AVENTURO 13: Johnathan Halper | Leaving My Old Life Behind (1966)

One aspect of working on OBLADADA is the ongoing friendships that have sprung up all over the world. Certainly, it’s easy to see the attraction and exoticism of wild experimentation from Japan or some newly discovered droney cosmic rock from the West Coast of America but what about the gems hidden closer to home? It’s a question that often comes up. What’s happening here, in my homeland?

Being an Edinburgh guy, sure we have the Proclaimers and sorry world – had the Bay City Rollers. But what about my type of music? I’ve never really found indigenous/interesting older stuff beyond the Incredible String Band, the Human Beast or Writing On The Wall. Sure, there is a small live scene these days but nothing spectacularly dense. Many acts simply don’t make it this far north…

But it was almost by complete accident that I came across an obscurity as acid fried as anything I’ve heard – and it was made by someone it would seem I can add to my list of local groovers and this one is an absolute beauty – Johnathan Halper.

Halper’s entire known/recorded musical output lasts just under 6 minutes. That fleeting joy formed the 1966 revised edit of Kenneth Anger’s 1949 film Puce Moment. Whilst the second 3 minutes of his entire discography is the harrowing I Am A Hermit the first 3 are totally fucking superb.

The somehow prophetic Leaving My Old Life Behind is singular acid folk perfection. A woozy lo-fi masterpiece complete with amazing backward effects and a startlingly kosmic rallying call…

I’m gonna learn to fly the clouds,
I’m gonna understand the air,
My mind will listen to the stars…

The whole story, including the story of Halper himself, is quickly absorbed in the chaotic myth and reality of Anger’s own crazy story. There was, heart breakingly, no double album of his complete song book, not even much in the way of facts. Just mentions of him writing the songs in Edinburgh, being at Kagyu Samye Ling (a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the Scottish borders) before possibly becoming an acquaintance of Anger long enough to present his music. Some folk believed the music was Anger himself, other even guessed it was some guy called John Lennon…

A vague mirage of history with a tiny but immaculately formed diamond at its centre. But Halper, for me at least, is the tantalising King of Scottish psych.


Puce Moment is available on DVD as part of the Magick Lantern Cycle by Kenneth Anger, and is available here  An unofficial 7″ single of Halpers music can be found here

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