Nick Harper is a great guitarist and a good singer, but a middling lyricist. This is a real shame, as Harper’s unsubtle and occasionally jarring lyrics detract from his genuinely impressive musicianship.
A lovely cover of Purple Rain which really allows Harper’s talents to shine.
Harper’s guitar playing stands out almost at once. Unannounced, he starts aggressively strumming his acoustic guitar, opening a good-natured show. He begins with In Our Time, a dark, tumbling and ultimately optimistic love song. “I believe the strength within each soul can shape its destiny”, Harper urges, his voice strong, with a strained quality. He moves on to Breathe, giving the assembled crowd a first glimpse of his beautiful falsetto voice. Breathe, like some other of Harper’s songs, carries echoes of Jeff Buckley on Grace – Corpus Christi Carol is the obvious song to compare. But riffs on other tracks also evoke songs like Lover, You Should’ve Come Over and Mojo Pin. Breathe is a lovely song and is one of the highlights of the set.
Unfortunately, Harper’s song-writing later on becomes a bit of a distraction. Quite often Harper seems to settle for an obvious line in his verses when a lighter hand would have been more effective. On Blue Sky Thinking – a song Harper introduces by saying it’s about making one’s dreams come true – Harper sings “make my blue sky dream come true”. On Juicy Fruit Girl (about a girl who Harper knew who ate juicy fruit chewing gum), Harper – presumably striving for a rhyme – simply ends a line with “yum yum”; elsewhere he describes how “when she kissed you she’d slip it [the juicy fruit] up inside her gum, to free her tongue”. It’s hard not to feel that Harper could have done better than this.
There’s also a lovely cover of Purple Rain which really allows Harper’s talents to shine. He’s a great guitarist, and reimagines the song with a different, (even) more melancholy tone. He’s heartfelt, sounds honest, and thankfully didn’t write the lyrics to this one. Elsewhere Harper is funny between tracks, and popular in the room. It’s a good show, though Harper would do better to focus on his strengths.