In the course of Nick Harper’s performance at The Borderline, he played two songs directly about his father, folk and rock troubadour Roy.
Aeroplane tells the tale of when at age four Harper the elder swung his son round and round by his feet (“My first high,” he says), while Crazyboy is a son’s heartfelt tribute to his dear old dad: “You’re still my hero/ You’re such a weirdo.” Unlike, say, Jeff Buckley or the Wainwright siblings, Nick Harper has a straightforwardly simple and often delightful relationship with the legacy of his father.
Yet at this particular show, it is clear is that he has truly garnered his own following. The minions at his feet sang along with every song, and cried for songs from his considerable back catalogue. A new generation knows him who didn’t necessarily come across him through Roy.
Nick’s own young family looms large in his music. A stripped down, plaintive version of Blood Songs (the way it should have been laid down on record) from the album of the same name achieves the rare thing of silencing the Borderline, a venue given to heinous chatter.
The delicate and romantic side of Harper is indulged further with the lovely The Kitty Stone, The Verse Time Forgot and Flying Dog. In these moments, as is usual when he performs, the crowd give a collective sigh bemoaning the fact he hasn’t received the critical approval his live show, at least, truly deserves.
For it is a marvel. Even in these fragile songs his jaw-dropping guitar playing ensures his audience contains many, many guitar nerds. But it is in his more raucous numbers that he really lets go. Hammering his strings in a crazed manner, yet displaying a seemingly impossible dexterity at the same time, it seems he is enjoying a cross between a very rigorous wank and frenziedly chopping down a tree. His acoustic guitar is the white whale to his Captain Ahab.
Tonight’s gig was being filmed for inclusion for a forthcoming Nick Harper DVD and as a consequence, he pulled out all the stops by playing all the live favourites. Building Our Own Temple incorporates Holst and Public Enemy, Headless takes in Jeff Buckley’s Grace and some Kylie, while Guitarman is its typical electric storm of the Elvis classic interspersed with a heavy-on-the-effects orgasm of Whole Lotta Love. For the first time in a while, his virtuoso interpretation of Monty Python’s The Galaxy Song is wheeled out too. All for the DVD, which promises much.
The only thing missing from his typical show were the political diatribes he often espouses. Tonight we’d had enough of that from ex-Catherine Wheel man Rob Dickinson in the support slot, who went to lengths to approve the midterm election results in America. Nick, aside from introducing Treasure Island as his paean to how Brits are all at heart pretty much a liberal and virtuous people (hmmm…), steers clear of the rabble-rousing, all his anger and aggression aimed at his instrument and channelled through his soaring voice. A good thing.