IN THE PRESS
Reviews of Live Shows From 2002:
Please be on the look out for reviews of shows and email them or cut them out and send the hard copy to PO Box 12695, London SE10 9ZJ. Thank you!
The Forum, Tunbridge Wells, Kent on 7 October 2003
The son of bona fide rock loon Roy Harper has just begun his tour, promoting the new album "Blood Songs" and it seems that the first date outside London is here, in front of what, 40 people? Must be a culture shock for the guy.
Described as anything from "the English Jeff Buckley" to "the acoustic Hendrix", all comparisons are justified because 'Harpic' (as he affectionately refers to himself) really is nothing short of a genius. There's no other word for it. You see, being the offspring of a unique musical legend has blighted the careers of certain performers, as they remain eclipsed by the enigma of their parents. Julian Lennon is a case in point. But Jeff Buckley proved that far from lurking in the shadows of his father, with a unique talent that may owe a debt to Tim, it was possible to be just as independent, just as creative and become an equally influential figure in his own right, without some fucking spectre hanging over his head.
NICK HARPER treads a similar path as his unique aptitude and talent has transmogrified into a singular, peerless voice. When he's up on stage, there's no doubt that he's his father's son. They have the same peculiar look when the light catches him a certain way, similar eccentricities, and his voice has the same cracked timbre, the same unearthly wail, but it's more sensual, less nasal, more controlled and altogether easier on the ears than his old man's. A raw screeching yell can become a soothing croon or a shrill falsetto in the space of a few heartbeats, but it never loses it's ability to be both warm and genteel. The humour and off-the-wall weirdness though is very much his own, and as for sheer guitar virtuosity and inventiveness, well, he's everything his Dad isn't. Including sane.
Harpic is his own man and although his technique has roots in his father's soil, it's come to fruition in a totally dissimilar manner, even though generically, they compliment each other like two different blooms on the same one-of-a-kind bush. It begs the impossible question of who's actually better, Nick or Roy? Jeff or Tim? It comes down fundamentally to personal preference and sacrilegious as it may to some, I choose Nick. If only because I can't imagine Roy talking about sitting in Tunbridge Wells Pizza Express pondering the theory of guitars being the afterlife for lumps of dead tree, and debating whether it's wood-Heaven or wood-Hell.
But the fascinating style and creative flair of his guitar playing is where most of Harper's appeal lies. There seems to be literally nothing he cannot do with an acoustic guitar and just as you think you've got him pegged down or sussed, he suddenly reinvents himself and how the instrument is played; often in the middle of songs, apparently on a whim, "making it up as I grow along the way", as he warbles. He can thrash it with manic abandon, like Jerry Lee Lewis style piano playing transferred to a guitar, then gently tease the tension from it almost without physical contact. Harper of course has a long-standing reputation for his arcane and bizarre tunings. It's only in the live context, when he's not being backed by the studio musicians and is creating startling effects all on his own, that you realise just how revolutionary and creative his style is. Music is a mathematical algorithm of sorts, and watching Harpic do his stuff is like watching a scientist change the rules of an equation because the ultimate answer doesn't suit his purpose. Because he has a indiscriminate inclination to deviate in a certain direction, he will retune mid song and be so seamless that he turns this process into an essential factor in the structure of the piece, introducing child-like innocence and charm into the mix as he discovers extraordinary random things during the journey.
Even the occasional duff notes and moments of self-parody just belong there. He can turn Elvis's "Guitar Man" into a gung-ho Zeppelin bonanza, and Monty Python's "Galaxy Song" into a snatch of inspired wry wit, yet still finds opportunities to play with the likes of Blur's "Out Of Time" and The Beatles "Sun King" to the point of total redesign. Allowing a medley of his own ramblings to weave casually around these and other classics, like some gorgeous musical collage, his passion for what he does is in turn inspired and inspirational. Even busting a string is treated as a unplanned excuse to compensate by changing key then allowing his circular falsetto vocal refrain to go higher and higher as he blindly restrings, retunes and resumes as if nothing had happened and it was all planned that way for dramatic emphasis. The effect is at once intoxicating and awe-inspiring as the exasperated gasps of the audience develop into raptured wondrous applause.
Can I just say he's a God?
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Supporting Robert Plant @ Barrowland, Glasgow 23rd October 2002 - Support reviews
For full reviews of Robert Plant with the following in context, go to http://www.linwood.demon.co.uk/rp231002.html
From Michael Brett - A few words about opener Nick Harper. Rarely have I seen a support act grabbing an audience the way he did. From the off, the audience were enthralled by the sheer exuberance of his playing and they stayed with him throughout. He left to loud cheers.
From George Clarke - I arrived upstairs just in time to catch the end of Nick Harper's set and,to be honest,when I first heard him I thought he was a woman! I didn't see enough of Harper to give a decent appraisal,but I can tell you that he has an extremely high pitched voice and he plays acoustic guitar so aggressively that you'd think he is trying to harm his instrument!
From Steve Mostyn - What a night of history - starting with the guitar string breaking, breathless Nick Harper who has the same resonant vocals as his old man Roy - Led Zeppelin's mentor. Nick went down well with some Zep inspired riffs that fired up an eager crowd - go see him.
From Tim Bennett - And the support, well to be honest I wasn't particularly bothered about catching him, but I'm so glad I did, what a player, Nick Harper stirred the crowds loins, a great performance, will be buying his music too.
From Stephen Pollock - Nick Harper was supporting and his socialist lyrics, Jeff Buckley style vocal gymnastics and punk strumming set the crowd alight. What a guitarist! - that boys' got more chords than "Wranglers."
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Live at SemiFinal in Helsinki
Culture - Tuesday 29.10.2002
Serendipity Part II: Nick Harper (guitar, vocal) at Semifinal By William Moore
Photo and caption - http://www.helsinki-hs.net/picpage.asp?IsoID=4K9AIhrpG
When I was younger, I would go to rock concerts on a regular weekly basis. Growing up in England in the late 60s and early 70s was something of a luxury for anyone with an interest in what is today known as "classic rock", a vague musical genre which continues to play an important part in the fare put out by the likes of Radio City in Helsinki.
On any given Saturday night a teenager could - without too much effort or distance travelled - get to see now-legendary acts like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Cream, Free, Van Morrison, Traffic, or The Who, and even people like the Allman Brothers, Captain Beefheart, and the Grateful Dead showed up every so often for festivals and short tours.
Of course, if you set your sights lower, it was possible back then to find people who were not yet household names, but might soon become so: the delights of bemused students seeing a little-known Jimi Hendrix performing in a university dining-hall in February 1967 (alas, I was too young, but I saw the plaque on the wall), of Bob Marley and the Wailers jamming in a club not much bigger than a living-room, of the late lamented Ian Dury down the pub, or the lovably eccentric folk-rocker and guitarist extraordinaire Roy Harper, one of those people whom richer and more famous artists were forever talking about, but for whom "cult status" was the best that life offered. Coming to Finland changed everything, in rather strange ways. On the one hand the supply dried up, with peripheral location and the "semi-island" nature of the country - that sea journey from Sweden lugging all the equipment - limiting the number of touring artists. They got to Stockholm, but at that point they often turned around and went home.
Then again, when a few brave souls did come along, they generally played in much more intimate, humane venues than they would have picked in England or the U.S. In a sense it was a step back to the old days, with "name" artists showing up at places like Tavastia, an excellent rough and ready hall with general admission for around 700. The performers often relished the return to something more club-like, with a direct audience contact, and Finnish rock fans welcomed them and even on some occasions actually stopped slurping beer to listen.
As age has crept up, I find I go to concerts relatively seldom, and following two diametrically-opposed lines of approach: on the one hand there is the frantic dialling and redialling of busy phone lines to secure hot tickets months in advance, even for gigs in Stockholm or farther afield, and on the other a sort of whimsical last-minute decision to go out for the hell of it instead of watching the sparkle-box, often without knowing anything about what I am to see and hear.
The idea to go and see Nick Harper at SemiFinal (one of those living-room venues with a capacity of about 100 and a stage on which a four-piece band starts looking uncomfortably cramped) belonged in the latter "serendipitous" category.
I knew absolutely nothing about him except he was the son of a semi-famous father, but a brief announcement in Helsingin Sanomat's weekend review asserted that as a guitarist he was "better than his Dad". This in itself is uncommon, since few rock scions have been able to fill their parents' shoes, but considering that the elder Harper was himself something of an axe-hero phenomenon, the claim was a bold one. But it was spot-on. I can say that in more than 30 years of attending these things, I have never heard anyone - or anything - like this, with the possible exception of Leo Kottke, who already bears the ponderous mantle of "acoustic guitar virtuoso". It was breathtaking, and left me wondering why on earth there were only around 70 of us there to witness it.
Not only was the 36-year-old Mr Harper quite capable of turning his guitar from an innocuous but delightful Segovia-plays-Villa-Lobos instrument to a serious weapon of mass destruction in seconds, he was also charming, more amusing than most stand-up comics, modest as hell, and he seems to have an ability to write and deliver songs that are quite the equal of his acerbic father. In fact in the vocals, often stretched, often echo-supported, there was a stronger family resemblance than in his instrumental work, which was all his own.
He slipped adroitly from touching love ditties via The Galaxy Song (of Monty Python fame) into searing political rant as easily as he chatted up the audience and discussed Liverpool's 2-1 win over Tottenham while restringing his battered Lowden acoustic. The poor instrument succumbed three times during an electrifying performance of Building Our Own Temple; apparently this is pretty normal. During several songs he de-tuned or re-tuned the guitar as he played, dropping gorgeous harmonics like autumn leaves and then ripping out juggernaut percussive riffs, and all with this kind of boyish chemistry-set "Let's-see-what-happens-if-I-try... THIS" attitude. At one point, he completely cocked up the echo settings on his vocal mike, but seemed just as delighted with the result, milking it rather than getting irritated by the technological snafu.
It was very infectious stuff, and I found myself thinking that this was one man who could really cross that impossible chasm between playing for an old folks' home and at a headbangers' ball. Just when we imagined he'd done most everything our mothers told us never to do with an acoustic guitar, he floored everybody by producing a more than passable impression of Led Zeppelin's (yes, all four of them!) Whole Lotta Love during a riotous work-out on the old Elvis warhorse Guitar Man.
Jaws dropped, grown men wept into their beer, and people were grinning from ear to ear at the sheer unaffected joy of the fellow, who was clearly enjoying himself as much as his audience were.
For his encore, he plugged in, strummed a chord or two, then said "Awww...shit, no...", and instead wandered out unamplified into the audience, serenading several women and their surprised escorts with something called You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me. Balls of brass.
After the closing act's set, while the equipment was being packed away, Harper sat at the drum-kit used by Markus Nordenstreng and the Latebirds (interesting in their own right, though in my view the set was mixed overly loud), and happily bashed out the percussion accompaniment to the music coming off the house P.A., while his array of things to hit was gradually whittled down to a single cymbal. It was that kind of evening. 2.30 am and nobody seemed to want to go home. To be able to experience all this up close and personal and with no advance hype or preconceptions was so refreshing and so unusual that I felt a need to write about it, even if it has precious little to do with the normal content of this paper.
In a world of crass commercialism and no-talent artists who are created by and ultimately often destroyed by the media, the knowledge that there are still unsung musicians out there who could knock them six different ways from Sunday without recourse to MTV is reassuring in the extreme.
I was not alone. The rest of the audience, who appeared to be a 50/50 mix of the just-curious and the converted (several had actually made the trip from abroad and English seemed at times to be the dominant language being spoken), were equally gob-smacked by what they heard. Nick Harper may not be everyone's cup of tea, and I'd hate to see him through binoculars performing in a stadium, but the sooner someone picks up the phone and gets him back to Finland to play for a larger crowd - are you listening there at the Helsinki Festival? - the better for the mental health of this country.
It would be a crying shame if we had to wait the 25 years since his father last showed up here. Or then again, someone could invite them both, and next time he could actually remember to bring a few promotional CDs with him.
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The Glasgow Herald - 13 August 2002
What? Music Where? Nick Harper - Southside until August 24 Rating? * * * *
In like a lamb, out like a lion. The great thing about a Fringe residency is that, assuming it's not some scripted automaton, audiences see the artist in varying guises. As one guilty of squeezing in return visits to Harperland for fun, I can confidently predict that the next Nick Harper gig I or anyone else sees will be completely different to this.
Here he began introspectively. Songs that can, if not rock, then certainly loom large were delicately laid out. The instrumental Like Punk Never Happened, a Segovianesque guitar study, was performed from the comfort of a back row cushion.
That's Harper: playing live to, being honest with an audience who almost instantly become friends. When a mobile phone - his own, to his horror - interrupts a new song of paternal pride, he improvises and completes it as The Ballad of BT. Wit, warmth, virtuosity. Then, bang. The strumming arm pistons into Headless, generating enough energy to fuel the national grid.
With Harper you don't get everything in the same order or quantity every time, but you do get everything. See him soon.
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Edinburgh Evening News -Preview - 25 April 2002
Don't fret over axe-man cutting it at The Venue
FEW performers have been as widely acclaimed as guitarist Nick Harper. Critically adored across the board, the English singer-songwriter has been earning his spurs playing intimate venues and basement bars while critics fume and protest that his talent should be filling concert halls.
Tomorrow Harper starts making his play for the bigger spaces with a gig at The Venue on Calton Road.
Already among the most extraordinary guitarists in the UK, Harper became a highly accomplished player at a very early age by virtue of the influence of his father, legendary axe-man Roy Harper.
While Harper senior played with Pink Floyd, Jimmy Page and Kate Bush (and in turn, had them queuing up to play with him) his son has followed an innovative solo career after a brief stint with Squeeze. Not content with the advances demonstrated on his last album, Harperspace, Harper is now promising new and innovative ways of using sound that threaten to make stereo obsolete as he vows to "explore the possibilities of using surround sound in a live space".
Will the PA at The Venue be able to withstand the strain?
Nick Harper, The Venue, tomorrow, 8pm
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The Times - 13 April 2002 * * * *
Nick Harper - King Tut's Glasgow (Thurs 11 April)
Just how much punishment can an ordinary acoustic guitar take? Nick Harper does things to his that would have had Segovia weeping into his Rioja. The top surface is even scuffed by his manically wielded plectrum outside the area protected by the sliver of tortoiseshell below the sound hole.
But from this basic, if electrically customised instrument, Harper extracts the most astonishing range of sounds, from hard rocking that would not have disgraced Led Zeppelin, to a delicate, Villa-Lobos-like prelude of his own called Like Punk Never Happened.
Guitar enthusiasts have been hailing the undiscovered genius of Nick (son of Roy) Harper for the best part of a decade. He remains, however, outside the mainstream for a number of reasons which, if there were any justice, ought to be recommendations rather than limitations.
Part of it is that he is much more interesting live, when he plays alone, than on his several records which have a more conventional backing band. He is about to release a live double CD which may help.
More especially, his own music, which is what he mostly plays, is neither sentimental nor simple.
Harmonically and melodically, it is sophisticated and full of surprises. There are progressions in there which require a lot more than three chords. Lyrically the songs are often clever on a line by line basis and serious overall.
Even the love songs, such as She Rules My World, have an edge to them and there are others, such as Karmageddon, about the planet, about ecology or about geo-politics. One of them is introduced with a macabre fairy tale of breaking into Ariel Sharon's bedroom, extracting part of his brain and injecting it into his songbook. The resulting Song of Madness ends with the madness going away and calm returning. So he is an optimist as well.
You get the impression that he is happiest simply playing his guitar but his voice is distinctive and he stretches and mangles it almost as much as the guitar.
And although mostly he chooses not to, he can play to the gallery. He broke off to pick out Happy Birthday to a member of the audience (in a distant echo of Jimi Hendrix playing The Star-Spangled Banner) and then hammed up a disco number on a solo acoustic guitar - I told you he did extraordinary things with it). Altogether it is an uncompromising sort of performance and it would be perfectly possible to dislike it. But Harper has so much musicianship in him that it just leaks out all over the place. An acquired taste which may be worth acquiring.
Robet Dawson Scott
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Slick Nick 'Asda' common touch
The Venue, Edinburgh, April 12 2002****
Taking to the stage with just an acoustic guitar and microphone, it seemed like Harper was about to 'treat' us to an hour or two of key folk music.
But Nick, son of 70s singer-songwriter Roy, turned out to be a regular one-man band. From the boisterous anti-pollution anthem Karmageddon to the slowed-down slagging off of an ex-love in Everything's Better, his music is so dense and atmospheric that many bands would kill to sound half as good as this.
Humorous touches, like a blast of the Rainbow theme, help to disguise the often pretentious lyrics. But the vocals are so powerful that Harper could surely sing his shopping list and make it sound meaningful.
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The Berwick Advertiser - Descent into Wonderland - By Michael Mee
Paul Liddell/Nick Harper at Barrels, Thursday, April 26 2002
The phrases ‘son of’ and ‘ex-‘ should be expunged from the dictionary. A musician stands or falls by his music not his ancestry or CV. Nick Harper, pictured right, is a perfect example. He is the son of Roy, but a wonderful musician in his own right. This is how he should and will by judged. But first Paul Liddell.
When Paul supported Clive Gregson I was impressed; just imagine how impressed I am with the ‘new’ Paul Liddell. The slightly self-conscious, awkward performer has been replaced by a less self-conscious, still unassuming but accomplished musician. The case was proved beyond doubt by No. 2. Instead of a neatly-constructed set of chords, Liddell has moulded, fashioned and embellished. He may still be a work in progress but he is well on the way.
I recently heard an acoustic set that was flat and lifeless. Liddell’s was full of feeling. Same instrument, different sound. I guess that’s what they call talent. Still reminds me of Kelly Jones.
I have often thought that musicians should do their own reviews. It’s ironic that we stand and pass comment on people who are invariably better with words. That was blindingly obvious as Nick Harper unveiled a set that was largely indescribable. There is only one piece of music that I can put an adjective to with any degree of comfort. That came in the encore.
With a guitar, a voice and an array of pedals he was a one-man band for prog rockers. Looking and sounding a little like Jon Anderson, as he made one guitar sound like several I ended up looking for the rest of Yes. They must have been in the back.
Harper assumed the role of Alice. In place of verse/chorus/verse he took us through the looking glass into a kaleidoscopic world of his own making. It’s as much about the exploration of a guitar as the playing. He detuned mid-song, he elicited sound effects and during 100 Things I swear I counted at lease eight fingers on the neck of his guitar.
In between he rambled and wandered, knowing exactly what he wanted to say, then launched himself into the likes of Karmageddon, an explosion of sound.
A day is never wasted if you learn something. As he introduced The Verse That Time Forgot I got to thinking: ‘if a song is autobiographical why is it not about a song?’ It was that kind of thought-inducing night. But Harper had already moved on.
It was the ability to change the mood in an instant that stood out. If you think the Spanish have a monopoly on passionate playing then Everything’s Better laid that to rest. And a brilliant pastiche of Guitar Man when, rather like the alien bursting from John Hurt’s stomach, from nowhere came a full-grown rocker. He spanned the generations from Elvis to Robert Plant in a heartbeat.
Normal service, (normal?), was resumed. But amid the mayhem that Harper was wreaking lurked a moment I will never forget. Being was introduced as a nursery rhyme for his daughter. I have a daughter and Harper encapsulated my feelings exactly. I felt touched and inadequate at the same time. That isn’t merely ability, it’s a gift.
The only word that doesn’t appear in Nick Harper’s lexicon is bland and that applies equally to his voice. As the music stretched and strained to the limit, so did he. High or low, his vocals performed matched the gymnastics of his guitar.
It was fitting that the encore was a microcosm of what preceded it. Monty Python’s The Galaxy Song was hilarious, cockney music hall – ‘Gawd Bless Yer Nick’. The instrumental Like Punk Never Happened was awe-inspiring in it's delicacy and intricacy and Frank Zappa to finish off.
Long held views have been banished forever, I am glad to see them go. After Nick Harper’s performance I have no further use for them.
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