Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like


Another thing about reviewing your youthful journals is that you come to realize that you’ve forgotten half your life. Experiences that you’d think would have stuck with you were jettisoned in favor of more pressing things, like memorizing the lyrics to “Sex Dwarf” by Soft Cell. Who knows why? The brain works in mysterious ways.

I’m sorry I forgot one particular evening, though. Turns out I was once in the presence of the great folk musician and bona fide rocker, Roy Harper, but I’ve blocked it out completely.

I used to go to a folk club in London called The Singers Club, where, among others, legends Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger would entertain every other Saturday or so. It was in a small room on the second floor of a pub, The Bull and Mouth, close to the British Museum, with a step-up riser for a stage and maybe thirty folding chairs for the audience. Sometimes the room was SRO, as I bet it was the night Ewan announced the guest artist, Mr. Harper.

I should have known Harper from, first, Led Zeppelin’s “Hats Off To Harper.” He was the Harper they were going bare-headed for. Then there was Pink Floyd’s “Have A Cigar,” which Harper sang because Roger Waters was too hoarse and David Gilmour didn’t feel like singing it. I wasn’t paying proper attention to things in those days, I guess. Young and naïve.

But there I was, sitting maybe five feet from the guy in that tiny little room. I usually sat in the second row so I’d be close but not in the performers’ laps. In must have walked this bearded troubadour with his acoustic guitar, to what I have to assume was a riot of applause. Everyone in the room but me knew him, I bet.

He sang “South Africa,” the song in the above clip, and all I had to say about it in my journal was “just another dopey love song” or something like that. I was a hard-core folky back then, and I think I judged him a pretender.

Watching the clip, which is from the very period when I saw him, I like Roy’s fingerpicking a lot (an open tuning, or at least drop D). It’s both calm and full of emotional tension with those bent notes, and his voice is interesting too. He claims the song has tricks up its sleeve lyrics-wise, but I still find it hard to dig a racial theme out of it, ‘cept for the “brother” reference. I bet he knew a black girl in South Africa and extrapolated. Poetic license.

I just wish I could honestly say, “I remember seeing Roy Harper one night in a tiny folk club in London.”

Instead: “I saw Roy Harper one night in a tiny folk club in London.”

9 comments on “Hearsay

  1. kingmidget
    January 19, 2017

    I have a group of friends that go all the way back to the summer after I graduated from high school. So, almost 35 years now. We spent a lot of time together back then. As we finished college, married, and went in a few different directions, we didn’t see each other that much for probably 15-20 years. Now we are making a concerted effort to see each other every couple of months because one of our group was diagnosed with an aggressive, early onset form of dementia. So we get together to connect with her as much as possible before it is too late. And we reconnect with each other as well and every time we get together somebody will talk about somebody from those early years or some event from back then and I will just scratch my head and say “I don’t remember.” It is stunning the memories I’ve lost of that time. And I can feel it happening with my kids as well — just losing track of so many of the daily life events from their childhood. There is just far too much crammed into that ol’ brain to remember it all.

    Nice song.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 19, 2017

      And it seems to be totally random as to what the brain lets go of. Reading these journals has shown me mine has let go of some big things. Scary stuff!

  2. kingmidget
    January 19, 2017

    Random. Exactly.

  3. John W. Howell
    January 19, 2017

    I saw Kenny Rogers when he joined the First Edition for the first time in a little pub near Ohio State University. It was a Sunday and we were drinking 3.2 beer. The lead of the First Editon introduced him as the new kid and the first number was Condition. I was blown away. Especially with the female vocalist. She hit notes I didn’t know existed. I think her name was Karen. Anyway, it was a magical night and the next thing I knew Kenny was famous and the Frist Edition went into oblivion. Loved your post.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 19, 2017

      Kenny! That must have been quite a night. I can still hear that high female voice on the “yeah, yeah, ohhhh yeah” part.

      As for 3.2 beer … blecchhhh!

      • John W. Howell
        January 19, 2017

        That was all you could get on Sunday in Ohio. Rolling Rock was not so bad. I think her last name was Carmonchov.(sp) She left the group shortly after the song became popular.

  4. pinklightsabre
    January 19, 2017

    OK, Roy Harper is like one of my favs. So I could dork out hard on this here thing. And I don’t even know that song, though! So I am looking forward to spinning that. That is terribly cool. My stepdad was a real folkey, and he and I used to diverge over Roy. It was with such British vitriol you can’t imagine he would say WANKER re: Harper. Such odd anger, really. WANKER.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 19, 2017

      I can understand how a purist might spew some vitriol at RH. In retrospect I’m surprised Ewan MacColl invited him in the first place, but I think MacColl and Seeger were open to new things. All I know is, I sang in front of them a couple of times and they had no comment … 😉

      • pinklightsabre
        January 20, 2017

        Harper is magic I think, that’s all I’ve got to say. Sure he has some chaff in his catalogue, but hey, he has a catalogue. And who gets name-dropped by Zep?

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This entry was posted on January 19, 2017 by in Music and tagged , , .
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