Lured out of "retirement" by the American folk-harpist darling Joanna Newsom for a string of sell-out European dates, Roy Harper is no stranger to the admiration and respect of his fellow musicians. His collaborators and devotees read like a Who's Who of rock royalty and include Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page is in the audience this evening), the Who, Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. But Harper himself has a modesty and controlled anonymity that has kept him away from the mainstream music machine, and it is this staunch individualism that truly defines his work.
Harper has been making records for more than four decades; his rare blend of progressive folk-rock was born out of the 1960s British counter-culture. But his recordings have retained their relevance for today's music aficionados and he attracts the ardent appreciation of contemporary music types such as Ms Newsom, Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes) and Jim O'Rourke (Sonic Youth).
Tonight's sell-out show, a single solo acoustic set, is a relatively intimate affair, with a gathering of 300. Harper takes to the stage with gracious presence and good humour but there is a strong sense that we are to witness a momentous performance. The set comprises the powerful compositions "Me and My Woman", "Another Day", "The Green Man", "Commune" and "One Man Rock and Roll Band". His banter between songs is witty, funny and intelligent without pretension.
Each song's high lyrical poetics focus upon themes central to the human state: man the microcosm; the comic and the tragic; love and life; suffering and pain; death and what lies beyond. Harper's vocal delivery is nuanced, shifting through the spectrum of expression from the challenging, questioning and provoking to the sensual, vulnerable and tender. His voice holds throughout, with no signs of strain, despite his limited live appearances over the years.