It was cold November day in Manchester, England. The year was 1990, I was attending college at Colorado State University and we were on Thanksgiving holiday break. So no better time to pick up and leave town and head over to England, right? Well, I would have to admit, some people may have found me a little cooky for doing so, but I had set in my mind to make this trip! Why, you may ask? Well, that’s a story in itself and let me begin the story…
I had recently discovered a fanzine for one of my guitar / musical / poetical heroes and had written a letter to England requesting a subscription to the quarterly fanzine put together by Darren Crisp and Dave (?), sorry forget Dave’s last name, but it doesn’t matter anyhow. What did matter, was that Darren was surprised to get a request from ‘across the pond’ for his fanzine of one, Mr. Roy Harper. I was very enthusiastic to have found a resource to read and know more about this fascinating figure in the english music scene who had recorded, played and was friends with some of my other musical heroes. To even know that there were other people interested in him, as trying to convince friends here in America that they should listen to Roy’s music wasn’t getting me anywhere, was so exciting to discover! People who also shared a fondness for his music and lyrics, point of view, etc. was so enthralling! Now keep in mind, this was in a time before the internet made everything accessible to everyone at any time, so it was a big deal for me to have made this discovery and share my experiences with other like-minded people. All via a printed fanzine arriving in my letter box, not ‘inbox’ mind you. Or a letter arriving from England from Darren keeping me up-to-date on Roy’s tours, recordings, etc was very exciting at the time and I’m saddened that many younger people will never experience this as the days of ‘snail mail’ are gone for the most part.
So where was I? Oh yeah, getting back to the reason why I was making this trip all the way from Ft. Collins, Colorado to Manchester, England, right… So Darren and I had been exchanging letters and he was informing me of an upcoming tour Roy would be making across England. So, like the crazy fan I was at the time, I decided to make the voyage over just to see Roy in his setting, that being in England, with his audience and fans. I knew from reading the fanzine that he rarely made tours across America, so my chances of catching a gig here were slim to none. I also found out that Roy was from Manchester, so no better place to see and experience his music live than in Manchester! The timing was right, as it fell on my Thanksgiving break, as mentioned, and it also allowed me to photograph over there ‘across the pond’ for my current Photography class I was taking. Still have some of those images… I should scan them and load them sometime… anyhow…
Upon arriving into London, I made the train ride up to Manchester and checked into a cheap hotel in the city. I was jet-lagged and tired, but so excited that on my 22nd Birthday, I would be witnessing somebody I had looked up to for a long time. I used to walk to walk into record stores and go straight to the ‘H’ for Harper section to look for new treasures waiting to be collected by myself. And as I sat there in the Manchester hotel, I remember drinking a cup of Earl Grey tea and thinking how different it tasted, how different the smells and sounds were outside when I walked out the door, how so differently the people spoke english, experiencing so many new things. Although I had travelled to Europe and England before, this time was different, my senses were alive and waiting for what they were about to experience here on this trip. In anticipation for that night’s concert, I walked around the city taking photographs… just trying to calm my nerves.
In the afternoon that day, I went back to the hotel and took a brief nap, but could hardly sleep. When it was time to head over to the Free Trade Hall and meet Darren in the foyer, I nervously made my way. It was about a 20-minute walk from the hotel and I had scouted it out earlier that day so as not to be lost when trying to find it. It was a brick building with what seemed like, many windows on the front doors. When I arrived, my heart was racing… I saw one of the doors was halfway open and there were lights on inside. It was a colder, grey day, so the lights inside were inviting. I saw an older gentleman who was a security guard of some sort and I approached him and told him that I was here to meet with Darren Crisp. He replied with, “Darren? Darren who?”. “Darren with Roy Harper.” I replied. “Oh right, Roy Harper. Come in.” He led me into a long foyer where I saw two people setting up merchandise for the show that night. Having never met Darren, I didn’t know who to look for, but I just went over and asked him if he indeed was Darren Crisp, Roy’s manager. He was and we shook hands and made introductions. He was with his girlfriend, Erica, who later became his wife and mother of two lovely daughters, but that’s another story altogether.
I knew Darren & Erica were busy, so I just hung out and watched them setup t-shirts and other merchandise when suddenly I heard the strumming of a guitar beyond the closed doors in the concert hall. Wow, my ears had just heard Roy playing his guitar for the first time in person! I listened intently, not trying to draw any attention to myself to the others. When I heard the opening chords to ‘Short and Sweet’, a song which Roy had co-written with David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, I was in awe. I think Darren saw my excitement and suggested I step into the Hall to see the soundcheck. I was hesitant to do so, but I drug my feet and slowly opened the door and quickly made my way to a seat in the middle of the Hall, not far from the sound mixing table, of which I saw Jacqui, Roy’s wife at the time, behind the controls.
I sat there, the only one in the Hall along with a few others witnessing Roy soundcheck. At that time, his album ‘Once’ had been released, so I got to hear some of those songs being run through by Roy on stage. A long way from home, sitting there in the audience, listening to Roy for the first time ever live… a memory I’ll never ever forget. As he finished, he stepped down and walked up the middle of the Hall, almost exactly towards where I was sitting. I waved hello and Roy waved and sat down in a seat in my aisle, but just a few seats over, in front of the mixing desk. I was trying to respect Roy and not approach him, but I had brought a photograph with me that was inspired by his music that I wanted to give to him (This later was used on early versions of Roy’s web site). And I had also brought along one of my favorite album covers, ‘Bullinamingvase’ for him to sign. Slowly, I made my way over to him… slightly trembling and short of breathe from being so nervous… and said hello and sat down next to him. Jacqui quickly came over to mention that Roy wouldn’t be talking much as he was saving his voice for the show tonight. I confirmed that I wouldn’t make Roy talk much and suggested that I do most of the talking. I presented my photograph to him and explained how it was inspired by his music. He wanted to know, asking in a whisper, where I was from as he probably noticed my american accent and I told him. I also asked if he wouldn’t mind signing my album cover. He whispered a yes to signing it and I pulled it out. As he was signing, I noticed his white scarf around his neck and had remembered seeing a similar one on another one of my guitar heroes, one Mr. Jimmy Page. Well, Roy was sort of shocked and asked me why I had asked him that. I told him that Jimmy has a similar one and he confirmed that it was, in fact, given to him by Jimmy. I felt awkward having asked that and just quickly informed him of my plans for the week, which included seeing him in London and Milton Keynes (Where Roy dedicated ’12 Hours of Sunset’ to myself… another special moment for me) later in the week. We shook hands and I exited the Hall and re-approached Darren & Erica who were almost through with setting up the merchandise stand.
I still had a few hours before the show would start and told everybody I’d be back later after getting a bite to eat. I returned later with my ticket for the show given to me by Darren earlier and took my seat. As the lights dimmed and the intro to the song ‘Once’ Queued up and was running, I realized I was witnessing my first of a long series of concerts given by Roy Harper. A very special night for sure and I can’t thank Darren, Erica, Jacqui, Tony, Nick and Tracy enough for having invited me in to witness and ‘spoke the wheel’ for me writing songs of my own and just showing me a glimpse into the life of a very special creative talent. Thanks so much to all of you!
It’s twenty years passed, but I still remember that cold November night as if were yesterday…
An image of Roy from the show that night. November 19, 1990 in Manchester, England.
Posted via email from Chris J Politzki’s Posterous