As Roy Harper gears up to his headlining appearance at Moseley Folk Festival* (Sat 1 Sept), the folk legend says he had discussed performing with US songwriter Jonathan Wilson – who is also appearing at the Birmingham-based festival the same day.
Wilson, whose 2011 Laurel Canyon-inspired Bella Union album, Gentle Spirit, garnered much acclaim (FRUK Review here), is a self-confessed fan of Roy, luring the now 70 year old out to LA to work on new tracks for what must be one of the anticipated albums in Roy’s long and illustrious career.
But sadly, it seems the mooted on-stage airing of the songs Roy and Jonathan recorded earlier this year Stateside is no longer on the cards.
“Whatever you do nowadays, it’ll be on YouTube the next day,” says Roy of their decision to not perform together at Moseley. “We’re under-rehearsed, we haven’t seen each other for months, and we’re not going to present something that’s half-cocked for people to see on YouTube.
“I hate seeing something on YouTube I’ve done the next day, something that’s not quite right. I can’t blame them, they’re fans, but those like us who like to get things right are horrified! So the short answer is no. But that was the plan…”
Having produced the still yet-to-be-released tribute What You Need Is What You Have: The Songs Of Roy Harper, featuring Will Oldham and Black Crowe Chris Robinson, among others, American Wilson is clearly on the mark when it comes to Roy’s songs. Of the tracks the two have already worked on in Hollywood, Roy says: “We did some amazing stuff, really good…”
“Some of the long songs are immense,” he adds. With one track currently clocking in at 17-20 minutes, it seems that despite it being more than a decade since The Green Man, his last full studio album, Roy has not lost his mojo!
“I wrote four new songs in four weeks, which was a real surprise. I realised I’ve still got it, that I’ve not lost it,” he says, quickly adding “… not that I’ve lost it, but that things break the flow … I can still do it even though there’s so much else to do now: you need a nanny, a butler, an A&R man, a lawyer, a publisher … all jobs you do for yourself now. So getting back to the really important thing, imparting your mind onto tape or whatever…”
He trails off, clearly enthused by a rush of creativity, though does interject that such tracks are unlikely to see the light of day until at least 2013, simply because of time, as more re-releases loom, and everyday life invades.
“HQ and Lifemask, I’m remastering those, getting them ready for vinyl, that’s a lot of work. Stormcock’s ready for vinyl, and I’m trying to fend off elements of the music business – some are friendly, some are not, but they all want a slice of a very small pie,” he laughs.
“Keeping up with piracy is a dreadful drain on everyone. If you’re not careful someone throws your whole catalogue up [online]. It’s almost a full-time job [checking on and removing tracks]. Unless you protect your intellectual property, it’s going to leave you.
“I’ve also just finished a T-shirt design, that’s done. I spend a lot of time on research, poems, prose, bits of writing, it’s quite a mad life, and there’s the upkeep of the house and garden,” he smiles.
“I do like gardening, it takes my mind away from one thing to something else. I planted 150 trees … some are 40ft high now! It’s a forest I didn’t plan on having … I thought I’d be under it by now [laughs]. This morning I spent half-an-hour photographing a spider in a web … there’s a time when that will be an inspiration, a piece of film, a graphic somewhere …”
Though his back catalogue continues to win new fans, Roy returns to the prospect of that new collection.
“Songs Of Love And Loss, that’s a good album, same as Counter Culture, which is a good album,” he says referring to the 2005 and 2011 best of collections he compiled. “But there’s only a certain amount that you can recycle before people start asking ‘have you got anything new yet?’ So the next thing has to be new.
“It’s okay if you’ve had it. If you’re done for, you’re senile, people don’t mind then if you’re recycling, but,” he laughs, “I’m far from done!”
Interview by: Dave Freak
Moseley Folk Festival, in Birmingham, runs from Friday 31 to Sunday 2 September 2012. Other acts appearing include Steeleye Span, Beth Jeans Houghton, Cara Dillon, Simon Fowler, Julian Cope and Echo and the Bunnymen. For full line-up and tickets see: www.moseleyfolk.co.uk