Looking a bit like a thinning Catweazle, Roy Harper strode onto the stage in Hall Two of The Sage, Gateshead, last night and within minutes had the audience - including Patsy123 and me - in the palm of his hand.
I'd wondered whether, at 66, his voice might sound a little frail, but I soon found that wasn't the case. If anything it's stronger than before, and even the high notes and falsetto were delivered faultlessly. He used a reverb on a lot of the songs, but that was always his special sound. I seem to recall that in the early days he was criticised for (somewhat self-indulgently) singing into the sound hole of his guitar.
He was accompanied on a good part of the set by a guitarist from Liverpool, Matt Churchill, who also did a warm-up before Harper came on. His entirely instrumental set showed what an excellent rhythmic musician he is, but with one exception, I thought maybe he could do with a course in melody lines.
Chatting between songs, Harper proved himself to be, not the cantankerous old git his pre-publicity had suggested, but a charismatic and funny speaker. Many of his anecdotes , cut loose from any pertinence to the song he was about to sing, free-wheeled into often bizarre territory, but there was almost an element of the rant when he spoke of his loathing for world leaders and for organised religion.
His song list contained a number of songs new to me, but he delighted the audience, many of whom were obviously long-time followers, by singing some of his best-loved, including the John Peel favourite, When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease. Even the song which got him into so much trouble with the owners of the Blue Boar Service Station was paraded and I gladly joined in the chorus (Watford Gap, Watford Gap/Plate of grease and a load of crap), if only in a mouthing stylee.
He reckons he has to give up touring to get some writing done, but promised that, after one, maybe two albums of new songs, he'll be back.
I'll be there to see him.