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22 June 1965 |
Harper was born in London to the folk singer-songwriter Roy Harper. Influenced both by his father and the continual procession through the Harper household of his dad's famous friends; Keith Moon, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and David Gilmour amongst others, he started playing guitar at the age of 10. He made his recording debut on his father's 1985 Whatever Happened to Jugula? and subsequently toured with him for a few years before beginning a career of his own.
His first solo release was the 1994 EP Light at the End of the Kennel which he quickly succeeded with his 1995 album Seed. In 1996, after this release, he had a chance meeting with Squeeze frontman and songwriter Glenn Tilbrook, which led to Harper being given the support slot for the forthcoming Squeeze tour and his being signed up to Tilbrook's own Quixotic label.
Following tours in the UK, US and Japan, Harper recorded both the 1998 album Smithereens and 2000's Harperspace with Tilbrook as producer. After moving to the Sangraal label in the early 2000s, a further EP (2001's Instrumental), live double album (2002's Double Life) and studio album (Blood Songs in 2004) were released.
His 2006 album Treasure Island was a change of direction, seeing both a concerted shift to more overtly political themes (songs such as Knuckledraggers, Sleeper Cell and Intelligent Design - spliced together from audio clips of George W. Bush's speeches on the war on terror - were all highly critical of the Bush regime) and to more historical perspectives. The album's title track is inspired by an obscure Liverpudlian philanthropist who employed destitute men returning from the Napoleonic Wars to dig tunnels for no other reason than to give them something to do.
May 2007 saw a special iTunes download release of his first single "Blue Sky Thinking", taken from his sixth studio album Miracles for Beginners on behalf of the Love Hope Strength Foundation, a cancer charity founded to provide a global support network for cancer survivors. It reached no. 1 in the iTunes folk chart and received favourable reviews and radio airplay across the UK and Europe. All proceeds from the single went to the Foundation. Miracles for Beginners itself was released in June 2007.
After taking a three-year hiatus from recording to focus on touring and charity work, he announced that in February 2010 he would embark on a UK tour to promote his forthcoming album, The Last Guitar. The album was released the following month and features his then-13-year old daughter taking a guest vocal slot on one of the songs Silly Daddy.
The tour and album served as a prelude to his prestigious gig on the Glastonbury Festival Avalon stage on 26 June 2010.
Harper's 2013 album Riven was perhaps his most ambitious work, and was well received by press and fans alike.
He quickly followed this in October 2014 with an all-acoustic album Nix, recorded at home in Wiltshire.
Harper frequently plays solo acoustic tours of the UK as well as European dates and festivals across the UK and Europe. In 2003, he was awarded a Herald Fringe Angel award for performance excellence at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where he has played many residencies in recent years.
He performed at the 2004 Cropredy Festival and Leicester's Summer Sundae. He has also played sets at the Glastonbury and Beautiful Days festivals numerous times, including both in summer 2005, then again in summer 2010.
In summer 2006, he again played a multitude of festivals, including the Moseley Folk Festival, Jersey Live, Beautiful Days and Clonakilty's second annual Guitar Festival, along with appearances at festivals in France and Catalonia. In November 2007, he performed at the International Guitar Festival of Great Britain for the fourth time.
In 2008 he performed at Trowbridge Village Pump Festival, Beautiful Days, Newquay's Rip Curl Beach Sessions and Tenby Folk Festival and appeared at London's Royal Albert Hall on 27 September 2008, where he brought his 12-year-old daughter Lily on stage at the end of the set to accompany him on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s "Our House." This was of some historical note as he had done the same with his own father Roy Harper some 35 years before on the same stage.
During 2009, Harper played at Celtic Connections in Glasgow in January before starting ‘The 38’ tour, covering 38 dates across the UK. During the summer of that year he performed in Norway, France and Italy before a series of dates on America's East Coast in September, returning to the US in November for a coast-to-coast tour with Cy Curnin of The Fixx.
In October 2007, he joined a 38-strong team of musicians including Glenn Tilbrook, Mike Peters and Cy Curnin, along with mountaineers and cancer survivors, who, again in aid of the Love Hope Strength Foundation. The group took part in a 14-day trek to 18,500 ft Mt Everest base camp, where they performed an acoustic concert. This Everest Rocks trek culminated with a grand finale concert in Kathmandu on 29 October and raised more than US$250,000 for the only charitable cancer hospital in Nepal, situated at Bhaktapur (approx. 10 miles east of Kathmandu). Alex Coletti (producer of MTV's Unplugged series) filmed the trek for a documentary, Everest Rocks, which premiered on the Palladia channel on 7 September 2008 and was also released on DVD.
In October 2008, the setting was Macchu Picchu and the concert was Peru Rocks. Then, in September 2009, he again joined Love Hope Strength trekkers to undertake another charity trek called Kilimanjaro Rocks. The musicians, supporters and cancer survivors scaled the 19,341 feet (5,895 m) peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The trek raised funds for bone marrow drives and the main cancer centre in Nairobi, Kenya.
Harper now hosts his own Love Hope Strength fundraiser, Avebury Rocks, which first took place on 9 July 2011 and will again be held on 7 July 2012. The day's events include a 20-mile walk starting and ending at Avebury Stone Circle, a 6-mile walk for those who join in the afternoon, and a concert in the evening. Headliners at the 2011 concert included Newton Faulkner, Cy Curnin and Jamie West-Oram of The Fixx, and Harper himself.
While not having reached the levels of popularity - or notoriety - of his father, Harper has received critical and popular acclaim as a live performer, especially for his acoustic guitar playing. The Times stated that he "does things to his [guitar] that would have had Segovia weeping into his Rioja", and a critic said that he could count "at least eight fingers on the neck of [Harper's] guitar". Harper uses tuning pegs as an integral part of his playing style, turning them mid-song to intentionally cause a pitch bend. His unique style of playing has also been called "nothing short of genius".
Though he has received more plaudits for his live work than for his recordings, his albums have also received significant critical acclaim. Speaking of his album Miracles for Beginners, Mojo called it "his most focused, warm and triumphant album to date" (4 stars), the Herald (Glasgow) said the album is "borne on masterful acoustic guitar patterns... ten minor miracles." (4 stars) and The Sun stated that "like his dad, he's a fine folk troubadour and a great guitarist... this is a witty, vibrant affair... a rewarding listen." (3.5 stars).
BBC Online took a less enthusiastic viewpoint, saying that "this Harper set is a little patchy, especially if compared alongside 1995’s Seed and 2004’s Blood Songs which updated brilliantly the folk confessional", but the author still admits that "Harper though must be applauded for trying be a politically inclined sort of modern troubadour".
Some of the major musical influences on him include his father Roy Harper, Killing Joke, Public Enemy, Stephen Stills, Gang of Four, Frank Zappa, Eric Idle of Monty Python, Django Reinhardt, Jeff Buckley and Led Zeppelin. He has covered songs by many of these artists in concert.
Work with other artists
Harper's first recordings and major live exposure were with his father Roy Harper. He still works and tours with Roy occasionally.
He was a touring member of British pop/rock band Squeeze from 1996–97 and played on one track on their 1998 Domino album. Glenn Tilbrook of the band produced Nick's Smithereens and Harperspace albums, which were released on Glenn's Quixotic label. The pair often work together, with Nick most recently appearing on Glenn's 2004 solo album Transatlantic Ping-Pong.
He has played lead guitar and sang backing vocals, as well as playing support, at a number of Cy Curnin solo gigs in the USA and elsewhere since the pair met in 2007.
Nick has written and played with Brighton-based political indie group The Levellers. He guested on the band's Top 40 UK single 'Make U Happy' - he co-wrote, played and sang on B-side 'Not in My Name'.
- 1995 - Seed (Sangraal)
- 1998 - Smithereens (Quixotic)
- 2000 - Harperspace (Quixotic)
- 2004 - Blood Songs (Sangraal)
- 2005 - Treasure Island (Sangraal)
- 2007 - Miracles for Beginners (Sangraal)
- 2010 - The Last Guitar (Sangraal)
- 2013 - Riven (Sangraal)
- 2014 - Nix (Sangraal)
Singles, EPs and download-only releases
- 1994 - Light at the End of the Kennel (Sangraal EP)
- 1999 - Instrumental (Sangraal EP)
- 2007 - "Blue Sky Thinking" (Sangraal download single)
- 2010 - Instrumental 2010 - re-recorded / re-mixed version of the 1999 release, download only
- 2007 - Love is Music (Sangraal)
- "NICK HARPER :: HARPERSPACE :: www.harperspace.com - Official Website for Nick Harper". www.harperspace.com. Retrieved 2014-07-15.
- "Nick & Lily Harper, 'Our House', Royal Albert Hall,28.9.2009". YouTube. Retrieved 2014-07-15.
- The Times, 13 April 2002
- The Berwick Advertiser - Descent into Wonderland - By Michael Mee: Paul Liddell/Nick Harper at Barrels, 26 April 2002
- "Harper Ventilation". Guitarist Magazine. August 2002. Retrieved 22 February 2015.
- [dead link]
- "Music - Review of Nick Harper - Miracles for Beginners". BBC. 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2014-07-15.