Nick Harper is one of the most accomplished acoustic guitarists in the world but he doesn’t always get the credit he deserves. This may be partially the result of being Roy Harper’s son and partially because the likes of Gilmour, Cooder, Page, and Moon—among many others—liked to visit his childhood home. Albums such as 2013’s Riven and 2014’s NIX prove Nick Harper is deserving of a separate reckoning, however, especially in terms of what he can do in a couple of weeks before a microphone with a guitar. The free playing on NIX may be the result of Tchad Blake's advice when he told Nick to "just play" on the amazing Riven.
This is the Beginning
The result of that sound advice is an excellent acoustic album, stripped down and compelling at once—just as tunes such as the should-be-classic "There Never Was" are. There may be plans for something more fleshed out as well and we look forward to that as well. Take a look at Harper's perspective from December 2014 and give Riven and Nix a good listen. The kid mentions Colditz Castle, afterall.
Interview With Nick Harper from December 2014
1. We have to start by asking you what it was like to grow up in the Harper home, given your father’s guests and the heritage of that time in music.
At the time I didn't realise who these friends of my Dad were - they were just friends of my Dad. Roy was always the hero in our house, a single-minded cavalry officer hunting down a place in the bardic pantheon. It is only looking back that I realise how talented and gifted his friends were.
2. Who all has given you guitar lessons over the years?
I am basically self-taught with a few hints here and there. Dave Gilmour taught me 'C' which I recently thanked him for as I've used it many times since! Ry Cooder showed me open 'G' tuning and I also had driving lessons from Keith Moon although I probably used that less in adult life.
3. What was it like touring with your father and Jimmy Page—among others—back in the 80s?
It was great hanging out with my Dad, and seeing Jimmy Page working up close was a great privilege as by then I had become a massive fan. My own musical journey had found a dark profundity at that time through discovering Killing Joke. I showed Jimmy a riff by Geordie (Killing Joke) and I've always wondered if the rumours of Jimmy producing a Killing Joke album a few months later might somehow have been connected. To hear them play together would have been incredible.
4. Do you and your father still work on material together?
Roy is semi-retired now but I think with his lyrics and my tunes we could have made an incredible album, but we just never got it together for one reason or another.
5. You haven’t shied away from politics. I remember first hearing Treasure Island, back in late 2006 or early 2007, and thinking you have to have made some non-music lists, especially because of its spoken parts. How do you feel about that album in 2014 and what songs have remained in your live shows? [I still play songs like “Good Bus” regularly.]
Once an album is finished I don't really listen to it again, unless I'm trying to remember something about the music or lyrics. Recently I had to listen to it for the lyrics to "Underground Stream" to go in the set. I like all of the songs on that album and it's all up for grabs re a 'live' set - they come and go as the mood/dynamic fits. As for the politics, it's simply that I've always wanted to write songs about real things that I have reacted to personally.
6. You are developing a new style and there are clear indications in your releases. The Dashiell Hammett talk-pop of “Pop Fiction” from 2010’s The Last Guitar links to “Pop Fiction: Origins”from 2013’s Riven. Are these separate songs or the same one reworked?
“Pop Fiction: Origins” was written before the other song but the lyric was never finished. Both songs are about how important I think music is to us as a species and how undervalued it feels like it has become in modern cultural terms. I thought, looking back, that the original version, whilst not having the panache of the spoken word piece, was still worthy of putting out there.
7. Riven is an amazing album and there are songs here that could certainly break onto the popular markets while you remain true to a lyric-heavy indie sound. It sounds like an underappreciated classic already and your voice and guitar sound more explorative and free than on earlier releases, especially with songs like “Love is Due.” Did Riven seem different to you?
Part of the freedom that you've picked up on in the guitar playing on Riven was suggested to me by Tchad Blake, the gifted producer who took the helm for that album. He said, "just play."
8. We know you have released a new album, the self-identifying NIX, but we have not heard it yet. What should we expect from it?
NIX is my ninth studio album, with nine songs. It is an old-fashioned album recorded in ten days with one mike, one guitar, and one idiot. It's a snapshot of a week in the summer of 2014. Some of the songs were written as they were recorded, which lends itself to the stripped-down improvised style.
9. Unlimited resources, any crew currently available, what is your ideal project?
I have designs on developing some of my music into bigger soundscapes using an orchestra and a choir. I can hear the bigger picture sometimes....