with Nick Harper
As the son of highly acclaimed and politically savvy British folk singer
Roy, it is not surprising that Nick Harper champions a very unique musical
approach, that is in many ways, indefinable. As a boy, Nick was influenced
by his dad's friends - Dave Gilmour, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant - and
played guitar with the Magic Band at the age of ten. Nick still has a
penchant for Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Zappa. He exerts a keen - and
some might say unusual - wit, and his music conveys his satirical, left
field and political edge. I met up with Nick before his set at the Masque
Theatre, to ask him about some of the high points that span his twenty
five year career....
Photographs and interview by
So when did you first start making music?
Well there's a picture of me dancing around with a ukulele in my arms
at the age of two. It was taken at the 1968 Cambridge folk festival, and
I'm stood next to my dad on stage while he's doing his slot. I learnt
my first chords A D and E when I was ten, and then I learnt C, G and F
when I was about seventeen. So there was quite a lot of time in between
when I wasn't playing and was just mucking around with my friends.
You are self taught then?
Yes. My philosophy is, if it sounds good, then do it again. That's how
I've always written songs really..
How would you describe your sound? It seems
to be an amalgamation of quite a few different genres.
I don't really know, I'm sorry. I wish I could pigeonhole it and I wish
other people could because it'd certainly be a lot easier to sell. They
put me in the folk section but it's definitely not folk, unless you are
saying that all music is folk music. On one of my albums I can go from
a poem about Wiltshire to some fairly nasty rock n roll and then a speech
about George Bush. So there's no one style. They can't say 'he's this
or that', which I think is great because life isn't just heavy metal or
just folk or just indie. Life is all of it.
So you're playing Liverpool tonight. Based
on your song 'Treasure Island', I get the impression that you hold a soft
spot for our city?
Yeah, definitely. First and foremost, it all comes from the 1971 FA Cup
Final, which Liverpool lost but I had already decided on them. They were
all in red. It was the first game that I can remember seeing while growing
up in the middle of nowhere in Wiltshire and I guess the die was cast
then. I also used to listen to 'Help' endlessly, so I had this affection
for the place before I ever got here. Then when I started gigging I found
that this place and its people hold a passion that no other place on earth
has. The people are so full of life. I admire them.
you say that politics inform your music?
In as much as..politics inform pretty much everything. I do think that
if you have a platform, then it's important to make use of it and to stand
up and say what you believe in, and I still do believe that politics are
important. Even though they [the politicians] seem to be a bunch of complete
Can you tell me about the Love Hope Strength
charity and the amazing journeys you have been involved in?
The whole thing has been an incredible journey. The best reward I've had,
in some ways. The treks to Everest and Kilimanjaro were real physical
and mental challenges, which I enjoyed. You know, the triumph of will
over the body. Through taking part in those journeys, and because my mum
died of cancer, I realized that by playing music I could potentially stop
that happening to other families across the world, those that are less
fortunate than we are. It's probably the best thing that I've done with
my music..a tangible thing. And you know, that's a great gift to me.
What have been the high points of your career?
While trekking up Everest I learnt the Nepalese national anthem from the
Sherpas, and when we came back down to earth we did a gig in the square
surrounded by temples, in Kathmandu. I played the folk song to an audience
of about twenty thousand people and they joined in and sang it back to
me, which was an incredibly moving experience. Oh, and there was a little
earthquake before the gig. So if you ask, 'Did the earth move for me during
that show?' Yes it did.
To read Amy's review of the gig by Nick Harper