Me and My Woman, by Roy Harper

Popular music history has no lack of artists who achieved success with wide audiences but not the respect of their peers. If the artist shot to fame after a period of obscurity spent making a honest artistic statement while trying to eke a living, comrades will blame said artist for selling out. Then again, most likely that artist will remain in anonymity for the rest of their career. But it is seldom that an artist will receive high accolades from prominent acts throughout his career, persist in the craft and release over 30 albums in nearly 50 years of activity, some of them considered classic in their respective genre, and still be terra incognita to most music listeners. Such is the case of Roy Harper, who in 1971 released the album Stormcock, hailed as a masterpiece of progressive folk.

Stormcock Front

There is no doubt that Harper’s personality has something to do with this eluding success, and then some. Threatening to urinate on the first row at a live gig during the promotion tour for Flat Baroque and Berserk is not the right tactic to keep a steady audience. Indeed audience appreciation was not abound, as Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull recalls one live set by Harper at Les Cousins folk club in London: “I remember Roy onstage one night being just awful and so pompous in the way only Roy can be. There was a ceiling fan and one night he decided this was interfering with the ambiance of his performance and he shouted a command at someone, “Please turn the fan off!”, and this voice comes back “I shouldn’t do that if I were you Roy, it’s the only one you’ve got in here.” And this from a dedicated follower, as Ian Anderson was. Glenn Cornick, Tull’s original bass player said of Harper: “During the time I was with Tull I listened to Roy Harper a lot. I mean, that’s were Ian invented himself from. Ian’s voice and guitar playing is taken directly from Roy Harper.”

Roy Harper 1975

Jethro Tull were not the only fans. Led Zeppelin formed a special friendship with Harper and so admired him for sticking with his art without compromise, that they dedicated a song to him and dropped his name in the song title with Hats Off to (Roy) Harper from Led Zeppelin III. Pink Floyd invited him to sing the lead vocals on Have a Cigar from Wish You Were Here. Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel performed his song Another Day on TV in 1979. That song was again covered wonderfully by Elizabeth Fraser on the first This Mortal Coil album It’ll End in Tears from 1984. I can’t think of another artist who got so much exposure from such great and successful artists and barely scratched the top 100 with any of his albums.

In 1969, following the example of other established record labels, EMI formed the boutique label Harvest to focus on progressive music. As amazingly as it sounds today, progressive music was considered an emerging market by business folks who run the major labels. Unable to fit the weird sounds coming from these artists into their mainstream marketing and producing machinery, they created small labels to focus on that genre with the hope of finding acts who could make the leap into stardom. Decca formed Deram (The Moody Blues, Egg), Phillips created Vertigo (Gentle Giant, Magna Carta) . Even Pye, a second runner to the majors, formed Dawn Records. Dawn released another 1971 progressive folk classic album the same year as Roy Harper’s Stormcock, the timeless First Utterance by Comus. Harvest did a good job signing great artists in 1969 and 1970, including Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett, Shirley and Dolly Collins, Barclay James Harvest, Deep Purple, Kevin Ayers and many more. Peter Jenner, Pink Floyd’s manager, signed Roy Harper to a long-term contract, which eventually lasted to the end of the 70s and yielded eight albums. Being part of the Harvest roster was supposed to increase Harper’s exposure but even a label focusing on progressive music could not find the appetite to promote an album like Stormcock, released in May 1971, at the height of the prog era and the same month as Caravan’s In the Land of Grey and Pink. Harper: “It was ridiculous. They hated Stormcock. No singles. No way of promoting it on the radio. They said there wasn’t any money to market it. Stormcock dribbled out. And yet, two years later, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd were having hit albums with no singles on them. It was a very strange thing, peculiarly stuffy and English. Although it was professedly the underground label, it was about as underground as Lord’s cricket ground. I was absolutely distraught. I knew that I’d made something really special and it was completely trashed, totally ignored.”

Stormcock-gatefold

Stormcock Gatefold

But being part of Harvest gave Harper resources he did not previously have, including access to Abbey Road, the legendary studio that was owned by EMI, Harvest’s parent label. The engineer on Stormcock is Phil McDonald who was an assistant engineer on the Beatles classic Abbey Road album and in 1970 worked on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. The increased recording budget also allowed Roy Harper to take more time and craft the songs structure and arrangement. Stormcock was recorded over a period of 6 months and Harper played 6 and 12 string guitars, moog synth, percussion and piano on the album. Jimmy Page, under the moniker S. Flavius Mercurius, plays guitar on The Same Old Rock, Harper’s favorite track on the album. The album features four long tracks that bear no resemblance to a standard radio-friendly song form. Harper: “I was very influenced by long poems and symphonies when I was very young, and that sort of an influence still motivates me because I have an impulse to deal in epic forms”.

My favorite track on the album is Me and My Woman, a 13-minute long and complex song with multiple parts. For me it is Roy Harper’s finest moment where the composition, performance, arrangement and recording quality all come together magically. Harper uses the studio very effectively with multiple tracks of vocal harmonies and guitar tracks and tasty effects on the vocal tracks. Most striking is the superb orchestral arrangement by David Bedford. The strings and horns not only accompany Roy Harper, they play counter melodies, sometimes with short bursts of horns and at other times with lush string passages. Bedford: “It’s rather like an opera. The themes and the basic riff keep recurring. I decided to give the verses a kind of baroque feel, then have these big sweeping strings for the chorus to differentiate the two. Me and My Woman was almost three songs fused together”.

David Beford

David Bedford

David Bedford was a man of many talents and is a favorite in the prog rock world and had frequent brushes with the genre. In 1970 he joined Kevin Ayers and The Whole World Band playing keyboards, where he met a young Mike Oldfield who played bass. His association with Mike Oldfield was long-lasting, starting in 1974 with Hergest Ridge, Oldfield’s followup to the smash hit Tubular Bells. Bedford arranged and conducted the string orchestra and choir on that album. The collaboration continued later that year with the arrangements for the Orchestral Tubular Bells performances and live recording. Bedford also appears on the Collaborations LP in Mike Oldfield’s Boxed set as a composer, keyboard player, arranger and producer. The partnership took a break during Oldfield’s more commercial-oriented albums in the early 80s, but they reunited on the soundtrack for Roland Joffé’s The Killing Fields in 1984. Another prog highlight for Bedford was the orchestral arrangement on Camel’s fantastic album The Snow Goose.

David Bedford - Mike Oldfield

David Bedford with Mike Oldfield

The album’s title, Stormcock, is an old English name for the mistle thrush, a bird popular in European countries. The male has a curious habit of singing during bad weather, hence the name. Sounds like an allegory to Roy Harper’s challenging career as a singer. Or maybe he simply loves birds, as evident from his quote in the 1994 remastered CD release of Stormcock: “Among all the animals in my country, perhaps the birds are the most obvious, plentiful and entertaining. If I could be born again I’d love to be able to fly”.

Stormcock-rear

Stormcock gatefold

Like most of Roy Harper’s records, Stormcock was in obscurity for a long period of time. Over the years younger generations of fine artists found it and took inspiration from it. Johnny Marr said of the album: “If ever there was a secret weapon of a record it would be Stormcock… It’s intense and beautiful and clever: Bowie’s Hunky Dory‘s big, badder brother”. Joanna Newson said this in an interview (by Roy Harper) in a 2011 issue of Bomb magazine: “my friends Zach and Kevin heard those Ys songs in early, demoed forms and told me I had to hear your record Stormcock. That was the beginning of the rabbit hole for me and your music. Stormcock quickly became, and has remained, my favorite album. There must have been a solid two years in particular when I didn’t listen to anything except Roy Harper.”

Here is Me and My Woman, from Stormcock:

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The Herald, by Comus

River Man, by Nick Drake


I never know what kind of day it is on my battlefield of ideals
But the way she touches and the way it feels, must be just how it heals
Ah, but it’s got a little better since I let her sundance
I never know what time of year it is living on top of the fire
But the robin outside has to hunt and hide in the cold frosty shire
Ah, but he knows just what goes in between his cold toes and his warm ears
And he’s got no disguise in his eyes for his love as she nears.

He spreads her a shelter
She takes the tall skies
As they helter skelter
Along the same sighs

And she wakes my days with a glad face
She fakes and says I’m a hard case
She makes and plays like a bad ace
Carrying my ways into scarred space.

And she knows me well
Ah, but what the hell
Only time can tell, where we’re going to

Me and my woman
Me and my little woman

And the lord speaks out and the pigpens fawn
The sword slides out and the nations mourn
The hoard strides out and the chosen spawn
The devil rides out and the heavens yawn.

And he knows me well
Ah, but what the hell
Only time can tell, where we’re going to…

Me and my woman
Me and my woman
Me and my little woman.

What a lovely day
What a day to play at living
What a mess we make
What a trust we break-

Not giving our wings to our children
O how we fail them
O how we nail them.

Sunset- my colour
And King is my name
Darkness- she’s my lover
And we live in shame
Too far away!
From the light of the day
And so near, and so near, near…

Can I break through the silence that has taken my place
On the plains of the morning that I just could not face?
Asking you these questions-
Telling you these lies-
Enveloping directions-
Developing disguise-
Open to suggestions-
But closed to all my eyes.

Dead on arrival, right where I stand
Dead on arrival, right where I stand
Dead on arrival, right where I stand
Dead on arrival, right where I stand.

Space is just an ashtray
Flesh is my best wheel
The atmosphere’s my highway
And the landscape’s my next meal
I need my own good friday
And I’m trying my best to fix the deal

Dead on arrival, right where I stand
Dead on arrival, right where I stand
Dead on arrival, right where I stand
Dead on arrival, right where I stand.

I am the new crowned landlord
Of all beneath my star
Queuing up for doomsday
In my homesick motor car
Born before my mother
Died before my pa.

Dead on arrival, right where I stand
Dead on arrival, right where I stand
Dead on arrival, right where I stand
Dead on arrival, right where I stand.

The cuckoo- she moves through the dawn fanfare
The dew leaves the rooves in the magic air
Feel a finger running through my nightmares lair
Feel most together with my nowhere stare
And you know me well
Ah, but what the hell
Only time can tell, where am I going to…

Me and my woman
Me and my little woman
Me and my woman
Me and my little woman.

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Categories: Songs

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5 replies »

  1. Excellent article. Thanks. Bought Stormcock when it first came out (having been hooked since Folkjokeopus) and it’s been my favourite of Roy’s ever since, favourite of almost anyone’s come to that. The Same Old Rock deserves similar treatment if you’re ever inclined. The guitar passage at the start is beautiful and the opening line epic: ‘far across the ancient wastes the thin reflections spin…’

    Like

  2. It was a nice surprise to find this item, thank you. I agree, “Me And My Woman” is a most beautiful piece of music and Roy is, sadly, one of the great overlooked. Agree, too, that video of Roy and Jimmy Page from 1984 is fabulous 🙂

    Like

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