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A family to Harp on about

There's a double helping of Harpers next week, with Roy Harper appearing at The Sage on Tuesday closely followed by his son Nick at The Cluny on Thursday.

There's a double helping of Harpers next week, with Roy Harper appearing at The Sage on Tuesday closely followed by his son Nick at The Cluny on Thursday.

Blues-rock, jazz and world music fans also have something to cheer when some classy exponents show how it's done.

The album Stormcock, featuring his big pal Jimmy Page, is usually cited as the pinnacle of Roy Harper's extensive recording career.

The title is an old name for the mistle thrush, which is noted for singing out even in the most adverse conditions.

Although Roy was born in Manchester, he left home in his mid-teens, joined and left the RAF, busked around Europe and then became a fixture at the famous Les Cousins club in London's Soho.

Influenced by skiffle, he broadened his repertoire with original songs. His first album, Sophisticated Beggar, was released in 1966 on the small Strike label before he was quickly snapped up by CBS for Come Out Fighting Genghis Smith the following year. He made Folkjokeopus for Liberty before settling at EMI's very hip subsidiary Harvest Records, among numerous other "hard to categorise" acts like Pink Floyd. Roy may have been awkward to pigeonhole, but his formula of folk, blues, rock and a well-developed lyrical style ensured he was never short of admirers.

Now resident in Ireland, he has continued to release thought-provoking, literate recordings and still tours, although not quite as frequently as of old.

Nick Harper made his recording debut on his dad's collaborative effort with Jimmy Page, Whatever Happened To Jugula (1985), while still in his teens.

Although there are some vocal similarities between Nick and Harper Senior, the younger man has a truly unique sound and vocal dynamics and range to compare to Jeff Buckley.

His guitar style oscillates between subtle finger-picking and dynamic, percussive lead work and, like his father, his songs are at once eloquent, witty and unflinching. His solo debut, Seed, appeared in 1995 after a hard schedule of live gigs. He has developed a special rapport with his audience making his live show transcend any recorded offering.

Glenn Tilbrook from Squeeze signed Harper to his Quixotic label in 1996 and immediately featured Nick as support for the band and even had him play lead guitar with them.

The term singer-songwriter can often cover a whole swathe of artists, from the genuinely magnetic to the rather bland.

Nick Harper is without question in the former category.

Opening the show is Ontario's country/folk favourite Linda McLean, whose new album No Language was described as an "indie masterpiece" by country music magazine Maverick. The Cluny telephone is on (0191) 230 4474.

Also on Thursday, there is another chance to catch the great American drummer Billy Cobham, with his latest band Asere, from Cuba, at The Sage.

In reality, Cobham was born in Panama but the family moved to New York when he was only three where he remained for his education. He once said of his college days: "In those days, jazz was a bit off limits to students, while classical music was preferred by the education establishment. So, of course, students craved to meet jazz artists."

Some of his first work was with Mose Allison and Gene Ammons and after a spell in the US army band he was out in the late 60s making records with pianist Horace Silver, Stanley Turrentine (sax) and George Benson (guitar). Before long he chose the fusion road with the likes of John McLaighlin and Tony Williams.

After his successful stint with Mahavishnu Orchestra he formed his own band, Spectrum.

His recordings like Flight Time and Stratus in the early 80s to the more recent Focused (1998) all received fulsome praise from the critics. In recent years, Yorkshire-born drummer and keyboardist Gary Husband has featured in the Cobham band.

Sticking with fusion jazz, the Corner House has the fiery quintet Pinski Zoo on Wednesday night.

Leader/saxophonist Jan Kopinski was born in Lincoln (his father was a Polish bomber pilot) and played guitar and harmonica until he heard John Coltrane.

The band, then based in Nottingham, scorched through the UK jazz scene during the 80s but diversified during the 90s and returned to touring as PZ four years ago.

Blues-rock fans have another opportunity to catch a couple of ever-popular bands this week. On Monday, Wishbone Ash appear at the Carling Academy Newcastle and their loyal and numerous local fans just can't seem to get enough of that twin lead guitar formula. A couple of nights later, on Wednesday, the Mick Pini Blues Band head for the Cluny. Pini was once dubbed the legitimate successor to Peter Green. You can find out at the Cluny next week!


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