Lost and found
On 20 September, Roy Harper appeared on the BBC's Later . . . With Jools Holland. Grizzled, solitary and with just his acoustic guitar for accompaniment, Harper performed "Another Day", a song from his 1970 album Flat Baroque and Berserk. He has been living in semi-retired obscurity in Ireland for so long, apparently resigned to the condescension of posterity, that it is something of a jolt to be reminded that Flat Baroque . . . reached number 20 in the LP charts in 1970, the first of a series of albums to sell in more than respectable quantities throughout the decade that followed.
I spoke to Harper a couple of days after that television appearance and asked him why he thought he had not received the
kind of critical acclaim afforded other singer-songwriters of a similar vintage. “I'd had accolades from Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd," he tells me. "And I think the press thought that I was just an 'in' person with them, rather than anything they should be taking notice of. And once 1980 came, I was persona non grata. I had the wrong length of hair and that was it."
He says this entirely without rancour, however. And he's clearly relishing being rediscovered by a new generation of musicians attracted by his brand of melancholic English pastoral. "Joanna Newsom said she wanted me to play with her at the Albert Hall in 2007. Then, it transpired that there were a lot of young Americans giving me a lot of kudos - Fleet Foxes, Jonathan Wilson, all kinds of people."
You can certainly hear anticipations of Fleet Foxes' dreamy textures in much of the material on Songs of Love and Loss, a new two-CD set containing music recorded between 1966 and 1992.
Harper says that he has spent the past decade "putting [his] legacy together", and Songs of Love and Loss is the fruit of that labour. Now he is "desperate to get writing again. I've spent the past ten years doing the things that needed doing but the young Americans have given
me great impetus. They've inspired me, because they've taken my work on merit, which is how it should be."