Wednesday, 30 May 2018

"Stormcock" by ROY HARPER (August 2013 and February 2018 Science Friction CD Reissue and Remaster in 'Hardback Book' Packaging) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Love's Cascades..."

Some albums do your nut in. You love them with a passion that borders on calling in the thought police to calm you down. Always a vinyl rarity when I worked in Reckless (20 years as a buyer) - 1971's "Stormcock" wasn't the kind of record you saw in second-hand stores in abundance or in personal collections (neither did the four that preceded it for that matter). But even now I'm stunned that Harper's seismic fifth studio platter isn't on some Classic 1971 Rock Album Winner you-must-hear-before-you-die pedestal somewhere like say The Who's "Who's Next", Joni Mitchell's "Blue" or Cat Stevens' "Teaser And The Firecat" - more nuggets from that astonishingly creative year. Time to rectify this heinous anomaly - ye Gods of taste and twisty beards. Here are the hard facts, old cock...

The album’s CD reissue history is tangled – so here goes. "Stormcock" by ROY HARPER was first released December 1990 onto Awareness AWCD 2001 (Barcode 5017701200122) in the UK. Then October 1994 in the UK onto Science Friction HUCD004 (Barcode 5020522397728 - reissued October 1996). Then in October 2007 - it was again reissued and remastered onto Science Friction HUCD047 (Barcode 679076770478) – itself reissued 2013 and now in February 2018.

2013 and 2018's Science Friction HUCD047 (Barcode 679076770478) comes in specialist ‘hardback book’ packaging and is a straightforward transfer of Roy Harper's 5th UK album "Stormcock" from May 1971 originally on Harvest Records SHVL 789 - it plays out as follows (41:29 minutes): 

1. Hors d'Oeuvres (i) [Side 1]
2. The Same Old Rock (ii)
3. Old Man Rock And Roll Band (iii) [Side 2]
4. Me And My Woman (iv)

With only 4 tracks (2 to each side) - "Stormcock" might seem 'lean' but it's nothing of the sort. This album is closing in on being 48 years old - yet it remains amazingly contemporary and has stood the test of time incredibly well. If anything re-listening to it in 2018 - you can imagine that this 1971 album is a bit of a secret stepping point for so many new writers and bands - because after 40 minutes with it you can 'so' hear how Fleet Foxes, Elbow and Vetiver got their sound (Kate Bush and others have name-checked RH too and of course Zeppelin had the song "Hats Off To Roy Harper" as the last track on Side 2 of III in 1970).

Beautifully produced by PETER JENNER (Engineered by PHILP MacDONALD) - the songs are primarily long acoustic workouts with some electric guitars, keyboards, string flourishes, brass and vocal over-layering thrown in. Each song takes it sweet time - allowing you to wrap your ears around the thought-provoking life-observations in the lyrics. This is also one of only two releases on his own Science Friction label that has received a rather gorgeous 'hardback' book makeover in the art department - the other title is 1975's equally brill "HQ" (Science Friction HUCD048 - Barcode 679076770485). The 22-page colour booklet is attached to the inner hardback and reflects the '(i) to (iv) artwork of the original album - each song being parts one to four (I used to think that squiggle on the front gatefold was a typo!). Like "HQ" this reissue contains more cryptic almost poetry liner notes from RH, black and white and colour photos from the period, the lyrics, the inner gatefold spread, recording and reissue credits and a sheet-card offering all of his albums from 1967's "Sophisticated Beggar" through to 2005's "The Death Of God" (DVDs, Lyric Books and Tee-shirts too) from Science Friction Ltd in Clonakilty, Cork in Ireland. They're also directions to Roy Harper's own website.

But the big news is that the album has been Digitally Remastered by ROY HARPER and JOHNNY FITZGERALD in August 2007 providing stupendous Audio - all those clean instruments swirling around your speakers like their "Meddle"-period Pink Floyd on an Acoustic tip. This CD is a winner sonically. Harper pretty much plays the lot - every instrument - with the exceptions noted below. Let's get to the music...

It opens with "Hors d'Oeuvres" - a near nine-minute Nick Drake/Tim Buckley acoustic dreamscape about a man "...whose brains bred answers like flies..." It builds and builds to gorgeous treated vocals towards the end - more of a mood than a song really with David Bedford of ELP fame playing the Hammond (he also arranges the strings on "Me And My Woman"). But then you get the album's first piece of undeniable Harper genius - and for me one of the great unspoken masterpieces of the Seventies - the 12 and half minute Side 1 closer "The Same Old Rock". The song famously features JIMMY PAGE on Lead Acoustic Guitar credited as the delightfully oblique 'J. Flavius Mercurious' for contractual reasons. You can so hear Page’s Zep "III" and "IV" acoustic phase - and his thunderous solo towards the end swirling around multi-layered Harper vocals is just brilliant. You have to say too that the remaster is just gorgeous here (lyrics above). Harper himself rates it as Page's best ever work...

Side 2 opens with "One Man Rock And Roll Band" - another multi-layered acoustic strum-fest "...welcome back you total stranger..." His treated vocals add so much to the seven and half-minutes - the plucked steel guitar-strings rattling around your speakers - again the remaster so beautifully clear. It ends on the gorgeous 13-minute "Me And My Woman" with lush orchestration from long-time Mike Oldfield collaborator DAVID BEDFORD. Even after all these years - the 'freshness' of it all still amazes me. And it's so uniquely Roy Harper...

"Stormcock" is an old English name given to the Mistle Thrush bird - a feathery friend of these here isles that is prone to glorious singing of a morning (and apparently it's also the artist's nickname on occasion). "Stormcock" - spread your wings on this secret CD masterpiece and let your spirits fly...

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