Roy Harper - Ye Vagabonds @ Usher Hall, Edinburgh - Sep 17 2016.
Funny, how there are now as many reviews I have written from shows at beautiful Usher Hall in Edinburgh, Scotland as I have at Merriweather Post Pavilion. And if I could travel better, I would love to add more European shows with unique artists that don't make it stateside.
Starting off tonight are a classic folk duo from Ireland (where Roy Harper now lives) who mention how fun it has been playing big halls on this short tour as opposed to the usual spots 'at the corner of Pope Street'. They are brothers and had outstanding harmonies while adding a lot of dobro, acoustic guitar, and a bit of mandolin. They showed exquisite command of their songs and tossed in a couple of traditional cuts from Scotland and Ireland. They are following in the fine footsteps of many folk acts of old from fellow countrymen, Tir Na Nog or even Foley & Kavanaugh. Deep thoughtful music that struck a chord with this large crowd. I read that they play at Walsh's of Stoneybatter every Monday night. And if I could see them or even go to any place with the name of Walsh's of Stoneybatter regularly, I would be quite happy.
I FINALLY get through my travel anxieties and make my way to lovely Scotland to see one of the most brilliant songwriters ever. Thanks to Joanna Newsom for bringing Roy out of retirement a few years ago, and fortunately he decided to do a handful of shows to celebrate his 75th birthday. This is the last of those (aside from an added Irish show in a couple of weeks) and there is a mixed crowd of older and middle aged veteran fans of Harper's unique style and formidable presence.
The songs cover the 1960s to present day. It is a fine song list and is benefited with an outstanding array of support including Bill Shanley on acoustic and electric guitar, a three-piece brass section, a string quartet arranged by Fiona Brice, and acoustic double bassist. The backing is subtle and stays silent as needed with arrangements ranging from full out to 2 guitars and a bass, to just the guitars, to just Roy. Shanley plays carefully seeking delicate sonic touches at times, but will add hefty folk and rock moments when they are required for the song. The bass playing slips into the string sections comfortably or adds that rock backing that some of the Harper catalog uses so well.
But now on to the master songs-man. Roy Harper still has that stage presence that is so riveting with his oddly charming stage patter. He is not as bitter and angry in tone tonight, but you can sense that it still runs deep. He is less the angry man and more the wise experienced man who shares the highlights of his fascinating and full life. He can still carry most of his range on vocals, although there are several senior moments of forgotten lyrics and musical adjustments, that he thanks the band for handling so well. The guitar playing is still exquisite and the full poetry and music of his brilliant songs shines through every step of the way.
My expectations were that this would be a really good show and for much of the time, this was. But there were moments that were absolutely magical where I was fully absorbed into the brilliant music. 'Me and My Woman' has long been a favorite of mine and with the full backing tonight, lifted the lid off of the house as it closed out the evening. His other Stormcock selection, 'Hors D'Oeuvres', was also amazing as it closed off the first set. 'Another Day' is still one of the most touching songs ever, while Roy mentioned that the exquisite 'Twelve Hours of Sunset' may be his personal favorite. Fortunately, the retirement feeling that his encore song choice emoted, was muted with his promise that he would try to return again one day soon. If he can still reach anywhere near these brilliant heights, I hope he can return many more times.
(1) Ye Vagabonds,
(2)-(3) Roy Harper