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.”