national treasure

There have been moments in my history when I felt a little frisson of excitement at the positive possibilities. In my adult life it has usually (Arsenal Football Club excepted!) been about political change, those little, however shortlived, moments of hope amidst the relentless shit we appear to be sliding into: the collapse of the Berlin Wall, glasnost, the initial occupation of Tiananmen Square, the election of Barack Obama, the release of Nelson Mandela. You know the kind of thing.

It’s strange to reflect how in my youth the same momentary tingles were most palpably felt around music: on a more intimate, less global scale, no less earth-shattering for all that. I’m talking the paradoxical repulsion and attraction the Sex Pistols triggered, the pushing of boundaries I perceived in Talking Heads or the Dead Kennedys (I remember staring at the revolving 45rpm of Holiday in Cambodia at a friend’s house and knowing something had shifted), and the visceral thrill of seeing the Specials or Dexys on TOTP for the first time.

THE band of my teens was The Jam. How excited we all were when Going Underground entered the charts at Number One. It felt like victory and vindication; the triumph of the young. It staggers me to think Paul Weller was only 21 and had already released 3 albums. The day after the Chart Show I was walking through a subway in my painfully normal home town and encountered the lyrics chalked up on the concrete. Having been initially struck by the energy and aesthetic of the song, Weller’s vocals being slightly incoherent let’s face it, I  was faced with an almost prophetic mural, a couplet of which has resonated with me ever since, and increasingly so since 2016: These braying sheep on my TV screen make this boy shout, make this boy scream…

Thus pickled in nostalgia and a lifetime of idiosyncratic conditioning, I made my annual pilgrimage to the Brunswick in Hove to catch Nick Harper, an artist I’ve had the privilege of appreciating for nearly 25 years. His latest show recreates his own 1960s childhood living room, through which passed some of the greatest acoustic guitar songwriters and stylists, all of whom he pays tribute to, showcasing their songs in the first half of the gig alongside a compelling, and disarmingly funny and fond, historical commentary about music and the counterculture. The second half contains his customary blistering, bravura selection from his own repertoire.

 

How is it? Why is it? We are constantly bombarded by the braying voices of those who simply do not deserve our attention. In politics, music, religion, whatever, mediocrity is esteemed, promoted, allowed. All that the hype can inculcate is a kind of tasteless, world-weary disappointment. I am heartily sick of the superficiality. It beggars belief that a performer like Nick Harper, who demonstrates more humility, humanity and humour than all of these wannabes put-together, should not be more famous, if not a national treasure. And this is to say nothing of his stupendous, frankly gobsmacking, way with a guitar…

I’ll stop embarrassing him now. This isn’t really about Nick Harper. This is about the zeitgeist, the way we are conditioning our society and cultivating, if not stupidity, then an ominous obliviousness to the things that really matter, things which bubble to the surface and make the eyes well at various points during his shows: family, integrity, music, the worth of individuals, life and death, our shared planet…

Can we reclaim the airwaves for the voices of reason and compassion? Can we do it soon, please?

 

 

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