Nick Harper comes with one helluva musical pedigree. As the son of legendary songsmith Roy Harper, Nick grew up surrounded by music and some of the greatest (and wildest) musicians of the late ’60s and early ’70s. If Led Zeppelin write a song about your dad, you know he’s the real deal (it’s on ‘Led Zeppelin III’, go and listen to it).
Following a sell-out Sunday night show at the Hug n Pint another date was added on the Monday. While this show doesn’t quite sell out, you wouldn’t be able to tell that from Nick’s on-stage presence. The crowd, mostly old geezers with a few younger faces dotted around, are as excited as their knees will allow and greet Nick as an old friend. Several of them actually seem to be.
Artists giving full context to their songs, describing what inspired them and explaining the meaning of the lyrics, is an extreme rarity these days, but very welcome when it occurs. Nick talks at length about the minutiae of his tunes at several points during the show, sipping heartily from a bottle of Arette tequila (a very fine choice, sir). Growing up the way Nick did has clearly given him plenty of inspiration and some excellent stories to tell, and his easy, conversational tone coupled with the small size of the Hug and Pint add to the intimate nature of the gig.
After opening with the tender, Jeff Buckley-esque ‘My Little Masterpiece’ (written for his daughter), Nick embarks on somewhat of a mini odyssey. The first four tracks of his new record ‘Tempus Fugitive’ are essentially one song in four parts, distinct but blending into one another, thematically and musically unified. Through the titular ‘Tempus Fugitive’, ‘Davey Graham And Hedy Lamar’, ‘It Seems Like Only Yesterday’ and ‘I’m a Sending U Luv’ Nick weaves an epic, time-travelling tale inspired by thoughts of time and ageing while sitting in his garden with his own time machine (his guitar, obviously). The centrepiece is a sweepingly romantic adventure starring two of his dad’s mates, the eponymous Davey Graham and Hedy Lamar, evoking some lost David Lean epic or alternate version of Casablanca. Nick plays without pause, shredding harder than would be thought possible on an acoustic, for over 20 minutes. It is, quite frankly, sensational.
The rest of ‘TF’ doesn’t quite have the cohesive magic of the first half of the album, however they transfer well to a live show, stripped of all accoutrements other than Nick’s marvellous voice and previously-mentioned colossal plank-spankery. Taking in motorbike crashes (‘The Right Tool For The Job’), weed metaphors (‘Village Green’) and 1830s trade union riots (‘The Return Of Captain Swing’), Nick firmly sets out his left-wing sensibilities in facetious fashion. ‘Captain Swing’ in particular, named for the practice of pissed-off workers hanging landowners, is a none-too-subtle broadside at the current shower of bastards running our country.
After playing his new album in full Nick finishes his show with… another full hour of music! Choice cuts, and lengthy explanations, of his extensive back catalogue follow, peppered with a few crowd requests. Throughout, Nick is constantly de-tuning and re-tuning his guitar, sometimes even mid-song, partly due to the requirements of each tune, partly because of the sheer ferocity of his fretwork. His vocal range is wildly impressive as well, especially for man in his 60s, straddling octaves with ease like a folksy Axl Rose. The undisputed highlight of this half of the set is the haunting, evocative and psychotically de-tuned ‘This Is The Beginning’. Returning to the theme of time, ‘This Is…’ is another one of Nick’s tales, this time about the youthful hi-jinks of his mother in her teens, told to him by his grandfather and filtered through the lens of Professor Brian Cox’s ruminations on the properties of light. A strange mix of ingredients perhaps, but all the more beautiful for it.
After two solid hours of music, everyone’s knees have collectively had enough, and we bid our friend farewell.