Friday 8th March and Thursday 14th March 2019 – two troubadours on the road in Sussex.

Since Man about Eastbourne first blogged last October he has been lucky enough to see on stage music legends like Joan Armatrading (5 Oct 2018), The Pretty Things (26 Oct 2018), and Steve Harley (19 Dec). Here were two more in the space of less than a week. Steve Knightley, half of Folk/Roots* duo Show of Hands, came to the Hailsham Pavilion , and he was followed shortly after by folk rock singer songwriter Roy Harper at the De La Warr Pavilion. O.K. (re troubadours) they aren’t medieval minstrels in the true 13th century sense, but they have been performing for over a hundred years between them and have spent much of that time on the road.*

I suppose you might also quibble with Knightley’s legendary status and this was perhaps reflected in the only three-quarters full hall (though he does self-identify as a troubadour in the sleeve notes to his tour album Roadworks). It was however a fascinating evening of both old and specially composed songs interspersed with humorous banter on the theme of a musician’s life on the road in 21st Century England. He told tales of what he called “safe houses” provided by friends, of being locked in and locked out, of sound and lighting checks, of forgetting that he was still miked up and insulting an unresponsive audience when leaving the stage at the end of the first half. The songs were chosen to match the events during a typical day e.g. Friends is a wistful ballad about staying up half the night catching up with friends he hasn’t met since his last tour. The Six O’clock Waltz tells of the morning after the night before. You get the idea and it works very well. Steve averages about 110 shows a year and drives about 35,000 miles annually. The tour re-starts on June 13th and continues until August. Mr. and Mrs. MAE enjoyed the evening so much that we have booked tickets to see Steve in his other capacity as part of Show of Hands at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on 23 November. (****)

Few cognoscenti, on the other hand, would quibble with Roy Harper’s legendary status. Indeed in 2005 he was awarded a MOJO Magazine hero award. The track entitled Hats off to Harper on the Led Zeppelin III album (1970) is a tribute to him. His first LP Sophisticated Beggar came out in 1966. Though I did have the Zep III (and indeed vigorously supported its more folky style against those who preferred the more heavy rock Zep II – what happy days when such stylistic matters seemed of the greatest import) your man first came across Harper properly with his album HQ (1975). This was probably due to my interest in the work of some of the other performers including (for want of a better term) jazz rockers Chris Spedding and Bill Bruford and the arrangements by composer David Bedford. However when I actually listened to the album, probably in my university room, I was particularly taken by the track “When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease” where Harper was backed by the Grimethorpe Colliery (brass) Band. This is a song in homage to England’s national summer game and to England his “happy home”. I was delighted then that at the concert he included the song just before the encore. It has the words “it could be Geoff and it could be John” referring to Geoff Boycott and John Snow. Harper said it should have been about (his cricketing hero) David Gower “but it was too early.” Your man reckons it to be one of the greatest cricket related songs ever written, perhaps along with the very different Jiggery Pokery by the Duckworth Lewis Method. If you don’t know them, and like your cricket, give them a try.

Harper is now 77 and the concert had the feel of a last tour, which I’ve just found out from his website it was, though he speculates about a possible farewell gig on his 8oth birthday. He is now a little frail in body and didn’t leave the stage prior to the encore due to hip problems, but his playing and his singing voice are still strong. His longish white hair and beard give him the look of American Civil War general Robert E. Lee. Harper has always been known for long songs and in all there were only twelve in the two halves. Perhaps the longest of all is McGoohan’s Blues from 1968, which he says was inspired by Patrick McGoohan’s depiction of the title character (prisoner number six) in the 1967 TV series The Prisoner. He described the song as “a one man opera”. On the original Folkjokeopus album it was accompanied only by his own guitar. Here it was improved if anything by the six piece band which included multi-instrumentalists. Harper said he wished he had recorded it this way. He coped superbly with the song’s challenging falsetto passages. He also included three new songs which he intends to include on a new album. I liked Time is Temporary with its interesting percussion. “Time has always fascinated me” he said. The second new song “Man in the Glass Cage” which contains the line “feeling the scales of justice”, is a powerful one relating to his trial and acquittal in 2013 on charges of alleged historic sexual abuse. It contains a special mention for the Daily Mirror. Unusually, but very fittingly, he finished a very special evening with another new song, I Loved My Life. I didn’t catch him say it here but other reviewers at other concerts on this short tour (which included much larger venues such as Symphony Hall Birmingham, the London Palladium and the Usher Hall in Edinburgh) say he now thinks there may be a Farewell Tour part 2. If there is I should be there if you can, before “an old singer finally leaves the stage”. (*****)

* Two more legends to come this year at the De La Warr: Tom Paxton in April and Al Stewart in October.


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