Originally published in The Amazing Pudding

The Unknown Soldier


March 1985

Interviewed: Roy Harper - RH
Andy Leslie - AL
Andy Mabbett - AM
Jacqui (Harper's girlfriend) - J

Those of you with particularly vivid imaginations may just be able to conceive of an artist who has been around longer than Pink Floyd - this man is Roy Harper, whose first LP, The Sophisticated Beggar, was released in 1966. Roy claims that he first met the Floyd while Syd was still with them, at the first Hyde Park free festival on June 29, 1968. By this time, however, Syd had already left; I suspect Roy has got his dates mixed up!

The early Floyd were managed by Blackhill Enterprises - a six way partnership of Syd's band, plus Pete Jenner and Andrew King. At the split, the latter chose to stick with Syd - commercially a bad move, so they looked around for acts to add to their roster. One of them was Roy; an association which was to last for many years, with Jenner producing several of Roy's albums.

1974 marked the emergence of a musical collaboration, as a band consisting of Harper, Gilmour, John Paul Jones and Steve Broughton played the Hyde Park gig of August 31, premiering material to be released on 1975's HQ album. Reviews of the gig were good.

HQ was recorded, fortuitously enough, at Abbey Road, at the same time as Floyd's sessions for Wish You Were Here. Gilmour is one of many guitarists on the album and it is hard to distinguish him from Chris Spedding, Harper's chief guitarist of the time, who has a very similar style. It was Jenner's idea to use Gilmour, having been much impressed with his playing at Hyde Park. "It was a pity," said Jenner, "that by the time we started recording, Dave had started rehearsing with the Floyd again. Though he'd been playing fantastic lead before, his contact with the Floyd tightened him up and he could only play Floyd-style on the session." Dave, in fact, plays lead only on the first half of The Game, which is finished off by Spedding.

The Floyd's only UK gig of 1975 was the Knebworth Festival, where Roy joined them on stage for Have A Cigar.

The collaboration was not to openly surface again until 1978, the year of Gilmour's first solo album. Dave is not at his happiest writing lyrics and Roy was asked to do the job on one song, Short And Sweet. This track was to reappear two years later on the Harper album The Unknown Soldier: an album that could be called the zenith of the Floyd-Harper link, as Gilmour co-wrote about half of the tracks as well as finally lending some terrific guitar work. The new Short And Sweet has rearranged verses and a much-improved production over the Gilmour solo effort.

Kate Bush was suggested by Dave when Roy wanted a female vocalist for a track on The Unknown Soldier. The result was the tremendously powerful You, which is as superb as a mixture of Bush, Harper and Gilmour on one track promises to be! Drumming on the album was handled by Andy Newmark.

Roy's next LP, Work Of Heart, includes a "Thanks to Dave Gilmour" on the inner bag, but it was not until 1984 that the pair worked together again, on About Face and two of Gilmour's solo dates at Hammersmith Odeon. Roy's 1985 Whatever Happened to Jugula LP again offers thanks to Dave Gilmour, not to mention an uncredited contribution in the form of the music for Hope.

If you don't make the effort to see Roy Harper at least once in your life, you deserve to miss out on some of the finest music to be played in the 80's by a survivor of the 60's who describes himself as a star of the 90's. Andy Leslie.

It may well be argued that the only way to understand Roy Harper's work is to listen intently to his lyrics. However, the events lying behind these lyrics are often only revealed when he talks to his audiences either between songs at a gig or through an interview. With this in mind a party of TAP reporters ventured to the Red Lion, in Kings Heath on the South side of Birmingham, on January 19 '85, to see Roy perform and interview him beforehand.

Those present included Roy (RH), his girlfriend Jacqui (J), Andy Leslie (AL) and Andy Mabbett (AM). We first asked him for his opinion of Dave Gilmour...

RH: Dave's been the musical force in (Pink Floyd) for years.

AL: I tend to think the musical content has declined as Waters' domination has increased. The Final Cut is musically thin.

RH: Yes, it is. You're right. Dave's got a lot to offer and I don't think Roger saw it for a long time. I think he may do at some stage in the future.

AM: When he realizes how badly his last album sold?

RH: Perhaps. When he realizes, probably, that he's fed up with having average musical content. I don't think Roger's a slouch as a songwriter at all. I think he's alright.

AM: Would you say that his sentiments agree with yours - attacking the music industry, attacking war-mongering...?

RH: Yeah, I guess I would broadly agree with Roger about most things.

AL: People do tent to lump you together as song writers, thematically-speaking.

RH: Yeah, absolutely true.

AM: What was it like to go on stage in front of a big audience, as it was at the Hammersmith Odeon, instead of just a couple of hundred like tonight?

RH: I have actually played to about 400,000 people about eight times, or something like that: the Hyde Park gigs and all that. I'm adding all those up - there were a lot of people saw us in those days.

AM: You wrote "Short And Sweet" for David Gilmour's first solo album, then co-wrote a lot of songs on your "The Unknown Soldier" with him. Who did what?

RH: Well, I did the lyrics and he did the music. But we did advise each other on where we thought what should go. I think on "Short And Sweet", I did the middle-eight or something. I did odd bits of music and he did odd bits of words; that's what it really amounted to. In the past, I've worked really well with Dave. I really enjoy working with him.

AM: It's a pity you don't get together more often.

RH: Well, I've always said this; but Dave had the attitude this last tour that he wanted to do it all himself. I thought, "That's fair enough: if he wants to do it all himself..." - I have that feeling too. His manager, Steve, said to me at one point - as he was finishing this last record, and they were going to tour - "Why don't you come over to the States, Roy? You'd be welcome, I'm sure it would all work out, you'd fit in," you know, "Get on a plane and come over,"; but I'd already heard Dave saying he wanted to do it all himself, so I didn't go.

AM: You sang on "About Face", didn't you? What tracks did you sing on?

RH: "All Lovers Are Deranged" and, er, another one, oh... um....

J: Is it that one we were talking about the other day?

RH: Yeah, I helped with some of the lyrics on it as well.

J: "Standing alone at the end of the rainbow, with only the gold".

RH: Yeah (hums a bit). I did write some lyrics for him; which he chose not to use for some reason, I dunno.

AM: Jacqui was saying that he co-wrote one of the songs on "Rizla" (the original title of Harper's new album -AM).

RH: Yes.

AM: But he's not appearing on it?

RH: No, he's not. He asked me to do one of the songs on his album and, er... I suppose I've got to say this; I mean, I didn't want to, but... he asked me and he asked Pete Townshend. He asked Pete to do two of them; and one of the songs from Pete he didn't like, and he didn't like the one I gave him. Rather, it wasn't that he didn't like it, but he said he couldn't put the conviction into it that I'd put into it, in terms of the lyrics.

One day I'd gone in and done the demo of the vocal on their track and Bob Ezrin thought it was a good song - I really like Bob, by the way; he's a good guy, very bright, very intelligent - and a month or so later Dave said, "Roy, I've got bad news for you: we're not going to use the track on the record." I'd given it to him for free anyway, as a token of friendship; like a debt I owed him. He wasn't gonna have to pay me any royalties on it as far as I was concerned. So I said, "Why not?". He said, "Well, I can't sing it the way that you sang it - I can't get the conviction into the lyrics." So I said, "Oh, um, well, I'm gonna use it," and he said, "Alright then."

That's as far as it went. I ended up using it. So, it's one of the songs that he wrote for that record, that isn't on the record and has ended up on my record cos I thought a lot of it. I called it "Hope"...it's a good track.

I've got a sixteen year old son who played the guitar on it instead of Dave and does a pretty good job too.

AM: You were with Blackhill for a long time; that coincided with your period at EMI, didn't it?

RH: I remember that one as victim.

AM: Does that apply to Blackhill as well as EMI?

RH: Well, Blackhill and I were just victims of each other.

AM: You said on the back of "Lifemask" that Blackhill "sometimes works for us and sometimes against".

RH: Yeah, that's how it always was; that's how it was always gonna be with Pete (Jenner) and I. Pete and I are two intelligent human beings who decided that our lives should be in something artistic - mine in music. God knows I didn't realize that my life was gonna be in music. I had no idea about that. I thought I was a poet. To answer your question, I had some of the best years of my life with Blackhill. I enjoy Pete as a friend still and I always will do. We had a bit of trouble three or four years ago, when I ended up giving Blackhill 17,000 that I didn't have; it put my nose out of joint for some considerable time. That's the only 'but' that I can think of on the whole Blackhill landscape.

AM: We have you a copy of TAP to pass on to Dave Gilmour, when we met you outside Hammersmith Odeon last April. What did he say when you gave it to him?

RH: He didn't actually say anything; he just tucked it away! Dave's very droll, you know. I mean, he'll go (indifferent tone) "Oh yes". You think he's not even taken any notice of it, but if you actually went up to him and said, "Now look, what about page one - what do you think?" and tied him up and started to torture him and put red-hot pokers in his face, he'd be able to repeat the entire contents of every page.

AM: It's whether he liked it though, not whether he read it. Still, he hasn't sued us yet. (Roy is given copy of TAP 3, with Ivor's review of Hammersmith)

RH: Thanks, we will read it; or rather Jacqui will read it to me - that's what usually happens.

AM: It's been really good tonight: thanks a lot and thanks for the drinks!

RH: Thanks, gang.