The following is an article from the Brum Beat magazine January/February 1995 (Issue 168).
Andy Mabbett discusses new beginnings with the seemingly indestructable Roy Harper.
Roy Harper is an enigma, denied arena-filling superstardom more by his own bad timing and sheer bloodymindedness than anything he could blame on anyone else, yet he still maintains an impressively large and loyal following. Since he and EMI parted company, after ten years, in 1980, he has released a succession of albums (some better than others) on a variety of labels. When the majority, including the long unobtainable EMI albums, were re-issued by Awareness Records in 1987, it seemed he might finally regain the same CD-led rehabilitation which has benefited so many artists in similar positions, and to which he was entitled. Sadly, Awareness folded and Roy had to start over, buying up the rights to his entire back catalogue. I began by asking him how it felt to be, finally, master of his own history.
"It's brilliant. I think it's the one thing that I've needed, for a long time. It's part of getting your house in order. I've been ripped off by everybody and, as is painfully obvious on lots of occasions, I rip myself off. To have it all under the same umbrella again is so gratifying. The only album I don't have is Whatever Happened to Jugular (1985 album recorded with Jimmy Page - A.M.), which I'll get soon.
We went to Austria to do the re-masters, so that nobody could bootleg them. The last time, the manufacturer here bootlegged them - he pressed 20,000 extra copies and sold them in Europe. That's 20,000 that I produced and had not a penny from. If you're selling half a million records, then it's a different ball game, but if you're not, you're not rich enough to fight the court cases that are automatically going to arise. It's daylight robbery."
Surely there's an emotional gain in owning your own work, as well as the financial benefit?
"That's part and parcel of it. It's all of my life. If I can't have anything to do with that, if I can't have control over it, then I might as well just wave goodbye to the whole of what I've been trying to do all my life - and that is an emotional issue."
Has listening to the albums again caused Harper to re-evaluate them?
"Er.. one or two of them... Others, I've not bothered listening to them at all - some I've not listened to for fifteen years, although I know what they're all about."
So what about the future?
"I've been working on a concept about the seven ages of man - I started two and a half years ago. The working title's changed to Songs Of Love and what I want to do with it is take a whole concept from pre-conception to post-mortem really, and I feel qualified enough to be able to do that now, at this stage in my life. To have a stab at guessing what old age is like as well as being able to join the very early parts of my life together with it and build it into a really big piece. It'll be ambitious - it has been right from the onset of the idea. I think it's almost too big to contain any one song. There's one which will be quite heavy and will be surprising in terms of how it starts and finishes, called People Are Shit.
There are various little interludes, things like I Don't Want To Be A Part-Time Daddy. I've got the beginning of the song written and I've visualised the musical theme that's going to swim through it. As you get older you begin to understand more - but you probably understand less as well, so there's an optimum time when it's best to get your experiences down in the way that you want them before you die - not leaving it too late, in other words. I would think there's a good few albums in me yet!"
All through the interview Roy was both tired and down. At the risk of trying his patience, I asked him one last question. As soon as I mentioned Mothers Club, the famous Erdington venue of days gone by, he became animated and spoke with renewed vigour.
"Oh blimey - that was the first club outside London that meant anything at all and that's why there's been this long association with Birmingham. I played there about six times between 1968 and 1970. It was a great place to play. My mother was born in Aston, but though I still have family here, there's no contact with them since she died when I was young. I have always enjoyed playing here, though."
With the exception of three albums, Roy Harper's entire back catalogue has just been re-issued on his own Science Friction label, including the compilation An introduction to..., the never-before issued Commercial Break and the first CD release of the live In Between Every Line. HQ and Bullinamingvase will follow shortly, as will ...Jugular.
2011-01-01 17:48:28 UTC - GNU/Linux (i686)