As the son of Roy Harper, Nick Harper had a great deal to live up to. His father’s success, from his highly regarded 1971 album 'Stormcock' to his vocal on Pink Floyd’s 'Have a Cigar', would be more than enough for the normal family, but the Harpers, it seems, are no ordinary family. Young Nick’s childhood, for instance, is littered with meetings with rock legends such as David Gilmour, who taught the then would-be guitarist a C chord.

That his childhood playground was the hallowed Abbey Road studios does not faze Nick, nor does the fact that, at ten years old, he was present when Pink Floyd were recording their 'Wish You Were Here' album. For Nick, it was all part of growing up.

This year sees Nick playing the Galtres Parklands Festival as part of a tribute to the Floyd album he witnessed in production. If the rumours are to be believed, Nick has the honour of playing the album’s opening and closing track, the Syd Barrett tribute 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond'.

Also imminent is the release of Nick’s seventh solo album, 'Riven', a double album which includes polemic tracks on Kelvin McKenzie and Nick Clegg.

A chatty, modest and extremely personable chap, Nick summed up his style as an interviewee early in our conversation: “Once you press the start button, I’ll start meandering and you’ll have to reign me in.”

Let the meandering begin.


PB: So what are you listening to now?

NH: Ah. Good question. The most recent few things I’ve bought are the Magnetic Man album, the Doctor John album and Duckworth Lewis Method. I’m a massive fan [of Duckworth Lewis Method]. I think they’re a great addition to my collection. What else? Oh, I’ve also bought some Dave Graney. That’s what I’m listening to at the moment.

PB: I imagine that, given your father’s success, it was very hard forging a career in your own right, stepping out of his shadow as it were?

NH: I did find it difficult, yeah. I found it hard to, because I’m a big fan of his music so it was pretty difficult, even though I loved it so much. I immersed myself in playing the guitar and you make your own landscape to play in which is just such a gift, and yet I had this spectre hanging over me that this guy was one of the very best and why would anyone want to listen to me? It became apparent towards the end of my youth that there was bugger all else I could do, so I might as well just give it a go.

PB: It has turned out pretty well for you…

NH: Yeah, amazingly! I’ve got some great fans out there who keep me going
and believe in me, and I’ve not dried up as far as song-writing is concerned. I’ve never had to release anything to keep going that I wasn’t happy with and then have to promote something I didn’t believe in. That’s one of the great things about being on a tangent from what’s left of the music business – there is no deadline with what I do and there’s no-one breathing down my neck. Well, apart from the wife!

As it happens, I just see things all the time that I want to write about or I feel I should write about, and luckily so far there have been very few duds along the way.


PB: You were present during the 'Wish You Were Here' sessions. That must have had a huge impact on you as a flourishing artist
.
NH: It’s funny, you would think that but that’s just what our family was. It wasn’t really anything that strange. Looking back, of course, you think, “Jeez, that was THEM doing THAT!” and you think “Wow! What a moment.”

I think I was really too innocent to realise that it was a unique perspective on that world. I was a mostly unnoticed ten year-old, soaking it all up. Well, I went between that and the frantic show-off, disrupting everything. I don’t know if this is my memory or someone else’s, but apparently I gaffer taped the two long metal handles to get into the front door of Abbey Road, all the way up and down, and it was impossible to open the door. Someone had to get out round the back and cut the tape. I also think I knocked a Beatles silver disc off the wall and it smashed on the floor. I ended up with that at home. I don’t know how. Some kindly secretary, I suppose. I remember nicking choc-ices from the machine…I was quite a naughty little boy, really.

PB: It sounds like it was a very happy time for you.

NH: Oh it was fantastic. I didn’t see a lot of my dad at that point because he was up in London and I was growing up in down in Wiltshire, so I was always really happy to see him, and of course he didn’t really live by the rules himself, so I just followed in his footsteps.

I do remember walking into Studio 3 and 'Shine on You Crazy Diamond' was playing. They were recording it, and I do remember the chorus, just going from the verse to the chorus, having a real profound impact on me. So that song in particular is one of my favourites of that time.

PB: And now you’re playing 'Shine On…' at Galtres?

NH: Well, I might give it a go! I haven’t picked up the guitar in anger yet on that one, I’ve been doing other stuff, but yeah, that’s the one I’d like to give a go and see if the goosebumps appear. Maybe. Who knows?

PB: It’s such a pivotal track, not only on the album but in Pink Floyd’s career.

NH: Oh absolutely. Following 'Dark Side of the Moon' wasn’t easy, but they certainly did it with 'Wish You Were Here' with aplomb. I remember at that time asking David Gilmour to teach me. He was playing and I wanted to play, so he taught me C. I learned that from him. I wasn’t abashed. I wasn’t shy at all.

I remember that I was a fan. I remember pecking Debbie Clark on the cheek at my house, underneath the clothes horse with 'Dark Side of the Moon' blaring out on the old Trio. I knew all the words to 'Dark Side of the Moon' when I was eight! I was a big fan, so, undaunted, I trod on. It was only later, when I became self-conscious, that I thought that I couldn’t follow in Roy Harper’s footsteps.

PB: Can you tell us a little about the Galtres Parklands festival?

NH: Oh, it looks brilliant! I’ve not been to it before. I’m in Wiltshire and it’s up in Yorkshire so it’s not a local one for me and I’ve not played there, but it looks really great. It looks like a really creative place with lots of lovely stages and some good bands playing. I think I’ll go and soak it up a bit rather than playing and dashing off. It’s not too big, I don’t think. It’s not one you can get lost in and miss everything - it looks about the right size to have the festival experience but not the new, massive, commercial experience which is great in its own way.

I love Glastonbury. I played there this summer, and it’s always great to play there. It doesn’t matter where you are or who you play to, just playing music in that place is just an amazing thing. But it is so big, it’s like playing in Derby!

Have you been to the Llama Tree Festival down in Dorset? It’s fantastic. My favourite of all is Beautiful Days which is just perfect. It’s about ten or twelve thousand people, and there are two major stages and a few little stages and the vibe is really great. There’s no corporate advertising at all. It’s just like-minded people in a field being nice to each other!

Some of the new festivals are money-making exercises for big business, whereas the festival used to be a getaway from all of that. Maybe it was naïve, but I think that, right at the start, people did believe in it. It was in the psyche for real, not just as a trend. That was the future as far as they were concerned. There are people who have gone the whole hog and carried on, but not many! It all got a bit cynical.

PB: A lot of your work is very political. Do you think that the protest song is a dying medium?

NH: Yeah, I do. It’s really hard when you’re up-and-coming now as a musician. Folk music has definitely got bigger and grown more powerful, and really the political side of folk music should be a burgeoning thing, a platform where people can say what they feel about things but also remain humorous. It doesn’t look, though, like that’s it. It looks like folk music is, again, well, you don’t want to tar everyone with the same brush, but it seems like it’s a new folk. I don’t think Mumford and Sons are folk. That’s not folk music. That’s an opportunistic band of brothers! And good luck to them, but you’re not going to hear them singing about benefits being cut.

I feel that if I’m going to have a platform, I’m going to say what I think about stuff: I say what I think about my girlfriend, I say what I think about my children, I say what I think about the beautiful countryside, and the history of where I live, and I’ll say what I think about politics and what’s wrong with the world and why don’t we do something better. I do always try to be positive – unless I’m really angry! On my new album, there’s a kick in the nuts for Kelvin McKenzie and one for Nick Clegg, who I think has let a lot of people down.

PB: While we’re on politics, I loved the song 'Evo' (from 2007’s 'Miracles for Beginners'). It’s not every day that you hear a song about a Bolivian politician. What was about Evo Morales that inspired you to write about him?

NH: Well, he’s not pretentious. He’s not manicured or pigeonholed. Look at Clegg, Cameron and Blair. They all do that thing where they have the fist that they put down on the table, but the fist is too aggressive, so they open the index finger to take away the aggression of the fist, but they can’t point, so the finger has got to be bent back so it’s not actually pointing, and they thump the dispatch box gently with it, and they all do it. You can’t tell me that those three grew up with that particular tick by chance – they’re manufactured, and it’s hard to tell the difference between them.

Someone like Evo was just such a breath of fresh air when I started reading about him; he wears a jumper, not a suit, he champions the coca workers – that’s where he came from – and he is an indigenous Bolivian. He just seems to have no respect for authority for its own sake; I’m sure he has respect for real people. He was on the Letterman show, which was funny in itself, and he said, “Please don’t put me in the Axis of Evil, I’m not one of those guys,” and he was just using my language. It just seemed like he was talking to me, and I thought, “God, this guy is absolutely brilliant! Why can’t WE have real people in power?”

It seems like the music industry is the same – every industry seems the same, where it’s all got to be homogenised and polished and rolled in glitter and made into this thing that never really says anything or does anything. It’s just something to get you to vote or buy the album.

One of the first things he [Morales] did was talk about how the natural resources of Bolivia were divvied up, and America were taking 80% of the country’s wealth and Morales said, “Right! We’re going to stop that.” But, intelligently, instead of just kicking them out and taking it all, and making an enemy of America, he swapped the deal back to 80% to for Bolivia, 20% for the US which is pretty smart and not greedy. Another mark of the man was his own pay – he said he would give half of it back because he didn’t need that much money – where do you see a British politician do that?

PB: Do you know if he’s heard the song?

NH: To be honest, I sent it to him. I wanted him to hear it. I wanted him to know there was some geezer way across the world who was supporting him. I got a letter back from the embassy saying that Mr Morales very much enjoyed the song.

PB: You mentioned that you have a new album coming out. What can fans expect from it?

NH: Well, it’s massive! It’s a bit of a commitment, I’m afraid! It’s an hour and a quarter long and they’re all pretty long songs. It’s got a concept as well, it’s basically not holding back on anything, so there’s light and dark in life and there’s light and dark on the album. I’ve decided to put all the light stuff together and all the dark stuff together. The crux of the album is that in my little world, everything is fine, and I’m happy, and everyone’s a good person, but when I look out the window I can see Mordor! Actually, it’s looking pretty bleak out there, and I haven’t shied away from writing about that.

I could have done two albums, I could have just written the nice album about the lovely things but I carried it through and instead of doing a light, poppy, short album, it’s actually a mammoth thing with great contrast. We’re going to make a vinyl double album, gatefold and everything, like a white album and a black album. Then, depending on what kind of mood you’re in, you can go either light or heavy!

PB: The album is called 'Riven'. When can we hear it?

NH: It launches on the first of September.

PB: I’ll look forward to hearing that. What else is on the horizon for you?

NH: Well, I have an autumn tour through September, October, November, and I’ve already pretty much written the next album, so I’m going to be fleshing that out and thinking about what direction that one is going to go in next year.

I’ve moved on, really! I’m looking forward to playing some of these songs live, because it’s the first time I’ve done a proper tour for a couple of years – I’ve been paying the rent by playing sporadic gigs here and there – but this is actually a tour where I’m going to try and promote and actually get people along and do a show rather than making it up as I go along, which I love doing. I’m actually really proud of this album, I want to push it forward rather than just have me in a room with stuff to sell. There are a few songs on this album that I haven’t even tried to play yet, they’ve just been recorded in the studio, and I don’t know what form they’re going to take live. And that’s exciting.

PB: Well, good luck for the festival, and I hope the album and tour are a huge success. Can I just finally ask, how is your dad?

NH: Oh, he’s fine, yeah! He’s gigging again. He’s got a new album. He’s having a little renaissance!

PB: And do you have any plans to perhaps play together?

NH: Always!

PB: Thank you.


Nick Harper’s website is www.harperspace.com. Galtres Parklands Festival info can be found at www.galtresfestival.org.uk.The photographs that accompany this article were taken by Jill Furmanovsky/rockarchive.com









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