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Music legend, Roy Harper talks exclusively to Vital Manchester City. Roy has played with the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and is a passionate City fan.
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I get inspiration from all kinds of people doing all kinds of things. My heroes are spread across the whole of human culture. I have an attitude of ‘Well if she can do that, I can surely get myself off my backside and do something equally good today’.
Although I was born in Rusholme, we moved to Blackpool when I was still a boy. Every other week, we used to see Stan Mathews play for Blackpool. He was my joint number one hero as a boy with Frank Swift, the City goalkeeper. John Keats and Percy Shelley were my joint No.3.
My Dad bought a TV in cup final week 1953, and half the street watched Stan as he made most of the goals in the ‘Coronation Cup’, as it became known. (Played within a month of the Coronation!). Edmund Hillary, another of my all time heroes, was the first man up Everest in the same month.
In 1956, Bert Trautman succeeded Stan into number one spot in my Hall of Fame. This was about a year before I read ‘On The Road’ by Jack Kerouac, and I was just reaching the age where I could turn Jack’s kind of reality into my own.
On April 21st 1959 I got off the ferry in Calais and began an entirely new life. Jack was my No.1 hero at that time. He was succeeded by Lonnie Donegan, Charles Darwin, Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy, Socrates, Woody Guthrie, Fred Neitzche and C.G.Jung. In quick order. All of them have stayed in the pantheon.
In my early years, I was very moved by the singer Paul Robeson, who I thought was a very brilliant man. The beginnings of what was to become the West Indian pace attack was as frightening as it was inspiring.
Charlie Griffith and Wes Hall restarted something that was to move the summer sport to another dimension.
Griffith’s run-up alone was gripping and hugely impressive for an impressionable young lad. Gary Sobers has left a huge legacy and was always a great favourite of mine. As was Roger Taylor, battling his way to three Wimbledon semi-finals. I was always inspired and driven by sporting feats.
Roy Harper & Jimmy Page
On the England cricket side there was Brian Statham and Fred Truman, and then later on John Snow and David Gower, one of the good guys. Everybody knew though that Don Bradman was the best. By a long way.
Moreover, even though he was an Aussie, most of the young lads idolized him. My Dad certainly did. A man with a test average of 99 is god. No one will ever get near that ever again. On his last tour of England in 1949, it seemed like the whole country had turned up to see him. He was on every newsreel we saw. I marvelled at Emil Zatopek winning the 10,000 metres at the 1948 London Olympics and the 5,000, 10,000 and the Marathon at Helsinki four years later, and I was 13 when Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile. This was all really inspiring stuff.
My Dad was a cross-country runner, so there was an awareness in the family. I forget which club he belonged to now, but it was one of the Manchester clubs. Could have been Salford!
I can remember being brought to tears when Ann Packer won the 800 metres Gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and she became a pin-up of mine for a couple of years. Two of her sons both later played for City. (The Brightwells).
In the mid 50s I got into Jazz and quickly did the whole journey From Bunk Johnson through Kid Ory to Miles Davis and on out to Coltrane and Archie Shepp. I’ve spent a lifetime with Miles; he’s one of the all time great musicians.
By 1968, Colin Bell had assumed the No1 spot, together with Frank Zappa and Crosby, Stills and Nash, followed almost immediately by Neil Young, the Canadian Musician; not the city forward, although he would have been high on the list. Had he not been killed in a motorcycle accident, I think that Richard Fariña would have been my all time favourite musician. Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen have both been great.
In addition, by 1968 some of my heroes were becoming friends and it was getting a bit confusing. One day I was buying ‘Substitute’ by The Who, and soon enough I knew Keith and Pete as friends. I even had the honour of having Jimmy Hendrix stood on a table paying my drinks bill for the night. Then Robert and Jimmy of Zeppelin turned up at a Birmingham Town Hall gig of mine and we’ve been friends ever since.
Then I found myself at Abbey Rd recording at the same time as Pink Floyd and Kate Bush. I found out that I’d been a hero of Kate’s and she was certainly one of mine. She’s a wonderful person and we communicate regularly.
To read the second instalment, click here.