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Music Review: Roy Harper – Counter Culture

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Roy Harper has attempted the near impossible with Counter Culture. He put together twenty-five of his own songs that encompass a career to date for a ‘best of’ style double CD collection. When you consider the sheer quality and depth of his material during a career spanning forty years you begin to realize the size of the task.

What makes this set even more fascinating is that it comes with an accompanying booklet that explains his rationale behind each selection. Of course there was always going to be room for “When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease” and “One Of Those Days In England parts 2-10”, which are both rich in English eccentricity and have lost nothing over the passage of time. There had to be space too for several others and Roy explains that “Another Day”, “12 Hours Of Sunlight”, “Hallucinating Light”, “Pinches Of Salt”, and “The Green Man” all but picked themselves.

Okay, that gives him eight. Even though I cannot recommend visiting the already mentioned tracks strongly enough, there is plenty more fascinating material on this collection likely to provoke discussion amongst his fan-base from here to eternity. Starting with another invaluable contribution “Sophisticated Beggar” from his first album of the same name and “You Don’t Need Money” from his Come Out Fighting Genghis Smith Harper sets a chronological time frame to his choices. “Francesca”, “I Hate The White Man”, and “Another Day”, which he tells us was written in a few lucid minutes, are all brought forward from the magnificent Flat, Baroque and Beserk album of 1969/1970.

A true masterpiece follows from Stormcock, which I recently reviewed. “That Same Old Rock” is a track that is a timeless reminder of Roy’s sometimes all too relevant stance on organised religion. He follows this with the timeless content of “Me And My Woman” also from Stormcock. Lifemask offers up “South Africa” and 1974’s Valentine, “I’ll See You Again”. HQ’s gives us “Hallucinating Light” and of course the superb “When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease”. If you have never heard Roy Harper this is as good a place as any to go through the door.

The second CD presented a problem to Roy as he had to choose between “The Game” and “One Of Those Days In England”. He chose the latter, thus omitting one of his favourites in deference to one of many of his fans. An all but impossible choice. “The Game” can be found on HQ’s and yes, it deserves inclusion, highlighting that if this double collection was in fact a box set it might just capture all the best moments. Either way this will have us old enough to remember hearing “Hats Off To Roy (Harper)” on Led Zeppelin III and deciding to find out who he is. We will be warming in the glow and dusting off our old vinyl copies, remembering just why this man is one of the most overlooked of our national treasures.

Anyone who has seen Roy over the years performing “One Of Those Days In England” will know the special place this holds in our hearts: "The Government must love me ‘coz they keep me out of work, they must be saving me for something special, maybe it’s the job of rolling spliffs for Captain Kirk".

As the second CD journeys on through a kaleidoscope of highlights it is “You” that catches the ear. Essentially a duet with Kate Bush, it was penned by Roy and David Gilmour. Also Roy’s tribute to Miles Davis, “Miles Remains” and “Evening Star” are both touchingly effective and beautifully performed.

Anyone who hasn’t visited Roy Harper’s work should pick up a copy of Counter Culture. It is, despite the inevitable gaps the most obvious being “Rushing Camelot” covered again in his wonderful album notes, the perfect starting point.

News and information can be found onRoy Harper's Official Web site.

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About Jeff Perkins