We Must Build Our Own Temple…

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.

St Mary’s Church, Chester (c. 1433 AD)

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.

We must build our own temple…

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.

Simple…

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.

This is the beginning…

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…

Future Bites…

What the future has in store for us is a point most debated just now given the state of things in the world. What is becoming clearer as the days turn into weeks and months, is that it will not be what we have been used to over the past few decades. Irrespective of the origins of Covid and which side of the debate one falls on, things will be different, change is inevitable.

I fall in and out of love with Russell Brand, who seems to float between his high-ego and higher-self a bit too regularly for my liking, but in general I think he has matured into a person who has the greater good at his core. Although he seems to sit on the fence a lot more these days, he offers up thoughts and themes for us to ponder on, no more so than his latest output on YouTube following the completion of Davos 2021:

It does appear that governments and big business have a flagrant disregard now for smoke and mirrors. The things they say and do are well and truly in the public domain, whether it be awarding contracts without tenders, billionaires updating their personal biographies with a single word which results in huge volatility in the stock markets increasing their own wealth, to some blatant messaging from organisations advising to the public they will own nothing, they will rent everything, and a huge majority will be displaced, but they will be happy.

Fundamentally, it comes down to a binary decision (like most things seem to do these days); does one go with the flow or not. Masks, vaccines, guideline compliance, political alignment and consumerism, we either do or do not. Control and self-control are two key aspects of the human condition, ultimately we either offer up the control of the self to others and have our outcomes decided for us, or we apply self-control and choose our own outcomes (although that too can be influenced by others).

I’ve long admired Steven Wilson and have waited patiently for his new album The Future Bites (annoying the title and the tracks are all in uppercase, a thing this pedant can overlook, just!). As creative output has been very limited over the last twelve months, the album was on repeat for the whole day yesterday, at the end of which I was (as per usual) rather impressed. Wilson continues to depart from traditional arrangements and instruments, and whilst this album uses electronica in most of its songs, its still has that unmistakably Wilson feel to it. It may irk the purists who see him make in-roads into the world of pop-rock and away from prog, but it is lyrically sublime as always, irrespective of the accompanying tune; a very accurate critique of the human condition, and all too familiar to the listener and reader of his post-modern poetry.

At the core, Wilson shares his own view on the rank state of play at present, with an overarching message that we have entered a period of devolution, a period which is seeing us break away from tribes, traditions and a sense of community, and moving towards a world consumed by image, self-worth, mindless consumerism and materialism. There is also a nod to the fact that social media is a plague of its own, a virtual cancer that eats away at compassion and decency. I have not had any online presence (besides this anonymous blog) for over eighteen months now and I’m better for it. Others close to me sometimes share titbits with me, often to my utter horror. Friends I have had since my school days are taking to such platforms to share the most bilious and vile rhetoric and insults, demoting them from friends through acquaintances to people I once met.

Music can be, and often is, a channel for talented individuals to use their prowess and influence to draw attention to the problems we face as a race, putting across to the listener a message (clear or otherwise – and that is the beauty about it, we can take what we want from a song and turn it into something deep and meaningful to us) which can often be more powerful than what is presented by the authorities via their preferred media channel outlets.

For those who have not heard of Steven Wilson, his entire back catalogue is on Spotify (all forty studio albums), which includes his early days in Porcupine Tree and splinter projects and collaborations (Storm Corrosion, Blackfield, No-Man), but a good place to start is Insurgentes, the opening track of his first solo album, and one of his best songs to date).

I have no doubt that the future will indeed bite, but no doubt there will probably be a vaccine for that, too…