston and Pete Rush hurtled themselves through mountains, over fjords, and (according to a subsequent police dossier) into a motorboat.
The duo despise the pokey nationals driving slowly in front of them on the hair-raising mountain trails, hate the beer and are discombuberated by the intense, predominantly Stalinist variety of female nesting in the clubs of a bright northern night. Bereft of boogie, they`ve vented their energy decorating the van with “Harper Rules OK”, “Fuck Norsweird”, “We hate Nauseweitde” and less succinct slogans unlikely to click with the natives.
In the first week of concerts a repeating pattern of unnerving reverence in the true-to-Harper-the-folkie audiences was dampening. “It`s like they`re sitting at the feet of the prophet to catch his pearls of wisdom,” said Peter Jenner, Harper` manager and producer, “and they just don`t know how to handle what he`s into now at all. Even on the quieter numbers they keep coming up to me and saying `It`s so loud; please turn the sound down.`”
The hotel problems were initiated by – surprise, surprise – Harper`s reprehensible publicist, B. P. Fallon, a graduate from the school of American tour madness. At the start of the tour Fallon had performed his not unusual stunt of appearing in Jenner`s room to vomit and pass out, whereupon the entourage had retaliated by piling the entire furnishings of the room on top of him. Nothing was broken, but Harper was presented with an extortionate bill for damage and the hotel spread the word to the next one en route.
Dawn at Bergen`s Bristol found a cackling and somewhat less than dressed B.P. liberating slices of ham from the hotel kitchen, and the race was on. Thereafter each new hotel brought a dour warning from desk clerks that an ashtray out of place or a peep out of anyone after 11 would see the party out on the street, which eventually happened.
Mind you, the promoters for this Scandinavian safari are an inexperienced crew of would-be wheeler dealers called Student Booking, who operate from Oslo with the alleged support of local representatives for the individual gigs.
A very decent, innocent young man named Gear has been dispatched to travel with Roy and keep things running smoothly, a state of affairs that never happens. Instead, Gear`s fate is to become the promoters` scapegoat, apologising continuously for incompetence, scanty advertising and the disastrous choice of venues in the second week.
He is in evident awe of Harper but nervously concerned with maintaining his respectability; and so is painfully embarrassed by the encounters with hotel managers and police thrust upon him. At the last concert he will be stunned with pleasure when Roy speaks warmly of him to the audience and dedicates “Commune” to him. When I tease him afterwards by asking if he`s sorry it`s all over he flushes, answers “No, I have not been sleeping very well” and goes on a two-day bender born of hysterical relief.
The first concert I heard was at Bergen, Norway`s second major city. Now I have seen Harper performances that have been magical, and Harper performances that have been catastrophic, but I have never seen a Harper audience sit in dead passivity before this night, when his voice is clear and strong, his guitar work impeccable.
The Bergenborgs like him, they clap lots. But for the first time in my experience nobody called out, laughed or shouted at him to get out.
“It was funny, wasn`t it?” Harper mused. “I think, actually, Bergen`s a strange place. I think they really like marmalade on their chips in Bergen, you know? Maybe if I`d come on dressed as Joe Stalin they would have – not applauded – but thought `Wow, this must be the new style` or something. Or come on naked and they`d have thought `Oh, that`s the end. That is good`.”
The really epic gig of the Norgesturne – a classic among Stage Disasters I have known and loved” – takes place in a gymnasium situated in a pasture near the once serene hamlet of Vigrestad. Jenner and Harper were under the impression the concert was to be held in Stavanger, a major town with a good hall Roy has previously filled. But a search for the Holiday Inn where the expedition is to stay leads 25 miles beyond Stavanger to a rustic motel called the “Holiday”.
It becomes apparent that all is not what it was cracked up to be.
With increasing alarm Harper and team lurch further away from civilisation into a farm district. The Vigrestad “Sports Centre” turns out to be the scene of a weekly disco which is, oddly, featuring Harper and a ridiculous Norse pop group.
A belligerent audience materilises, tanked up on moonshine (spirits being virtually unobtainable in Norway and the beer mainly non-alcoholic). Emphatically, they do not want to hear about love in the far Norwegian mountains: they want their Wednesday stomp.
The irony is that Roy is annoyed enough by the stupidity that has brought him here to fight for their interest. He pushes himself into what is, too briefly, an exceptionally compelling performance.
A clutch of people from Stavanger, who have somehow discovered Harper`s presence and have managed to get to Vigrestad, plead for silence unsuccessfully. Harper tries several times to get through “Commune” when disruptive screaming at the back of the hall blows his fuse.
“It`s down to the electrics, Roy,” suggests Fallon, “down to the threshold of pain.” “Yes, absolutely,” seconds Roy`s lady Verna, a small, charming woman who rises defensively when she feels Roy is being insulted.
The roadies scramble for the additional equipment. Paul flings himself over the sound board in an ecstasy of contempt to produce a paralytic parody of Hawkwind sci fi reverberations. Harper the Red of Face cleaves the collective skull with a murderous rendering of “The Game” from the new LP. Open-mouthed, hands over ears, the audience begins to flee, first in twos and threes, then by rows.
“This is what happens when you try to prove that you`re noisier than I am”, Harper remarks dictatorially, launching into lacerating guitar lops. He ends up lying on the stage emitting aimless sonic dissonance.
The singer from the Norse pop group initiates a “Go home, clapclapclap, go home” movement and leaps onstage grappling for the lead.
Roadie Pete grabs him by the throat and deposits him at some distance.
Meanwhile, back at the sound board, Paul is fending off an outraged local. “Vat is this? Vat is this?” he`s screaming. “Make him stop!”
“It`s all right, he`s all right,” soothes Paul.
“Is NOT all right!” Paul puts his face an inch away from the o.l.`s. “BOOGIE!” he whoops. Eyes bulging, the guy reels away.
Eventually Harper cries “At least I`ve given you something to talk about,” and escapes through a fist shaking melee. Outside by the van he is surrounded by half mournful and half jubilant supporters. A sweet-faced little blonde girl hands him a neckchain and whispers “I feel so ashamed.”
Shaken, Roy looks at her and crumples with remorse.
Later a shame-faced Gear arrives at the motel. “I`m very sorry Roy, but the local promoter made a-uh-spelling mistake on the billing.” Expecting to see Ray Harper or, perhaps, Roy Harker on the bundle of tickets Gear produces, Roy sullenly looks at them – and howls.
All has been revealed.
The ripped-off locals who have just witnessed a ripped-off Harper had in fact paid to see the Vigrestad appearance of JOE HARTERS.
Fallon immediately decides to issue a statement: “Harters` friend, Roy Harper, also touring Norway, when asked to comment on the Vigrestad incident said: `No, I haven`t seen aavoetely`.”
The next morning a beaming hotel manager named Ragnar presents Jenner with a bill on which prices have been doubled – because it is a religious holiday, he explains.
Jenner`s response to that Christian gesture is for the troupe to do a flit.
From the horrific to the sublime, a final lovely drive leads inexorably to Oslo and the inevitable confrontation with Student Booking for cross- accusations and airing of frustration.
Nobody believes the Oslo concert, the real farewell, will work.
Then Finn Kalvick, a popular Norwegian artist (and an old friend of Roy`s) arrives and talks him out of the room where he has been stewing and crashing around.
Finn insists that everything will be all right.
“It`s going to be great. Everyone is here to see you, they are all waiting for you.”
The concert is a miracle. The jungle drums have been beating again – the kids in the crowded student hall know what has gone before and whose side they are on. They embrace him with prolonged applause, and laugh when he confesses:
“Now you make me feel bad.”
Harper is presented with flowers and kisses.
Some of the audience caper in front of the stage to give him a smile and scoot back up the aisles. When, after two encores (an emotional “Too Many Movies” and an elated “Home”), he is too tired to continue they cheer at his promise to return.
That is, if he can get back into Norway.
Early the next morning police arrived to investigate the accumulated complaints of unpaid bills, damage to property and the sinking of a motorboat in a fjord. After lengthy questioning of Harper and Jenner they finally left without taking any action. The arrival of a football team in need of rooms, more welcome than the now-infamous musician, necessitated a change in hotels again. Roy, grey with exhaustion, retreated into a chilling silence, cutting himself off from everyone for 24 hours.
Next morning we crossed the border to Sweden, with an eye in the rear view mirror for a boot out, without incident. On the return to Britain by sea Roy`s spirits revived considerable after he`d won the jackpot from nearly every slot machine aboard and dropped the lot at the roulette table, enough to see him through a quick jive to “Jailhouse Rock” in the disco and a long-postponed interview. The strain of the past weeks was put into perspective as Harper looked ahead to the next phase of his work.
“As it turned out I didn`t earn any money at all – so on that score it was a waste of time.” For the purpose of getting across to the looked-for, ready-made audience it was also, he felt, a waste of time in spite of the warm response at the first spite of the warm response at the first and last gigs.
“The promoters were just too inexperienced for what was really needed. From the very first day the atmosphere in Norway was wrong and I should have come home the very first day because I knew what the score was. It has ended up spoiling Norway for me a bit, but I shall always appreciate it as being somewhere I really like to go to take time out.”
During one performance Harper had said “All my songs now are tending to become even more romantic as the truth becomes even more apparent.” The truth is that he no longer expects, as a lone performer, to convey any great Message to the public. He looks with more than satisfaction at the body of work he has thus far produced, but still regrets rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr99-101and 70s and those young people to some extent that it has not been more widely received.
“After all, the music of the 60s and 70s is only a reflection of the young people of the 60s 70s, and those young people will be running the country in the 80s and 90s.
“And I think that if they`d accepted people like me with ideas like mine the country would be run better in the 80s and 90s than it`s likely to as I see it at the moment.
“Ken Russell is a bit of an old fart and a bit of an upstart, but on that Parkinson show he was quite right actually when he said that Pete Townshend and people should be running this country. A lot of people said aaaahhhh, stupid old sod, we gave up that idea years ago and all that, but actually I can see Pete Townshend making a better job of it than Harold Wilson or Margaret Thatcher or any of those stupid twits who are in Westminster.
“Because they`re dedicated – but so are we. But there`s a difference with our dedication. Our dedication is inspired, and I think you`re going to go a lot farther with inspired dedication than with dead, humiliated dedication like the stuff that`s running the country now.”
“Mental rock” is the phrase that came up to get near describing what Harper is after with a group. “Rock and roll is a sort of a dark area, because mainly it`s a physical expression. Elvis the Pelvis sums it up.
“Now I appreciate those guys and I think they were the men who were really living at the time. Initially rock and roll was a tongue out to the establishment, an upheaval of traditions. But it didn`t say much beyond that.
I`m into timeless music. I don`t know why I am, but I`m into grandiose ideas, and I suppose it`s widening, broadening, deepening the tradition of being human. I regard rock and roll as being physical graffiti, and I think Led Zeppelin were right on the ball to call that record “Physical Graffiti”. But since those days of early rock and roll you`ve had a fusion of young people who have identified with the new force in music. I will be – if I can be successful at it, and I think it`s a long chance – the first mental rocker.
Harper the loner, the supreme egoist, is not worried about putting himself into the group situation. “I`m not me now that I`ve taken on a group identity. I can`t stand in front of the microphone and tell the audience a five minute story with the rest of the group waiting to play.
“No way. I`ve got to let the forces within the group come to the front, and I don`t know what they are yet.
“I`m not going to do a Hitler on anybody – it`s down to letting the group find itself and know itself, and I`m not going to stick out like a sore thumb at the front of it. I`m sure that some nights Spedding`s just going to be dynamite and when he is I shall just stand on the sidelines and watch”.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Dr. Feelgood, Arthur Brown, The Stylistics, Tam Paton, Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Dennis Wilson (Beach Boys), Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Billy Swan, Steve Harley.
This edition is sold!