NICK HARPER - HARPERSPACE:
MOJO - September '00 (Harperspace)
If imagination, energy and bags of talent were the only factors in making a successful pop career, few would deny that Squeeze man Glenn Tilbrook has backed a winner in Nick Harper. As it is, perhaps Tilbrook's label is well named but then the sense of Harper (no relation) that exudes from this record is that of a man who thrives on the thrill of the chase and the constant touring of small venues that such entails. His press materials' depiction of a man 'steeped in tradition and yet completely contemporary' feels absolutely right: The Verse That Time Forgot, a beautiful, poignant and mesmerising thing, might be equal parts Lewis Carroll and father Roy's Another Day but it's followed by Happy Man, a barnstorming slice of nouveau-Oasis with added A Levels. Comparisons with Roy are unavoidable, as with Tim and Jeff Buckley, but while Nick exhibits a similarly maverick undercurrent, his writing's elevated, yet never ring-fenced, by a more consistent pop slant. Splendid stuff.
Rock 'n' Reel Magazine
The latest album release from Nick is still a distinct studio production,while not suffering from the occasional excesses of 'Smithereens'. It starts deceptively, though, with the dreamy acoustic tones of 'The Verse TimeForgot', before the rather powerful indie-pop style onslaught of 'Happy Man', 'Aeroplane' and 'Karmageddon' rips your senses away. Nick wears his"son-of-Roy" mantle lightly and unassumingly, and he's always been a strikingly original talent in his own right ('Harperspace' being an entirely appropriate label for his unique sound-world). His own singing style is strongly individual, while his playing is both superbly virtuosic and inventive (not just on acoustic guitar), and his songwriting displays real attitude that's sharp, well observed and highly relevant, not in the least offputting. And he's got a great way with words. Much as I appreciated Nick's skill at arranging more complex instrumental textures, I found the less texturally busy and more reflective moments even more enthralling, such as 'Roomspin' (which also features Lawrence Davies' horn playing), 'There Is Magic In This World', and the sweetly bleak yet attractive 'Watching The Stars'. A very fine album indeed, no mistake.(Available from www.harperspace.com)
THE CROYDON POST - Wednesday, August 2, 2000 (Harperspace)
There are moments on the disc when - and the young Mr Harper will, very probably, not thank me for mentioning this - he sounds just like his old man. Mind you, when the old man's one of the most exciting, baffling, frustrating and just plain ornery artists of the past 30-odd years, that's no bad thing. A son - or daughter, for that matter - stepping from the shadows of a famous/successful parent is always a bold and a brave move.
Arguably the most successful son of a famous father was Jeff Buckley but sadly, like his dad Tim, he met a premature death. Others to shine not quite so bright as their dazzling dads have included Sean Lennon; Rufus Wainwright, son of Loudon; Richard Thompson's boy, Teddy; and Jason Bonham, son of Bonzo, Led Zeppelin's larger-than-life drummer. On the evidence of Harperspace, Roy could be on the way to being eclipsed by the son.
The Verse Time Forgot kicks off the album in a quiet, acoustic guitar and voice kind of a way in which a low-key Harper sings of a beautiful girl he'll visit "in place that is no place, in an age that has no clock, where the years wont touch her face" - a mythical land to which we'd all like to escape on occasion.
Track two's Happy Man comes as a bit of a jolt after the gentle introduction of the opening song. Kicking in with a screaming keyboard motif, a staccato acoustic guitar riff builds beneath the vocal until bass and drums flesh out the sound. Harking back to the John Bonham reference, Roy Harper always had a link with Led Zep Inc and Happy Man has a definite feel of Bonham, Page, Jones and Plant about it. It's one of my favourite tracks on the album - but then I am looking forward to seeing Robert Plant with his new lineup next month.
Aeroplane is a bright, joyous, uptempo, good-time work-out; musically, at least. Lyrically it's a little darker. Harper sings "Remembering my dad, grabbing hold of my feet, swinging me round' before delving into personal retrospection. The track boasts the skills of south London lad Glenn Tilbrook, half of the Squeeze songwriting team, on bass and keyboards; and, keeping the south London link alive, the mixing and post-production work were carried out at a Blackheath studio.
Nothing But Love is a slower affair and nicely shows off Harper's guitar skills, adroitly picking out the melody in a nice jazzy way. In fact, virtually the whole album is confirmation of his instrumental prowess as, aside from the occasional bass , drums, keys and French horn, he makes, as it says on the back of the booklet, "all other noises".
Two songs - Kettledrum Heart and Song Of Madness - perhaps go some way to outlining the darker side to Harper's character. On Kettledrum Heart he sings "How I've tried to sway from wrong but to err is in my genes; I'm not a set of songs, I'm the man in between."
Like Roy before him, while being perfectly at ease with just his guitar for accompaniment, Harper is neither inclined nor prepared to be shackled to the solo performer format and seems just as happy (man) with a big, fat band sound behind him. Harperspace is a mature and confident record that's not afraid to open up and it bodes well for the future of "son of Roy".