Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
The Public Reviews Rating:
Nick Harper is a singer in need of a roadie. During his show at The Lowry he (and the audience) are distracted by a background buzz that he can’t prevent. This is typical for a show the singer sums up as ‘Not exactly sparkling but heartfelt’
The show is loosely structured featuring a work-in – progress, material from Harper’s forthcoming album, startling cover versions and a charming version of ‘ Happy Birthday’ performed as a request for an audience member. Harper’s rapport with his audience is so strong that at times he has to suggest conversations should continue after, rather than during, the gig.
Harper has a smooth voice, close to a crooner, but with a hard edge that prevents it from becoming bland. The most striking feature of the show is Harper’s guitar playing. With just a single instrument, that has relatively few modifications, he achieves great variety. When a song seems to need unusual sounds Harper simply de-tunes the instrument mid-tune.
The musical numbers that open the show are complex becoming starker and more dramatic as the evening progresses. Harper opens with ‘Two Way Thing’, a song of recrimination and regret, in which a fluid Spanish guitar is played with astonishing speed and precision. The guitar playing is so powerful that, at times it is hard to relate the lyrics to the urgency of the music.
A new song littered with references to childhood obsessions avoids nostalgia with a humorous yet slightly sinister tone. The mood changes with a striking cover of ‘Guitar Man’ that Harper merges with ‘Whole Lotta Love’, pounding out the riff on his instrument. This leads towards the climax with songs that, whilst still played marvellously, are more basic and better suited to their powerful presentation.
Nick Harper offers such superb guitar playing and generates a warm atmosphere that the odd rough edge can be forgiven.