What: Nick Harper
Where: Central Studio, Basingstoke
When: Sunday 28th March 2010
It must be difficult living in the shadow of a great musician. Ziggy Marley, Julian Lennon and Nick Harper all share that curse. Of course the
danger is that the sons all try and live up to their fathers’ reputation or that the public can never separate the two in their minds. Luckily for Nick he has the talent to rise above any comparison.
Tonight’s gig was in a new venue to me. The Central Studio, within Queen Mary’s College in Basingstoke. It’s a lovely venue and is well suited to attentive listening and an intimate atmosphere. This is just as well as Nick writes lyrics that are well worth listening to rather than just staring mesmerised at his incredible guitar skills.
The roots of Nick’s ability are likely to lay in the wealth of experienced guitarist who lay praise on Nick’s father Roy and often visited their home. These include the likes of Led Zeppelin’s Page and Floyd’s Gilmour.
Nick Harper is pigeon holed as folk which is about as absurd as Elvis Costello being labelled country just because he occasionally plays in that style. Unless that is you want to start labelling anything with a story or a political message as folk!
I think the “folk” tab is put on Nick’s music as he plays solo with an acoustic guitar as an accompaniment. That said the way he plays it could equally be described as rock/punk if he exchanged it for an electric. He attacks the guitar at times like he is trying to beat it to death. It seems Nick is winning the battle as he breaks a string half way through one song. Unlike most other musicians the performance doesn’t stop because of this and he makes sure that the show goes on. Nick launches seamlessly into an “a cappella” soaring vocal performance whilst he reaches into his back pocket for a new string. His face is a picture as he casts aside the ones that don’t match. Prize in hand he continues the singing whilst he simultaneously restrings and brings the offending string back into tune by ear with an almost seamless pluck and off he goes again; seconds out, round two!
Such is the music industry that talent isn’t guaranteed to put bread on the table and sadly Nick was playing to a half filled venue. I was trying to put my finger on why Nick has never achieved the recognition he deserves. He’s just about to release his tenth album (The last guitar) yet few people have ever heard of him. He is certainly unconventional, however that’s never stopped people in music, just look at Newton Faulkner. Perhaps it’s his subject matter. Last nights offerings ranged from a song about the Bolivian President “Evo” Morales to one about Henry the 8th on the “Fields of the cloth of gold”. His lyrics draw on history to point out modern day lessons, never too moralising but always intelligent and often sensitive. Perhaps today’s music buying public don’t have the attention span needed.
Being at the gig you felt very much part of it not just looking in. There was a lot of crowd interaction. Whilst this was very enjoyable for the most part there was one guy in particular who sounded like he’d been at the bar since lunch time that spoilt the mood a few times with stupid comments and heckling. The relaxed atmosphere was emphasised when Nick began to play a song requested from the audience and realising that he didn’t have his Capo out front with him asked for a volunteer from the audience to hold down the right fret throughout the song. I never expected this to work too well but was pleasantly surprised to see Nick once again successfully pushing back the boundaries of conventional gigs.
The support act is one to look out for in the future. Playing with Nick Harper was a Harpist of all things. This young lady a recent graduate from Cambridge Uni is Georgia Ruth (Williams). The inevitable comparison given her instrument is with Joanna Newsom, however Georgia Ruth strikes me as more like Beverley Craven as she can sing really well and doesn’t sound like she’s being strangled when she does it! Like Craven, she writes very melodic songs about relationships too.
Overall a very enjoyable evening of great song writing and accomplished performances.