This is not the post I wanted to write this morning. But I couldn’t think of much positive to say. Roy Harper was not my hero, but that’s not the point. Lifetime achievement awards, Mojo Hero awards, festival headline spots, even an interview on View from the Boundary on TMS – Roy Harper is part of the cultural fabric of this country. And so we can’t sweep him under the carpet. But if we are to retain a trusting love for music, we need to think more deeply about our relationship with those who make it.
Very few things in life are pure.
From the start of the music industry, those who worked at the top of it have exploited those underneath them for commercial gain. The practices used to separate people from their money, dignity and self-determination have been legion, from managers tying young and naive artists to hugely unfavourable contracts, through in-house producers and label owners insisting on taking 50% of the publishing on a song before agreeing to so much as set up a microphone, to successful and wealthy musicians paying their session players no more than a small flat fee for coming up with instrumental parts so unique, so inspired, that the only fair arrangement would have been a point on the record (meaning a share of the artist’s royalties off the back end, as opposed to a permanent renegotiation of songwriting credit and royalties). This is before we even touch on DJs and payola and concert promoters.
The music industry is, like so much else in life, a body of murky water, the depths and pollution of which the young person often goes in only partly aware. We overlook much when we admire a musician, rather than a merely admire piece of music. At the very least, we don’t judge them for their eagerness to be involved in an industry which has always been corrupt, and is often corrupting. Music may stand for much, may provoke many emotions, may seem so powerful that it has a life of its own, but no piece of music ever used its power or celebrity for criminal and abusive ends. Admire the music, not the musician, is a sound piece of advice if you want to maintain a pure relationship with it.
All of which is an oblique way of talking about Roy Harper, who has been charged with sexually abusing a girl for two years between 1975 and 1977. The victim was 12 when the offences are alleged to have begun.
Let’s not pre-judge anything, but it’s hard not to feel anger and a certain despair when one reads about cases such as these. The last year or two has shone a light on what a lot of rich, powerful and influential men in public life thought they could get away with in the sixties, seventies and eighties, and the details are often chilling.
The sad truth is that musicians are people, and people do horrendous things to each other, sometimes for reasons that are unfathomable, sometimes as part of a repeating pattern of abuse, sometimes just because they are cruel and enjoy it.
No amount of hand-wringing after the fact can undo what was done to this girl, and I am sure that all of us just want to see justice done for her, no matter who the perpetrator is and what artistically valuable works he may have done.
I’ll be back here tomorrow, if time permits, discussing something worthy of celebration. At the moment, I must admit I don’t know what it will be, but there are thousands of notable artistic works that deserve celebrating, and that’s what we’re here for.