Nick Harper: interview
Simon Parkin Nick Harper has successfully emerged from beneath that long paternal shadow, gaining widespread recognition in his own right as a gifted singer-songwriter and a lauded guitar-playing talent that has seen him dubbed 'the acoustic Hendrix'.
Nick Harper has successfully emerged from beneath that long paternal shadow, gaining widespread recognition in his own right as a gifted singer-songwriter and a lauded guitar-playing talent that has seen him dubbed 'the acoustic Hendrix'.
Son of the legendary Roy Harper, and collaborator with Squeeze's Glenn Tillbrook, his inventive style makes him one of the finest guitarists of his generation, while his distinctive, soulful voice and passionate songs place him somewhere between Rufus Wainright and Jeff Buckley.
Having played the guitar from the age of 10 and grown up surrounded by the likes of Keith Moon, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and Dave Gilmour, it was no surprise when he made his recording debut, on his father's album Whatever Happened To Jugula - a collaboration with Jimmy Page.
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He went on tour and record regularly with his father, but has since produced six solo albums, including last year's critically acclaimed Miracles For Beginners.
Live his personal introspection and biting political satire are usually mixed with charmingly caustic wit that often includes cheeky and surprising cover versions.
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t How much of an inspiration was your dad?
“He was my major musical influence. When he wasn't touring he was at home playing, so I heard him write all his songs and I probably inspired him at the same time I should think.”
t Was he keen for you to go into the music business?
“I wasn't encouraged, but I wasn't discouraged. But he taught me a few chords when I got interested and I watched his
progress and learnt what not to do.”
t Being surrounded at home by the likes of Keith Moon and Jimmy Page must have been exciting?
“It was just family life really. I had school and I suppose I quickly twigged that it was a way of getting an extra Twix at the tuck shop if you dropped a few names. My childhood just showed me that being a musician was
something that you could aspire to.”
t Are they the people who've influenced you?
“Partly, but I've always been into all sorts. My two favourite guitarists are Django Reinhardt, the jazz-swing guy whose melodic invention is second to none and has incredible technique, and at the other extreme 'Geordie' Walker from Killing Joke, whose incredible terrible grace is something to behold. But loads of other guitarists in between. I remember, because we didn't have a record player at home I used to go to the neighbours and aged eight or nine my favourite was Brahms violin concerto, but at the same time I'd be listening to Frank Zappa's Apostrphe, so it was all going in.”
t It has given you an experimental style, can your music be pigeonholed?
“No. I wish it could because its nice to give people touchstones to understand things, but I play very light sparse finger-picking acoustic stuff all the way through to 'Geordie' inspired dark riffing, and some gentle melodic strumming stuff.”
t How do you go about writing?
“I cannot read music and in some ways I'm quite afraid of music. But it's like x-ray ears, everything goes in and leaks out into my songs in weird different ways. That's why the style I have is so diverse, I think.”
t Do you listen back to your own stuff?
“I never put it on, but I sometimes hear it on the radio. Thank god, I've not heard it in a lift yet. Usually I think that wasn't bad, I knew what I was doing. I write some political stuff and sometimes I hear that back and think 'oh come on Nick, chill out'.”
t Do you like being on the road?
“The travelling can get to you. I do half the driving myself - oh the glamour - and that can get a bit much. But no, I love it. You get to play and express yourself, and that's wonderful. It's better than working.”