Music review: Roy Harper, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

AT THE age of 77, folk-rock singer and songwriter Roy Harper has amassed a dedicated following who appeared to be at the Usher Hall to experience the presence of Harper the man, as much as enjoy the work of Harper the musician. Much like his audience, he and his six-piece band remained seated throughout a set of just a dozen songs in length, yet one which stretched to more than two and a half hours, with interval.

Roy Harper

Roy Harper, Usher Hall, Edinburgh ***

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He engaged in lengthy dialogue with the crowd, and when he played it was with a rich, virtuosic skill which emphasised the otherworldly, storytelling qualities of his music. Two string players, a trumpeter and a gorgeous double bass sound permeated the songs, adding lustre to the bohemian The Man in the Glass Cage and the new closer I Loved My Life, potentially the title of a forthcoming album.

More often than not, Harper’s words and his songs folded neatly into one another in raconteurish – but not meandering – fashion. He remembered “my great friend Bert Jansch… he had a Scottish accent, but he didn’t. He married a girlfriend of mine, we fell out for a year but then we didn’t, it was something from nothing.” He appeared to criticise the woman for demanding payment for designing one of Jansch’s album sleeves, and then stopped the ensuing song to ponder whether she was right after all. “It’s about time you were politically correct, mate,” he muttered to himself.

Despite the classic nature of his sound, it’s the concerns of Harper’s lyrics which ring resonantly current and true, from the 20th century fear of computers in the 51-year-old McGoohan’s Blues, to the contemporary contemplation of “internet stupidity and politics” in The Wolf at the Door. “I thought I had to suggest this would be the last tour,” he mused at the end, “but while I feel like this, it might not be.” - DAVID POLLOCK