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Roy Harper

Prog Folk

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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
4 stars The first album where Roy really lets his hair down and goes wild, as the previous two albums where both interesting in the singer/songwriter with a folk penchant, but had done little to get out of the ordinary. But by all means, Roy's Folkjokeopus is not anywhere close to his future works, but it's probably the best place to start if youy're looking into investigating him. Often with Harper's works there are moments where you're not sure what may appear as an uncorrected glitch in the (average) production or whether it was intentional. The artwork is already weird enough on the front cover, with weird owl bird next to sleeping or dead Roy 'he's so white), but you should check out the mad back cover (nt effective on Cd format)

Rushing out of the starting blocks, Roy's Sgt Sunshine is a dazzling dash across a peculiar world, where the Incredible String Band and Spirogyra (the female singer sounds like Barbara Gaskin) with a touch of loonyness that could Syd Barrett's. The following She's The One is a duo where she's the one indeed that starts to sing and holds her own to Roy? Interesting, but a tad longuish, especially that the track doesn't change much. In The Time Of Water is an Indiano-Chinese piece starting on waterfall noise. Short enough to be just a token of appreciation for these musics, but more would've lacked credibility. The semi-medieval Composer Of Life is a short harp and flute thing, but limit cringey in the vocals dept.

The much more interesting One For All opens the flipside is a mix of classical guitar arpeggios with a tad of Spanish drama in its lengthy intro, before Harper attacks the song itself with a verse than another lenthy interlude where his mastery of the acoustic guitar can only impress as he mixes Flamenco and Indian classical music with an aplomb that not that many UK citizens would've dared. No doubt that Jimmy Page was listening also, even if Zep's first album most likely preceded this album on the store shelves. A silly barroom piano tune follows without much interest. Of course, we are all waiting for the magnum track of McGoohan's Blues, which is an amazing cross of blues and Irish-type of dramatic ballad (Van Morrison's Astral Weeks was also from the same mould and date) and Harper puts so much expression in his singing, that he frequently drives shivers through your spine, riveting your ears to your stereo's speakers. Just Roy singing his heart out and his guitar. Astounding performance. The closing Manana simply can't compete and is generally forgotten or at best just heard, but not listened to, but if you must know it's a piano tune barroom song., ending in some kid's laughter.

As mentioned above, Folkjokeopus is the perfect entry point to Roy's vast world that starts to unravel before your ears on this album, but will expand more in further albums. I rarely round up a 3.5 stars album, but on the basis of three exceptional tracks and the respect I have for the artiste, I'll give it its fourth star.

Report this review (#170298)
Posted Friday, May 9, 2008 | Review Permalink
Chris S
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Folkjokeopus signalled Roy Harper's intent at getting more serious with his sound. Whilst the fundamental formulae are still there RH embarks on a more Eastern influenced driven sound. Not surprising given the end of the sixties. There are some real gems on Folkjokeopus like ' Sgt Sunshine', perhaps referencing his displeasure of the military,' Mc Goohan's Blues and the wonderful ' One For All'. The tracks were becoming longer as well and the experimentation shows on this solid release.
Report this review (#176030)
Posted Thursday, July 3, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars Roy Harper - Folkjokeopus (1969)

This really is something! I had never heard a single song of the good man, but bought a record of him anyways because of the enthusiastic reviews on progarchives. I was blown away on the first spin.

Roy Harper plays a hybrid style of psychedelic beat (which gets as bizarre as Syd Barrett), folk-rock (ranging from Dylanesque to prog-folk to eastern styled folk) whilst laying as much an emphasis on his brilliant poetry as did the great song-writers of the late sixties (think of Cohen, Dylan en Donovan). Whilst the arrangements are usually simplistic (acoustic guitar, bass, drums, piano) Roy Harper makes the impression of singing in front of a full-blown orchestra with his extremely motivated performing style, daring vocals (singing in pitches he almost can't reach) and amazing 'attack' (which means the notes he sings are on full volume from the moment he makes them). At first you won't understand what kind of bombastic vocals start blowing from you speakers, but soon after that you'll start laughing and enjoying your life intensely. This man is reckless! The compositions and lyrics are very strong, so the 'artistic' performance is easily justified. The recording sound is very good and the vocals just sound amazing.

Thought the vocals of Harper are the main attraction, this album also has some eclectic traits. The opening track is an up-tempo prog-folk track with great vocals and some progressive harmonic chord progressions. If you hadn't been convinced by know, Roy Harper launches 'She's the one' - a masterpiece of music in general. The extremely catchy and slightly psychedelic line 'she's the one' sung in his high pitch vocals cuts through metal whilst the complete song has that exciting atmosphere you'll rarely see know-a-days. With 'In the time of water' Harper introduces his eastern folk sound with great success. 'The composer of life' is a gentle, mellow psychedelic folk song with Roy Harper singing high pitched folk vocals accompanied by an (to me) unknown high pitched string-instrument giving the music a slight Chinese folk sound. After that, 'One for all' is an extended track with folky instrumental sections in which Harper shows to be a real acrobat on the instrument, whilst giving us atmospheric music with both Irish and Indian influences. Around three minutes there are also some nice pastoral vocals.

On side two Harper introduces his psychedelic/beat style with the extremely funny and sarcastic 'Exercising some control'. Then starst the 17 minute 'Mc Goohan's Blues' on which Harper takes his artistic vision to the maximum. The first 10 minutes (at least) are made of couplets and refrains of which the lyrics and vocals are so brilliant that the excitement never wears of. His psychedelic poetry about all faces of our society are filled with criticism, humor and frustration. This is like 'The End' of The Doors, an seemingly endless song that never bores! The second part of 'Mc Goohan's Blues' is more poppy and has arrangements with piano, bass and drums joining in. 'Manana' is the ending track, with yet some more psychedelic/beat style with silly lyrics and enthusiastic performances.

Conclusion. This psychedelic/folk/songwriter's album has it all; musicianship, composition, song-writing and above all; maximum performance and artistic recklessness. The sound is extremely well for a recording dating from 1969 and the lyrics are still valid for today's problems. Well... Hat's of it is! I definitely want to search for more vinyls of this unique artist. Five screaming madmen for this one.

Report this review (#551679)
Posted Monday, October 17, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars It's nice to see a true English giant with a monkey on his shoulder and not on his back (the cover of this record) and the slightly death glazed look on his face makes one question whether or not this is going to be in any way a friendly, welcoming, warm record to visit. Oh, boy, welcome to the wonderful world of Roy Harper!

SUNRISE! And off we go into a weird warped worldview that's intent on taking us all over the map of human experience (and will come closer than anyone I can think of, eventually) until we settle into, some forty-odd minutes later, tomorrow. In the meantime we get the long-before-they-existed REM sounding "Sargent Sunshine" and Roy's on a roll, and before we can even think of what this natural force of a song could possibly be about it's over and in comes "She's the One" which is the lynchpin of Side 1, if you can't deal with this one you might as well get out of the water now. The song is about a friend of Roy's who has, in Roy's opinion, a quite lovely wife he treats with very little respect. Roy is upset by this and spends the next near seven minutes telling us-and presumably the subject of the song-why he feels that way. With a beautiful ear splitting falsetto on the "Sheeeee's the OOOOONNNNEEE" part that could make bats crash, Roy might be implying that if old boy don't get himself straight he might just waltz right off with his "wonderful wife." Side 1 continues with ditties "In the Time of Water" and "The Composer of Life" both of which are great little tracks that do little other than sound neat and ends with the mighty "One For All."

Then we get to side 2 and things get very odd indeed. With only three songs this side contains many firsts for Roy including first song about a bulldog who bites a cop and causes its owner (Roy) to go to court for exercising some control, then IT happens. Oh yes, it does. The cute dog/cop slightly subversive but comic track is over and we are down deep in the river of Roy Harper (We are kinda there with "One For All" at the end of side 1) and as (another first Roy's first huge epic) McGoohan's Blues starts, so does it continue for nearly FOURTEEN acoustic, repetitive minutes, building somehow this incredible dramatic tension that is almost unfelt as verse after verse strolls by, each one more interesting than the one before bridged by variations on the "Oh how the Sea she roars with laughter/ and howls at the dancing wind/ to see my....(here the lyrics change making this "chorus" not quite one)" each verse slightly more sinister, slightly more deranged until finally--are you ready for this--it breaks out into some of the most beautiful Nicky Hopkins fueled piano boogie music that strangely enough sounds again like REM to me, and Roy SINGING with a hoarse voice and being all cryptic and whoa! Suddenly the blood rushes to the head, the endorphins release and life makes more sense than it ever has (or hasn't) and for a little over three minutes (maybe closer to four) one of the most beautiful "pop" (non derogatory term for catchy 60s/70s Beatle influenced type music) gushes out of the speakers and caresses the listener, lovingly, and sort of harshly at once. Chocolate and peanut butter for the ears, and then it ends...with Manana...a sort of goofy track, not unlike Self Control at the beginning of the side, genuinely dark lyrics, but sort of funny, that's a wrap. Kid giggling at the end and you are free to go.

When you really get down to the meat of Roy and his music, I do think a very large part of whether one likes him or not has to do with how comfortable or uncomfortable you are with his words. The lyrics on a Roy Harper album are always going to be somewhat "controversial" to say the least, or actually have guaranteed, in a less enlightened time, a nice Roy-b-cue. Roy offends ME sometimes and I have a shrine built to him in my bathroom. If you can "get" his ground, sort of let him just yammer on with whatever he needs to say then you will be richly rewarded...or not.

To me personally this is a five star record, but for the readers of the prog archives I will reduce the rating to a four, I don't believe a place where the majority of members have chosen to ignore Bob Dylan are really chomping at the bit to get all gushy over his British counterpart.

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Posted Thursday, May 8, 2014 | Review Permalink
TGM: Orb
3 stars Folkjokeopus is probably Harper's most schizophrenic piece, alternating between campy, drugged-up music hall and the haunting all-encompassing completeness that would characterise his work from here on. Two of the pieces on it are completely unmissable, most of the others are fair to good, a couple are kinda regrettable.

Let's start with the good, One For All is a devastating flatpicking guitar piece wrapped around a gloriously spacey lyric. Probably Harper's finest performance with the technique, the Celto-Arabic hammer-ons and pull- offs taking on a significance on different plane to the notes themselves, intercut with thundering chords. McGoohan's Blues is a 20 minute stream of consciousness howl over a thundering acoustic Am riff, along with the scalar interludes of Harper's early work and a beautiful major(ish) resolution featuring a little more of a band. The vocal is just extraordinary, natural, almost conversational, uniquely English, full of the high twang and ethereal notes typical of Harper's later 70s work. The lyrics are simply a masterwork, the moral thundering fourteeners of a Kipling turned into an immaculate skewering of the way of life the form implies.

And the village is making its Sunday collection in church The church wobbles 'twixt hell and heaven's crumbling perch Unnoticed the money box loudly endorses the shame As the world that Christ fought is supported by using his name

Every verse is this good.

The rest of the album never really hits the same giddy heights; She's The One has its moments and a great bass part but as a whole piece, the ill-advised high notes, slightly befuddled lyrics and tone never really come together. Composer of Life and In The Time of Water are a bit dinky but not unpleasant as a venture into oriental instrumentation, which I don't think Harper ever really revisited. The opening Sergeant Sunshine is probably the most Dylan-esque of Harper's pieces but nonetheless very fine, in a slightly odd timing with beautiful female vocals over the top and some extraordinary rhymes ('joins the endless next last waltz/says he loves his liver salts'). Exercising Some Control is a campy Noel Coward type affair based on a great pun but it's the giggly stoner and not the cerebral mystic at work. Manana is definitely an inexplicable comedown after McGoohan's Blues blows everything out of the park. There's something to it but I'm not really sure what it is.

Overall, this is probably the most sophomoric of all sophomore albums with the gems and inconsistencies and slight uncertainty about direction really exaggerated from Harper's rather good debut but Christ alive the highs are some of the highlights of Roy Harper's career and the whole English singer-songwriter scene from the time. I can't really give the end product as many stars as those pieces deserve but seriously give One For All and McGoohan's Blues a listen. The storm was gathering here.

Report this review (#1542930)
Posted Tuesday, March 22, 2016 | Review Permalink
3 stars It may be folk, it may be a joke but this is no opus.

Roy Harper decided to go mojo gonzo on this, his third studio album with psychedelic lyrics, sitar playing, and his old stand by, stream of consciousness musings that pass for both spoken word pieces and song lyrics proper. Roy also became fixated with the high, annoying almost dog whistle range of his voice, which unfortunately is not very pleasant and Roy soon dropped the vocal hijinks after this album. Thank God. That one annoying trait really kills "She's The One" on this infectious song's chorus. How super producer Shel Talmy (Kinks, Who, Pentangle) let Roy fly with this is a mystery. Talmy often said that he had to hem Roy in and I can only wonder what Roy would have committed to vinyl without Talmy's guidance! The lead off track "Sgt. Sunshine" is exactly what you would expect from a post Sgt. Pepper's era British folk singer, and that could be said of "In The Time Of All" and "Composer Of Life" too. "One For All"is both an exception and a highlight featuring some of the best Celtic/Arabian tuning and finger picking found on any British folk rock album of that era.

The opus that Roy is referring to is "McGoohan's Blues" with it's lengthy folk style solo acoustic and voice that gives way to Roy's spoken word stream of consciousness musing before more solo acoustic guitar and voice suddenly morphs into a song with full rock music accompaniment. In mid verse, no less. Unexpected? Yes. Pleasant to listen to? No.

Roy would return to more (at least for him) traditional folk fair on this album's follow up Flat, Baroque and Berserk before combining the two directions more coherently on his true magnum opus Stormcock a year later. But for now, Roy is content with just being out there, as if he really needed more of an excursion into madness. Folkjokeopus is not the worst album in Roy's canon but it's a far cry from later classic albums like Stormcock or Lifemask. 3 stars.

Report this review (#2412673)
Posted Friday, June 12, 2020 | Review Permalink

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