Nick Harper is, and will remain, one of my favourite artists. Easily one of the most unnoticed and hence underrated folk guitarists of all time. It’s fair to say that in part, it may be down to his choosing, crafting anti-establishment ditties, weaving in social commentary pertinent to the zeitgeist to his songbook, and only playing small venues, typically to small troupes of his loyal acolytes.
Nick is the son of Roy Harper, a folk legend in his own right. Roy had a lot of success in the 1970’s with his own career, and a nod from the prog/rock Gods of the time who recognised his talents came his way back then, with Roy singing “Have A Cigar” on Pink Floyd’s classic “Wish You Were Here” album and Robert Plant/Jimmy Page dedicating a Led Zeppelin song to him in “Hats Off To Harper”. As a child, Nick found himself surrounded by such musical luminaries, and clearly has his dads DNA courses through his veins.
We are the richer for it, and any “Evening with Nick Harper” is always special. None more so that last night, set in a church.
On average, I have seen him at twice per year over the last two decades, but last night was right up there.
Conversely, I haven’t set foot in a church since my visit to Cape Town Cathedral many years ago, and tonight’s gig was held in Chester’s St Mary’s Church, built in 1433. Reverend Harper took to the pulpit and his parishioners looked and listened on.
Surprised to see his wacky attire and supporting a new purple rinse (to detract away from the bald spot appearing, his words not mine, and as a loyal supporter of Liverpool Football Club, this new hairstyle could be a retrospective and referential nod to “crown paints”), it was clear that he looked a little nervous, not at all surprising after two years in the wilderness, not having played to a live audience, hindered slightly by an acoustic guitar that went out of tune constantly through no fault of his own (almost turning every song into a rendition of Wicked Game by Chris Isaacs), which I guess added a little tension, not that it showed much, such is he the professional.
Maybe it was the setting, maybe it was the two year absence, maybe it was that my consciousness frequency is tuned in on a clearer channel nowadays listening for pearls of wisdom, but the opening track “Build Our Own Temple” was poignant in two ways. Firstly, because we were (in a Christian temple), but secondly and most importantly, that we must (build our own).
I have come to the conclusion now that society only works for the few, politics and democracy (“Lies! Lies! Lies!”) are truly dead and the only way out of it is to create our own, a micro-society that operates outside the carnage, the disorder, the disarray.
And that was in essence what Nick shared with his congregation. Whilst a few people have become rich beyond their wildest dreams (no not Robbie Williams again), a few, just a few of us have woken up, woken up to the realisation that we actually care for one another, care for the health and well-being of our families, friends, neighbours and communities, and by building our own temples (in whatever form that takes), “Love Is Due”.
Nick then took us on a somewhat uncharted journey through his extensive back catalogue, playing songs he rarely does live, so it was a real treat for all to witness.
I challenge anyone to reveal an acoustic guitarist who batters their guitar as much as Nick Harper. His live trademark is, and has always been, to change a snapped string mid-song, and such was the aggression of his playing tonight he snapped three.
Settling down after an edgy start, the guitar finally behaved itself and we were treated to over a dozen more sublime songs of pure poetry and perfection, leaving me for one, once again, in total awe of the man.
The final message of the night was again a nod towards activism, with “This Is The Beginning”, a call to arms, a message to all of those listening to think about a post-pandemic world, and how we can take the opportunity right now to change things, and forge new communities based on love and sharing, not ego and greed.
Peace be with Nick, and also with you…