White Man - Roy Harper
A few years back we were driving to see Joanna Newsom at the recently revamped Colston Hall in Bristol, and thinking about stopping off on the motorway for a coffee. I rang the venue manager, who I knew, to ask him if the support was worth getting there in time for, and he said it was Roy Harper, so the coffee was off, and I put my foot down. He told us that Joanna Newsom had specifically asked the promoters for Roy Harper as support for her tour and that the promoter hadn't even heard of him and even had trouble finding him.
Something similar happened at the venue. We got there and took our seats just in time. The auditorium was sparsely populated with maybe fifty people rattling around in the large hall, and a guy sitting three rows behind us was actually reading his newspaper when Harper was announced and continued to do so as he started his first song. Meanwhile we could all hear the Newsom crowd packing out the bar areas outside, slurping their cold white wines and conversing loudly. At the end of the first song, the bloke who'd been reading his newspaper leapt up, ran via the side exit into the bar and shouted, "get in here everybody, this guy's fucking brilliant!". And in they flocked. By the end of his set, you could've heard a pin drop when they weren't applauding and the house was packed.
Apart from being truly poetic and a wonderful guitarist, Harper is also the most political and humanist performer I've ever heard, and one that truly has never ever sold out (probably in both senses of the phrase). And all this is on display in "White Man". The great power of this song is that it is true today as it was when released in 1970, even truer not that I come to think of it, and the anger still rings across the decades as loud as ever.
The beginning is as lyrical as anything by Paul Simon
"Far across the ocean in the land of look and see there once was a time for you and me where the winds blow sweetly and the easy seas flow still and where the barefoot dream of life can laugh and cry its fill where slot machine confusions and the plastic universe are objects of amusement in the fiction of their curse"
and once his Eden has been destroyed and he lets his anger go, he becomes a profit, as angry as anything in the old testament Dylan.. Does this sound familiar today?:
"And the bowels of his city
have been locked into a safe
where the spew stains on the sidewalks
are defenders of his faith
while back inside his kitchen
the bowler hatted, long-haired saint
cleans with soap and water
but it's really just white paint
while his golden headed scandal sheets
present their daily bite
to give their righteous news-bleeders
drugs to keep them white
while outside in the whitewash
where the guns are always, always right
a shooting star has summoned
its dark angel from his night"
A few names spring to mind, one in particular.
"And I hate the white man
and his evergreen excuse
oh I hate the white man
and the man who turned you all loose."
well done Joanna. He needs to be heard again urgently. Now.