This is the foreword to my new book – Nick Harper – The Wilderness Years.
It has taken years to write and I’m pleased with the result. A great deal of insight into the man and his music.
I’ve known Nick Harper for most of his life. I was a young student living the bohemian life of the sixties underground and he was the young son of Roy Harper. I’d just been knocked for six by Roy’s take on music, society and the universe at large and he invited me round to glimpse his life. Nick was part of it.
Since then I’ve been a teacher, writer, parent, partner, traveller and avid devotee of rock music.
I love guitar playing. When it comes to guitar playing I have seen all the greats up close playing in small halls – from Jimi Hendrix to Bert Jansch, Jimmy Page to Peter Green, Davy Graham to Eric Clapton; but there is one who stands out for me. His sheer brilliance is beyond anything else I have seen. What Nick Harper can do with a guitar is magical.
To quote Rob Adams from the Glasgow Herald – ‘If you haven’t heard Nick Harper you are missing out on one of the musical phenomenons of our age.’
The strange thing is that the bending of the strings, the tuning and retuning of strings within songs, the creation of new upside down chords and even the surround sound delay is never a gimmick. It isn’t showing off. It actually works to create great music and the tricks are integral parts of the songs that always add to the composition. He is recreating the sounds in his head. Nick expands upon the possibility and generates extensions of improbability.
I have only ever seen one person capable of such a thing and he was Jimi Hendrix. Nick’s limitation, as with Jimi, is merely the extent of his imagination. It goes without saying that Nick’s imagination is of the scope of galaxies. It is phenomenal.
I have been fortunate to observe Nick’s talents develop over decades and I never get tired of the crispness and range that his fingers tease or pound. He can make the guitar thunder or trill with delicate melodies. Nick produces music you can get lost in.
Photo – Jules R Angel
If it were only the guitar playing it would be wonderful. However he is so much more. Nick marries this instrumental genius to a voice that is incredible in range and texture and a song-writing ability that is up there with the best. He now has a catalogue of songs that would challenge any great songwriter of our time. The content is both poetic and meaningful. What more could you possibly ask for?
Nick’s live performances are impressive. He is a showman who deploys wit and cutting humour along with sharp observation. He is a warm, sensitive but forceful man whose sensibilities are complex, always intelligent and forthright. You never get short-changed at a Nick gig. He puts his soul into it.
The one mystery surrounding Nick’s career concerns the level of success he has so far achieved. It boggles me to think that he has not risen to the heights, received the recognition and walked away with awards. He surely deserves it. His time will undoubtedly come. Skills like his do not go unnoticed forever.
I suggested writing a book with and about Nick many years back but he was not keen. Nick is a modest man who neither seeks to inflate his achievements nor crow about them. He simply did not feel he had done enough to warrant a book. There was also the business side of it. Nick naturally shies away from any aspect of the business that is concerned with money making. He abhors anything smacking of exploitation. He feels that he is privileged to be able to do what he does; which is to create and play music. That should be sufficient. He is grateful when anybody enjoys his music and still amazed that he has a ‘career’ and people actually pay to see him. Nick refuses to see himself as a part of the music business or his songs as a commodity. Despite the fact that he knows he has to make a living he is not about to exploit his supporters by producing ‘product’. He does what he feels is right. He writes songs because they are an expression of how he feels. He is the same person on and off stage. There is no eye on the market.
Nick is extremely ambitious in only one aspect; he wants to get better as a singer, musician and writer and pushes the boundaries continuously. When it comes to promoting his career, getting on radio and TV, or looking at potential marketing he tells me he is lazy. That is not true. It is not so much laziness as a disinterest in doing anything that he is not inclined to do.
Nick is one of a rare breed who has integrity. He is genuine and honest. What you see is what you get. He’ll give you time after a show because he wants to. He is genuinely in awe that you should bother to make the journey and pay to see him play. Playing is what he loves doing. He’d do it for free. The guitar is not just a meal ticket to Nick; it is a friend he needs to play in order to keep sane.
This book finally came about because Nick decided that it was time to release a compilation. He was excited by the idea of a retrospective of what he had achieved up until now. He told me that he never expected to even produce one CD let alone for it to sell and be followed by others, sustaining his ‘career’ for so long. He was genuinely amazed and felt privileged to be able to live by doing what he loves doing. He saw this book as part of that package.
This is not a memoir of his life. This is not the inside story. Neither is it intended to be complete. Nick could easily have done this himself; he is a master of using words and knows what he wants to say. Yet he did not want to. It was going back to that reluctance for him to admit that he is good at what he does. He wanted to distance himself and let someone else do the job. That’s fine with me. I have no reticence about singing his praises. I’ve known him since he was a child, I’ve watched him grow and mature, I’ve observed the way he has matured into a man. His ideas, his musicianship and song-writing skills have blossomed; and his family have been at the centre of it all. I’ve been incredibly proud of him over the years and have no doubt that he is a true genius and a human being of exceptional qualities, sensibilities and warmth.
This book is a companion to his set of retrospective albums. Like them it is entitled ‘The Wilderness Years’. That title is partly Nick’s self-deprecating way – to downplay his achievements – and partly because he has chosen to remain low key. If he had played the game, had the desire and pulled out the stops he would have undoubtedly reached a far larger audience.
What I am certain of is that talent like Nick’s does not stay out in that wilderness forever; it does eventually get noticed. Maybe this set of albums will provide the springboard to draw attention to the phenomenon that is Nick Harper and the title will prove prophetic…..
Opher Jan 2015
In the UK:
In the USA:
Unfortunately – once again – it does not appear to be out in India! Sorry.