There may now be even greater evidence that in this his 49th year on this earth Nick Harper is continuing to mellow. Life, age, death and reason seem to have all given him pause for thought. While the political arm of his songwriting still remains every bit as strong – the title track from his 2006 album Treasure Island, with its reflections upon the contrast of one man’s philanthropy against the futility facing others, and the more recent damning indictment of the former Sun supremo, the loathsome Kelvin MacKenzie that is ‘Plague of Toads’ are fine testaments to this – his gentler, more reflective side has begun to increasingly emerge. Informed partly, you sense, by the death of his dear beloved mother from cancer, it is one in which his family and a growing awareness of from whence he has come have become increasingly important.
This evening, both of these elements of his life are combined across a glorious, sprawling two hour set performed deep in the bowels of the City Screen cinema in York. He opened with ‘Blue Sky Thinking’ from Miracles For Beginners and proceeded to chart a serpentine course through his back pages – ‘Simple’, from the self-same album, and Treasure Island’s ‘By My Rocket Comes Fire’ are personal highlights, both songs imbued with his characteristic passion and virtuoso guitar picking – and the more recent chapters of his canon. In a live setting, and perhaps understandably, material from his latest release ‘Riven’ feels even more intimate than its studio equivalent; the warmth, humour and humility of his personality seeps through and adds an extra dimension to what are already deeply personal reflections upon life and love.
Harper even has the wit, presence of mind and downright versatility to respond to the smashing of a glass in the adjoining bar by immediately striking up the refrain to Nick Lowe’s ‘(I Love The Sound of) Breaking Glass’. His interpretation of other’s material was to be seen and heard to even greater effect when he later delivered a truly mesmeric ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, before bowing out with an equally moving tribute to his grandfather and mother.