In 1970, shortly before the release of Led Zeppelin III, guitarist Jimmy Page invited his folk-singing chum Roy Harper up to his Oxford Street offices to have a look at the new album. ‘What do you think?’ asked Page. ‘It’s nice,’ replied Harper, toying with the amusing picture wheel built into the sleeve. ‘Look at it!’ said Page. ‘Yes, it’s nice,’ said Harper. ‘No. Look at it!’ said Page, growing exasperated. And then Harper noticed the title of track five, side two. ‘Oh. Oh! Thanks! I don’t know what to say.’
And this is the reason I’m sitting here with Harper 41 years on, in a café near Paddington station. As a long-standing Led Zep fan, I’d often wondered about the identity of the man namechecked in that song title ‘Hats Off to (Roy) Harper’. Just how good is his music? Can he really have been that important and influential? Now here’s my chance to find out.
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