Here it is at last – a re-mastered, superbly re-packaged and re-released thing of beauty. Stromcock is an album that even its creator, Roy Harper, who is sometimes his own harshest critic, describes as ‘one of the brightest lights in my canon.’ This is the man who brought us such milestones as Flat, Baroque and Beserk (1970), Lifemask (1973), HQ (1975) and Bullinamingvase (1977) to randomly mention but a few. This is a man whose vision and poetry resulted in the fact that whenever he put pen to paper, hand to guitar, and voice to tape he had something of relevance and importance to say.
Never afraid of ruffling feathers, speaking his mind, and dissecting sensitive issues with his characteristic directness, Roy Harper’s career is awash with highlights. In my humble opinion 1971’s Stormcock is a masterpiece and to see it re-issued in such a thoughtful way begins to illustrate its importance.
Stormcock is now almost forty years old and yet it retains its relevance, impact, and power despite the passage of time. In fact, if anything it has steadily grown in stature as new generations ‘discover’ the work of Roy Harper. He is a poet, an activist, a visionary, a man with a wide ranging world view, and most importantly is one that is unafraid to take on those issues like a Bullinamingvase. Never one to preach, his words can cut like a knife, sting like an insect, and challenge the cosy existence that many of us live in. When his words left us feeling too uncomfortable he would find himself described as ‘eccentric’ but to see him in any ‘live’ concert environment over the years reveals his deep thinking mind and the power of his words. All this was packaged within some attractive yet dramatic settings. Back in 1971 he was, creatively, on fire and following the masterful Flat, Baroque and Beserk with Stormcock he cemented his position as one of the most influential, radical, sophisticated, and mercurial artists of not only that time but for times yet to come.
Stormcock, produced by Peter Jenner of Pink Floyd fame, is essentially a work divided into four sections. Despite being released in 1971 some of the writing pre dates this by two years. Opening with “Hors d’Oeuvres” the album is made even more fascinating for the contributions of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and British composer David Bedford. “Hors d’Oeuvres” is, rather oddly, described by the artist himself as ‘perhaps the lightweight in the collection’. I am not sure what definition of the word he is working to here because this song is a fascinating opener to any album. It is not until parts II, III and IV enter the picture that you can begin to understand what he may mean. However, it is only ‘lightweight’ by virtue of the incredible depth and strength of what is soon to follow.
“The Same Old Rock” is a truly remarkable piece. I make no apologies for merely repeating Roy’s own description here – after all he is the man of words. Of the track he says, it ‘records my opposition to continued dependence on the cheap opium of convenient mass religion. Humanity as hostage to superstition is a position which infuriates me. To allow superstition to control your life, as the world burns, is careless’. No matter what your own views on organised religion in all its forms are, the lyrics will challenge and provoke a deep reflection around the biggest subject matter of all. This is timeless and, if anything, has become even more relevant with the passage of time. Jimmy Page delivers a wonderfully sublime acoustic solo during this track that stands as one of his most pleasing of all meshing together with Harper’s own superb performance on 12-string.
Part III, “One Man Rock ‘n’ Roll Band”, is another timeless examination of the returning soldier (again disturbingly relevant). Different wars but the same circumstances are captured magnificently by a song writer not afraid to make us all feel uncomfortable.
Part IV, “Me and My Woman”, once again displays his incredible capacity to examine issues that have become a major factor as time has marched on. This time it is the environment – revealing that way back in 1971, while most of us lived our lives ignorant of the vulnerable balance of the planet, this particular song writer was raising it as a reality.
The case to have this album preserved for all generations is a strong one. This is no mere period piece. This is a remarkable work of insight and vision. Therefore I am happy to see that following much deliberation by the artist himself, Stormcock has been re-issued in such an impressively relevant format that it will stand any test of time.
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