One of the most influential factors on Nick Harper's career is made clear merely seconds into his first DVD. He says in an interview: "One thing I learnt from my dad is that to have a record label is not necessarily a good thing."
He is referring to he and his father Roy's refusal to play the soul destroying business game of the music industry, and thus he has never, and will never, sign to a 'major' label nor play anything approaching stadiums or arenas – for all that his talent warrants it.
This career strategy is reflected by the fact this DVD did not come through the post, but was witnessed by me and others at a screening in a theatre in Soho. Musician and fellow Harper cheerleader Mike Last, who lovingly put together this rockumentary, said to me in the toilets before the screening: "Smaller artists like Nick need the support networks provided like you and me to survive, so thanks for coming." Cue a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.
Love is Music contains full performances of about 12 songs that cross 20 years of Harper's career. Last captures the intensity that Harper's manic performances bring to every small, sweaty venue, as well as footage of his performance at Bedford's Rhythm Festival, a setting he is less suited to but on this occasion a flawless performance of his song Bloom renders that null and void.
The music is mostly excellent, save perhaps a slightly disjointed rendition of his finest song, She Rules My World, recorded on a bench in Harper's backyard. Happily, Last captures nigh on perfect performances of Karmageddon, Janet and John and The Kilty Stone.
As well as interviews with the man himself, and indeed fly-on-the-wall footage of him at his Wiltshire home, there is comment from several fans, friends and experts. Among the most well known are DJ Mike Read, Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze and Mark Chadwick of The Levellers, who offers the most apt description of Harper's live show: "When you see Nick Harper play, you get just one emotion, not a series of songs."
Last's editing is imaginative and simple at the same time, with split screen frequently utilised, as is as a camera at the top of Nick's guitar neck, capturing the secrets of his dazzling fretboard skill.
One minor gripe might have been that the documentary does not delve into Harper's soul depths to glean how his funny, tragic and smart songs come about, nor does it particularly address his left-leaning politics. But by the end, both of these are touched on, though not without playing up the man's larrikin spirit, which is prominent upon meeting him. At the end of the screening the man himself bursts in, beaming, and says "Ok lets all go down the fucking pub."
Besides, all one needs to know about Nick Harper's soul and politics is contained in each delectable note he plays, notes that Last has nailed in almost every shot. For those who haven't seen him live, he tours extensively in May and June, in preparation for which you could do a lot worse than this quite outstanding insight into the life and music of one of Britain's most honest, earnest and gifted musicians.